ST. LOUIS–The EYE remembers sitting in Rev. Traci Blackmon’s church – Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant – when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton came to speak to community leaders on June 23, 2015. One moment Clinton was talking about her mother. The next she slid in an “all lives matter” statement.
Wait, what? In a Black church?
Jennings Superintendent Tiffany Anderson was sitting right next to Clinton, along with St. Louis Teach For America executive director Brittany Packnett and Washington University’s public health guru Jason Q. Purnell. A majority of the church was filled with African Americans, many of them also community leaders. Did anyone bother to look over this woman’s speech before she decided to say what is widely understood as a direct affront to the “Black Lives Matter” movement?
On December 11, 2015, the EYE had a chance to sit down with Marlon Marshall, a St. Louis native who is now Clinton’s director of states and political engagement. CNN called him the highest-ranking African-American staffer on any presidential campaign. Apparently, Marshall had arranged the June community meeting, where Clinton was meant to discuss the impacts of racism. It was clear by the lineup of well-respected change makers that Marshall knows this community. One wonders if he reviewed the candidate’s remarks before she made them, if he has the kind of standing to insist on corrections, and if he had the nerve to tell her to stow the “all lives matter” tag in majority-Black settings.
Our conversation with Marshall went well, though it was brief because his only available time was right when the St. Louis Board of Aldermen was deliberating the stadium bill. Afterwards, we naturally wanted to know more about him. And that was when it felt like we had landed in an abusive relationship with the Clinton campaign. In the following holiday weeks, the Clinton campaign repeatedly wanted to know when the article – which they initiated – would be completed. Lots of sugary emails from regional communications representative Tyrone Gayle, offering to help provide “any additional information from us to help finish it.” They were the kind of emails that made you think Clinton really cared about the Black community in St. Louis and its flagship newspaper.
We requested pictures with Marshall and Clinton together on the campaign trail. We received a picture where you could only see the back of his head and his back while Clinton was in the spotlight. Uh, could we get a picture where we could see his face? They sent a headshot. Right. Could we see a picture that shows both his face and Clinton’s face? No further response on that editorial request.
After the post-Christmas flood crisis had died down, it was time to finish the Marshall feature, with or without a picture that makes it look like he has an important role in her campaign. We did as they offered and asked for more information – saying that we had thought about just running a simple Q&A, but that the initial exchange was brief and our readers would most likely want to know more about Marshall himself.
Here is the response from Tyrone Gayle of the Clinton campaign: “This is is [sic] certainly a long lists of requests after we hadn’t heard from you for a while – not sure why we oculdnt [sic] have made the Q&A work previously.” (Grammar and spelling untouched.) First of all, we had been in touch just days before. And secondly, why would a PR manager push for a lesser piece on the campaign, rather than do a little previously offered legwork to facilitate a more robust feature? Gayle made promises to get us information, but we are still waiting for those to be fulfilled, along with the photograph that shows both the candidate and her senior African-American campaign operative.
They say the fans don’t care if the hot dogs are cold in the press box, but this is more than journalistic whining. It may suggest a pattern of how seriously the Clinton campaign takes the Black community and its issues. Right now, Clinton is making promises and claims of support on a variety of national issues of concern to this community that she had never touched before. Folks are wondering if she is going to dump the Black community like a bad habit when the going gets rough, or engage it in an “it’s you, not me” relationship if she wins the presidency?
Watch out for the Bern
The Democratic Party, national and state, did not expect Clinton to have to work for the Black vote in this election cycle. There wasn’t supposed to be any serious competition from the left. Then here comes U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders recently broke a historic milestone. The senator officially hit two million individual campaign contributions, a feat that no other U.S. presidential candidate has achieved at this point in an election, according to our content partner Huffington Post.
“To put that number in context, Barack Obama’s historic 2008 campaign managed to break just one million contributions. Sanders literally has twice what Obama had. Not only that, but Sanders reached two million faster than President Obama reached one,” HuffPo reported.
And it’s all coming from the little people – the average donation to Sanders was less than $30.
Sanders is touching on the core issues that the African-American community wants to hear about right now. His central campaign theme is inequality, and he argues that Wall Street and the rich have “rigged the rules to redistribute wealth and income to the wealthiest and most powerful people of this country.” (His platform recently earned an endorsement from well-respected, financial expert U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.)
Since Ferguson, the conversation about racial injustice does not get far without bringing up wealth inequity. As protesters have said, the problems of police brutality and racial inequity stems from the systems designed to keep the poor in perpetual cycle of poverty (i.e., the municipal courts’ debtors prisons, building prisons while closing schools, etc.).
Sanders wants to get rid of tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and large corporations. He wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and put millions of people to work by spending $1 trillion over five years to renew the country’s aging infrastructure.
Sanders wants to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. He wants universal child care and pre-kindergarten. He supports equal pay for women – by law – and a requirement that employers provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and a minimum of two weeks’ paid vacation.
And Sanders is proposing a universal, single-payer health care system – meaning everyone gets access to health care. Clinton attacked his proposal as wanting to dismantle ObamaCare, but ObamaCare was not what Obama himself actually wanted. It was full of compromises. And he himself said that it was only a start and shouldn’t be considered finished work.
Sanders also wants to demilitarize the police and address mass incarceration. Clinton has made statements in these areas as well, but it all seems reactionary. Last summer, Black Lives Matter protestors shutdown two of Sanders’ speeches, demanding that he give more attention to racial injustice in his platform, which he did. So has Clinton. But when it comes to doing that with sincerity, which of the two candidates has the longer history of fighting for racial justice?
Sanders was fighting police brutality as a University of Chicago student, being active in both the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was arrested for protesting segregation in public schools in Chicago in 1962.
After Michael Brown Jr.’s shooting death in Ferguson on August 9, 2014, Sanders publicly spoke out against the militarized response to protestors – saying police looked like “an occupying army in hostile territory and that is absolutely not what we want to see in the United States.”
He also raised the issue of the inequities plaguing the African-American community nationwide.
“If there is anything that we can learn from the Ferguson tragedy, it should be a recognition that we need to address the extraordinary crises facing black youths,” he wrote in a letter to the New York Times on August 20, 2014. “That means, among other things, a major jobs program, job training and vastly improved educational opportunities.”
After the EYE’s brief encounter with the Clinton campaign, we decided to reach out to a trusted source who has had much more experience with both campaigns – including meeting with Clinton and Sanders themselves.
Last fall, DeRay Mckesson and other protestors and activists met with them and published an in-depth blog about their take-aways here. It’s informative and helpful. However, we wanted to know about Mckesson’s take on the trustworthiness of each candidate.
“When I think about Bernie, I’m trying to understand how he’s going to do the broad range of things he said he’s going to do,” he said.
When Mckesson and protestors met with Hillary, they asked her why she has adopted such a piecemeal approach to releasing a platform around criminal justice and race. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “She has very slowly – slower than any other section of issues she’s addresses publicly – addressed race and criminal justice.”
Reprinted from the St. Louis American