Bernie Supporter Explains What Sanders Needs to Do to Earn Black Vote

Election '16

When Carlos Chaverst Jr. heard Sen. Bernie Sanders speak at the National Action Network’s national convention in New York City on April 8, he knew he was listening to a future presidential candidate he could get behind.

The senator’s message of making college affordable for all people struck a personal chord with Chaverst because he is currently taking a semester off from school, in part to figure out how he will pay off some of his student debt. A community activist who works with poor communities in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., the 22-year-old said Sanders’ views on universal health care struck a chord with him. While he doesn’t remember the senator going into too many details, Chaverst says Sanders was frank about the need to address police brutality and holding abusive officers accountable.

“I had no idea who this guy was,” Chaverst told AlterNet. “I didn’t know too much about him but I knew then that the things that he was saying resonated with me as a young man more than anything I’ve heard from any other person and everything he said came off as very authentic and real.”

After Sanders finished delivering his remarks and shook hands with people in the audience, Chaverst made his way to the senator and made a bold statement.

“You would make a great presidential candidate and you are what this country needs,” he recalls telling the senator. Sanders just laughed graciously before walking off. On April 30, the senator announced his presidential bid.

Carlos Chaverst Jr. is part of the small but growing group of African Americans supporting Sanders’ run for the White House. As AlterNet previously reported, Sanders is polling at 14 percent with African Americans, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 65 percent. More than a dozen political analysts and activists said that Sanders' message of economic inequality doesn’t resonate with black voters because it deals more with class struggle than with racism. The Sanders camp rejects this claim, saying the senator discusses racism and economics regularly. 

When Sanders went to Columbia, S.C., to visit Benedict College, an historically black institution, the New York Times reported that the gymnasium in which he spoke was half full and most of the attendees were white.

But Chaverst says there’s a lot of opportunities for Sanders in the future to make sure such events are packed with black supporters. When I asked Chaverst why he thinks Sanders isn’t polling better with black voters, he said part of the challenge is that many black people haven’t developed an emotional connection with the Vermont senator. Sanders, for all of his talk about how economic inequality impacts black people, isn’t known for speaking in poor African American communities.

“He hasn’t gone to them,” Chaverst said. “He has worked for black people but he hasn’t actually gone to black people. There’s a huge disconnect.... If he would meet with more black communities, go to more black events, more black people would know him.”

Sanders can easily overcome this issue, Chaverst says, by simply reaching out to people like him to do grassroots campaigning in “the hood." He says people need to hear about the senator's policies from the mouths of people who have some street cred. Chaverst would take Sanders to some of Birmingham's most impoverished neighborhoods, give him a tour of 16th Street Baptist Church, where four black girls were killed during a racist firebombing in 1963. Chaverst would also arrange for Sanders to have lunch with ordinary black people at one of the city’s soul food restaurants.

“If you say you’re going to help the poor, let me show you where the poor are struggling at,” Chaverst said. “If Senator Sanders was to come to Birmingham today, I would definately take him to a few areas and let him see first-hand what the people of Birmingham are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. If Sanders says he supports black people and he is here for black people, well, let’s see if you’re really here for black people. Let’s go to our black communities and show you where our schools haven’t had updated textbooks in almost 20 years, and let me show you how our people have to take public transportation that they can’t really rely on to get them to and from work every day.”

The young activist is not criticizing Sanders as much as sharing what he feels will give him an edge in campaigning for the black vote. He should know a thing about that: Chaverst says he is running for constable of Alabama’s House District 60.

The elected position serves as an officer of the court. The officer can serve papers, carry a gun, pull over vehicles and make arrests. They are not patrol cops, however, and prosecutors are investigating dozens of cases in which constables in the state have allegedly abused their power. Chaverst says he wants to assume the position because he wants to be a face in uniform that people who look like him can trust. With all of the issues of law enforcement officers abusing their power, Chaverst, also youth president of the National Action Network's Birmingham chapter, believes he has earned enough respect in his community to enforce the law effectively. 

This is why he is so excited about Sanders’ run for the White House. He wants to use the influence he has established in Birmigham to help the senator with his outreach efforts in Alabama. 

As for that offer to give Sanders a tour of Birmingham, Chaverst says the invitation is open. “I’d be delighted to do so,” he said.

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