Dear Brooklyn Readers,
I remember driving to the beach with a very dear friend a few days before the 2016 presidential primaries when she announced out of the blue, "I was up late last night reading, and I don't think I'm voting for Hillary Clinton."
"Why?" I asked. I respected my friend's opinions, so I was genuinely interested in hearing her reasons.
"I don't know," she said. "... There's just something about her that rubs me the wrong way."
"Really?" I thought to myself. That was her reason? I wasn't deeply "in love" with Hillary Clinton either (nor any of the candidates I'd ever voted for, for that matter). But what did that have to do with the price of tea in China?
"I don't like that 'super-predator' comment she made," she continued, "plus all that stuff she did in Haiti and the whole Crime Bill thing "
My thoughts drifted off as she continued to talk I thought about how I'd seen a sharp increase in the number of my Facebook friends who had suddenly switched from being Hillary Clinton supporters, to Bernie Sanders supporters, to outright Hillary Clinton haters. And the reasons they gave were pretty much the same as my friend's: the "super-predator" comment; what she did in Haiti; how she stole from her own foundation; the Crime Bill; and that "there was just something about her" they suddenly disliked...
I remember the 1994 Crime Bill. I was in college during its design.The legislation was a bipartisan effort, authored when Hillary Clinton was First Lady (not a legislator, by the way, so she could not have voted) at a time when the country was experiencing a growing crime problem, and so millions of voters across the country-- black, white and brown-- were calling for a solution. In fact, many prominent Black and Latino legislators from major cities, under pressure from their constituents, voted for the bill, including James Clyburn, Kweisi Mfume and Luis Gutierrez. Oh, and let us not forget our beloved Bernie Sanders, who at the time was a congressman and who actually did vote for the bill!
In hindsight, we see that the Crime Bill was a national disaster in the way it tore apart black families through the penal system. Far more legislators than are willing to admit believed they were doing the right thing when they co-signed onto that bill. So did most of the American public. But, 25 years later, we can acknowledge it was a huge mistake, and the first big step toward correcting it will come through a major overhaul of our prison system. Still, for an entirely new generation of voters who were either too young to remember or maybe just uninterested in knowing how or why it came about, the bill has become a political horsewhip, pulled out to either indict and/or temper affections for a particular legislator when needed.
Knowing Bernie Sanders was more responsible for the Crime Bill than Hillary Clinton I still chose not not to speak up, because I didn't want to argue with my peers.
Instead, I asked my friend to send me the links where she got her information, because few of those claims were ever substantiated in the news outlets I followed. That night, she emailed four links-- one was from Alex Jones's website (womp! womp!). The other three were obscure "news" sites that I didn't recognize at all apart from the ".ru" extension, which indicated the sites were Russian.
Even before the news came out last year that foreign operatives set up fake news sites and used social media during the last election to spread propaganda, I already had a sense of some sort of foul play. What's worse, Bernie Sanders, while knowing better, began to echo Trump's rhetoric regarding Hillary Clinton, knowing perfectly well the man's unrestrained penchant for lying.
Still, I remained silent, as the dislike for Clinton among some Democrats seemed to be growing even more fervent than it was for Trump.
After Bernie Sanders lost the primaries and chose not to put the full force of his support behind the winning candidate, unfortunately, many of his supporters-- still pissed about his loss-- followed suit. I knew a dozen or so Bernie supporters right here in Brooklyn who admitted to not voting in the general election, because "they didn't like Hillary or Trump." Well, without those votes, guess who we ended up with? (Nice play, Bernie).
My disappointment with Bernie Sanders became personal when he chose to remain silent during years of racists attacks against the only Black Assemblywoman in his state of Vermont. This, I took very personally, because that woman, Kiah Morris, is my sister.
During most of her second term as a state assemblywoman, Kiah was harassed and stalked by a self-proclaimed white supremacist who threatened the safety of her and her family. Her home was broken into twice; she was sent notes that read, "Nigger we don't want you representing us," while her twitter feed was littered with caricatures of Sambo and other racially offensive messages. For what amounted to a few years, my sister appealed for help to the state office, the local police, and Bernie Sanders, all of whom did nothing to try to end the harassment.
The stalker even showed up to an AG "investigation" hearing into his own harassment, open-carrying a gun and wearing a Pepe the Frog shirt, because he knew he was safe. And he was right: Ultimately, the AG, decided the stalker was expressing his right to free speech. At that point, Sanders issued-- without addressing Kiah's case directly-- what amounted to a "thoughts and prayers" statement about how "This corrosion of political discourse is destructive to our democracy."
My sister resigned from office.
Publicly, Sanders has expressed a soft acceptance of certain racist behaviors: "I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American," Sanders told The Daily Beast, referencing the close contests involving Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia.
So no, this time, I won't be silent. When folks insist that I "Feel the Bern," I will speak up about how the senator who represents the whitest population in the country and claims to be a POC ally actually lacks the experience, desire and understanding for how to legislate for true racial justice.
This time, I will implore others to do their own personal research on each candidate and not simply go by a candidate's vitriol or what social media tells you.
This time, when I see misinformation spreading virally across social media platforms from obscure news sites, I will challenge it always by requesting where they got their data and to verify the source.
This time, when folks want to pin historical fiascos like the Crime Bill onto a singular legislator, I will insist they research the mood of the country, the historical context and roles that everyone played.
And finally, this time, once we elect a candidate, I will center all my conversations around the need to unify, versus deciding to sulk and stay home (which means, even if I have to vote for Bernie Sanders as the Democratic candidate, I most certainly will).
If the goal is to win, our strategy must be ironclad: to research, to speak truth to power, and to unify.
This election, let's take the lessons we learned and avoid past mistakes. Because, fool me once in 2016, shame on them! But fool me twice in 2020? Then, shame on us! All of us.
C. Zawadi Morris, Editor and Publisher