Posted on March 31, 2020

Bernie Sanders’ African American Aides Blame ‘Higher-Ups’ for Snubbing Black Voters

Royce Dunmore, News One, March 26, 2020


During the primary season, Sanders took some noticeable losses in states like Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia where Democratic competitor Joe Biden won by large margins. Many of these states, including South Carolina and Mississippi have a large percentage of Democrats that are Black.

Apparently, some of Sanders’ staff saw the losses coming because of how his campaign was being run. “I knew that our campaign had not done the work it needed to do,” Donald Gilliard told The Washington Post. Gilliard acted as the deputy state political director for South Carolina. {snip}

Ivory Thigpen, a state representative, acted as the co-chair for Sanders in South Carolina and he strongly supports his message. However, if you let him tell it, Sanders’ problem was his delivery.

“I think the distinguishing attitude for Sanders, that you didn’t see associated with Biden, was an angry white man,” Thigpen told The Post. {snip} Thigpen added, “I think being accessible would have made up for it.”This seemed to be a primary critique from some of Sanders’ aides who felt there was a disconnect between local and national leadership. One of the most visible people up for critique was Nina Turner, who acts as Sanders’ national co-chair. {snip}


Others who worked in the state blamed national campaign officials for sending out who they believed were unseasoned strategists. They also thought national didn’t devote enough energy to advertising on television and Black radio. In addition, they felt national missed opportunities to bring Sanders in for face-to-face meet-ups with Black leaders and voters. {snip}


One idea that was knocked down by “higher-ups,” according to Gilliard and Thigpen, was for Sanders to visit a convention of Baptist ministers. {snip}

Another instance of local and national strife came when the campaign parted ways with then-state director Kwadjo Campbell in November.

Just before Campbell left the campaign, he sent a scathing memo to Sanders, Turner, campaign manager Faiz Shakir and other top officials criticizing their decisions, according to folks with knowledge of the situation.

“I have not been able to do my job of building a base in the African-American community because of interference from National on a number of critical strategic decisions that have impeded our ability to gain traction among this key demographic needed for victory,” Campbell wrote.


After Sanders’ big losses in Southern states, it seems like his team tried to remedy the situation. They brought in Phillip Agnew, a prominent Black activist and campaign surrogate, as a senior adviser. Turner and another official also spent hours working the phones so they could secure and endorsement from civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson.

But still, Sanders still seemed to be opting out of major opportunities to connect with Black voters. He canceled a scheduled visit to a civil rights museum in Mississippi to campaign in Michigan instead. {snip} He also skipped a commemoration of “Bloody Sunday” in Alabama. When a reporter questioned him on this, he snapped that he was in California drawing a big crowd.