Bernie Sanders Reaches out to Black Voters at Oakland Church

Bernie Sanders cross church (Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty)
Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty

OAKLAND — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) participated in a wide-ranging panel discussion on Monday before a packed room of his constituents at the Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland.

The panel consisted of Sanders, actor Danny Glover and San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim, whom Sanders has also endorsed for State Senate in California’s 11th district.

In the week leading up the critical June 7 Democratic primary in California, Sanders is reaching out to members of the African-American community, which has traditionally backed his competitor, Hillary Clinton — with the exception of the 2008 race, after then-Sen. Barack Obama became a factor.

Sanders touched upon the issue of the “transport of coal and other pollutants … being transferred through African-American and impoverished communities,” as opposed to the suburbs.

“I think everyone here knows that in low-income communities, in African-American communities, there is a heck of a lot of pollution going on. The number of children dealing with asthma, you’ve got that here as well?” The audience responded with a resounding “Yes.”

(California, an oil-producing state, has been importing oil from the rest of the continent via rail.)

Sen. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is a congregant of the Allen Temple Baptist Church and the former Congressional Black Caucus chair, has yet to reveal whether she is for Sanders or Clinton. Despite endorsing Barack Obama in 2007 before the Iowa caucuses took place, in February she found herself at odds with the 46-member caucus, which had almost unanimously thrown its support behind Clinton. Lee was not present during Monday’s discussion.

Sanders, who was born Jewish and describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” looked very natural on the stage at the church, holding just a microphone and moving around as he delivered his presidential stump speech.

“A nation is not a great nation based on how many millionaires it has or how many nuclear weapons it has,” Sanders said. “Its greatness is measured by how it treated the most vulnerable in its population.”

He added: “The United States is the only major county in the world to not guarantee health care to its people as a right.” Sanders cited Canada, which borders his home state of Vermont, as an example the United States should follow. “And I believe this is not a radical idea,” he said. “It exists in Germany, it exists in Scandinavia and many other countries.”

Then, he took direct aim at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. “I know that Donald Trump has come to California … And he has, with his profound wisdom, told the people of California that there is no drought. Now, this is a real shock to the people of California. They thought there was a drought, but Donald knows better,” Sanders said sarcastically.

“There’s plenty of water and he will find it. And Donald nows better than the entire scientific community. He was one of the great meteorologists of our time. And he has, after years of studying, concluded that climate change is a hoax. But needless to say, everybody else in the world understands, other than Donald, that climate change is not a hoax [but] that is a great environmental crisis facing our country and the world.”

Several Black Lives Matter pins were visible on supporters in the crowd. During the question-and-answer session, a young girl opened up about her experience with gang violence in the city. Sanders spoke about the need for education reform and revising drug laws, including making marijuana legal, as solutions to curbing youth crime.

He also criticized the local police department. “Too often the response is lethal force rather than coming up with other ways to address the problem,” he said of authorities. “There are communities in America where the police look like occupying armies. They look like they are in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal is not for the police department to be intimidating the local populace. The goal is to have a police department that looks like the local community … where people feel comfortable going to them … We want local police departments to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.”

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz


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