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Charleston Chronicle - November 2019

Interview with Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner

By Terri L. Crawford, JD, The Omaha Star

“Moreover, he shall speak for you to the people; and he will be as a mouth for you …” – Exodus 4:16

As the voice of the people, the Nebraska Democratic Party Black Caucus’ mission is to promote the involvement of Blacks in the political process and the activities of the party at the local, state, and national level. The Caucus advocates for public policies which promote the needs of the Black community and the state at large. It recognizes the need for inclusive representation throughout the Democratic Party and seeks to advance political participation among Blacks throughout the state.

On the evening of October 25 at Omaha’s downtown Hilton Hotel, the Caucus held its annual fundraiser and presented the prestigious Danner Awards to Senator Justin Wayne and Schmeeka Grayer-Simpson, two well-deserving community leaders. The guest speaker for the event was Ohio Senator Nina Turner, national co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign and CNN contributor. It was a spectacular event! The Omaha Star was honored with an exclusive interview with Senator Turner. The following is our conversation about what’s at stake in the 2020 election cycle.

Omaha Star [OS]:Senator Turner, thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule to interview with the Omaha Star. North Omaha and North East Omaha are the parts of the city where our predominantly black population resides. According to polls, North Omaha, similar to other black communities, statistically has low voter turnout for local elections and larger voter turnout for presidential elections.

We have some challenges with the rhetoric from Washington that has disillusioned voters. As the “Political Awareness and Involvement Chair” of my sorority and policy director for the League of Women Voters Greater Omaha, I am always looking for innovative ways to get people reignited about voting. What has been your personal experience in getting people excited about the vote and translating that excitement into large number at the polls?

Senator Nina Turner [NT]: People are tired and have become apathetic with political candidates who continuously fail to deliver on campaign promises that directly address the unique issues of the Black community and marginalized citizens. Another part of the issue is that we are in a generation that is several generations removed from the Civil Rights struggle in the trenches.

So, many of today’s voters did not experience the overt racist tactics, the marches, lunch counters, and Supreme Court decisions, it is not in the forefront of their psyche and they have become detached in some ways from the original Civil Rights struggle. Many don’t know what it’s like to get on the bus, drop in your money and get back off and go to the back to take your seat. They don’t know what it’s like to drink from a “colored fountain;” and they haven’t been attacked by police dogs or sprayed with high-powered firehoses.

We lost a civil rights icon this week in Elijah Cummings, he was a soldier in the Civil Rights Movement and translated that passion into policy and legislative action. We must remember that voters are not only looking for candidates that understand the problems and issues of their constituents, but they are looking for candidates that are conscious-minded. That candidate for 2020 is Bernie Sanders who is not new to the struggle but has a 40-year track record of “consciousness” and having a platform that addresses the issues of the people.

There’s only one candidate who has been marching with working-class people not because he’s running for president, but because it’s right. Just ask Marriott workers, Amazon workers, and – hello! – Verizon workers, and don’t forget about the teachers. Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who has a track record of doing the right thing because he is led by conscience and not by special interests.

OS*: As you know, Black women turned electoral power into political power in 2018. There was a tidal wave of Black female candidates who showed that “when we run we win.” Political analysts and polls show that Black women voted 98% for Democratic candidates. What is your take on the power of the Black female vote and the candidate you support in 2020?*

NT: The Black women who ran and won in 2018 are significant not only for who they are, but also for how they ran their campaigns. From a congressional standpoint, many of the Black women on the ballot, myself included, speak about expanding access to health care and improving public education, focusing on “economic inequality, the wealth and wage gap, structural racism, and gun violence.”

We live in a country where Black women continue to have higher rates of infant mortality and die during delivery themselves. When Black women benefit through addressing these systemic issues, the entire nation benefits with access to better healthcare, being paid a living wage and breaking glass ceilings. With Black women as the grassroots and community organizers and candidates in communities across America, a win for candidates who are conscious of systemic and structural racism is a win for families, and a win for policy change and reform in the legal system from the White House to the Supreme Court.

We know what’s at stake, we cannot afford to continue to allow a divisive fear monger agenda to make decisions that affect everything from our families to our jobs. Dr. Maya Angelou once said that we must have the courage to stand up for ourselves and the courage to stand up for somebody else.

Black women are no strangers to standing up for ourselves and for others. We raise our hands to protect our families, communities and schools. And with these hands we will have Medicare for All. With these hands we will cancel student debt. With these hands we will cancel medical debt. With these hands we will make an investment on Main Street, and tell Wall Street where to go! With these hands we will make sure that every baby in this country can aspire to live a good life, in Nebraska and across the country, because it is for everybody! Bernie Sanders is the candidate that knows these issues and has a specific plan to address them all.

OS:Criminal justice reform is on the minds of every voter for the 2020 election, and the adage that “all politics are local” is universally true. In Nebraska, there have been efforts to introduce legislation to eliminate the cash bond system where hundreds of individuals at any given time are being housed in county jails due to their financial inability to pay bail bonds or court-ordered fines and fees. This system penalizes individuals for being poor. What is the Sanders campaign position on criminal justice reform to address the issue of inequity in the system and the intersection of poverty and justice?

NT: First let’s call it what it is. The legal system has been inherently unjust for Black people since its inception in this country. The Sanders campaign supports “Ban the Box” initiatives, restorative justice and assuring (that) disenfranchised convicted felons have their voting rights restored when they have completed their time. Senator Sanders is someone who understands that there are disparities within the disparities. . . if you are black, if you are brown, if you are indigenous, and if you are poor, this system is rigged.

It is rotten to the core, and we’re going to unrig it so that “justice for all” is not just an ideal but is practiced. That’s it and that’s all.

Senator Sanders is from Vermont where there is a strong stance on permitting felons to vote while in prison unlike most states which prohibit inmate voting, some for a lifetime. In talking to people across this country, the Sanders campaign wants what everyone wants — to have a justice system that doesn’t gun down Black folks in their houses. We are at a place in this country where you can’t read while Black, sleep while Black, play your music while Black, and just exist while Black.

We’re going to clean up this criminal injustice system. What the people want is very simple. We need to have some truth and reconciliation about the ravages of racism in the United States of America in the legal system. That’s it and that’s all. Bernie Sanders proposes better education and counseling, including mental health, opportunities for prisoners to reduce recidivism rates and effectively spend less money on incarceration. More training is needed for law enforcement’s ability to handle mental illness situations. The Sanders campaign believes what most Americans want to see. . . . police departments all over this country whose memberships reflect the demographics of the community they serve.

We also need to address the fact that racial bias exists in law enforcement as it relates to traffic stops, arrests, and those agencies should represent the demographics of the communities they serve. Bernie Sanders is a visionary and has a strategic plan to address these issues for communities across America to assure the legal system lives up to the creed of justice for all its citizens. ...
Read full interview at Charleston Chronicle