Why knowing about these two African American women is key to understanding how the Democrats intend to defeat Donald.
The sight of two white male septuagenarians, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, fighting it out for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States was not what was on the cards after the defeat of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016.
On paper, the most qualified person to ever run for the presidency, Clinton – in the public eye for over three decades – had clearly been seen as the incumbent. But that was a ‘change’ election. Real estate mogul, beauty contest owner and all-around TV shill Donald Trump slid in; and the rest, as they say, is history.
The logical conclusion this time around is that any Dem frontrunner would be the opposite of Trump, say a Kamala Harris, the first Indian-American and second African-American woman to become a US senator; a Julian Castro, the Latino former Texan mayor who served as the youngest member of Barack Obama’s cabinet; or a Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old, openly gay mayor of a modest-sized Midwest city.
These, and many of the other candidates for the nomination, would create, wisdom would dictate, a counter balance to the present occupant of the White House. And most importantly, the ‘base’ of the Democratic Party, the demographic that votes consistent and strong, is African American women. Black women were the main reason that Bernie Sanders was defeated in the south in 2016 and why he did not win the nomination. Forget about any notion of rigging. Bernie had plenty of partisans within the party, which is interesting, because he was not really a member of the Democrats.
Tom Perez, now chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is a Bernie man. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congresswoman and rising star of the party, campaigned for Sanders. So he has a very strong foothold in the Dems.
Joe Biden is, of course, the man associated with Barack Obama, for many in the party the sine qua non of what a Dem is. Biden was the establishment guy the party brought in as a kind of guarantee for Obama. That he turned out to be such a loyal lieutenant, no one could have foreseen. But a guy with a political career longer than Pete Buttigieg has been alive is bound to have several skeletons in several closets.
Bernie brings out his old University of Chicago pictures, taken when he was a student in the 1960s, of being roughed-up at an open housing march. To millennials, this is deeply impressive and is used for that effect. However, demonstrating against racism is what you did as a student at the U of C back then. To have done otherwise would, frankly, have been odd. So Bernie was not really a rebel. He was following the status quo.
Along with various gaffes, wrong calls and other missteps that Biden has made over his long career, the fact that these two guys are out front at all can be very puzzling. It takes looking at the two women who are behind them. Two African American powerhouses who will determine the direction of the party, the 2020 election and the direction of the left in the years to come.
Symone Sanders, who joined Biden’s campaign as a senior adviser earlier this year, is rock-solid African American middle class.
Her father, Daniel, is retired from the US Army Corps of Engineers, and her mother, Terri, is the former executive director for the Great Plains Black History Museum in Nebraska, the state Symone was born in.
She is a real Midwesterner, too, with that kind of relaxed familiarity that Midwesterners sometimes have. Biden, though not a Midwesterner, understands the ethos of that and projects it. No wonder they are a match.
As a political pundit on television, Sanders exhibits a familiarity, a kind of comfortable vulnerability, especially when she revealed that she had been a victim of sexual assault. Her confidence in Biden and Biden’s wife Jill is contagious and convincing. You feel that she would not be there if she did not believe in the possibility that the former vice president could protect and extend the Obama legacy.
Her youth, her individuality and articulateness seem to speak to that base who will, without question, vote ‘up-and-down’ ticket come election time. Like Michelle Obama, who was the guarantor – the ‘closer’ – as far as Barack Obama was concerned when he first came, unknown, on the scene, Sanders makes you feel that Joe is OK. That he might even pick a woman of colour for his vice president. Because this is what the base wants: a woman of colour somewhere on that ticket. That will not be denied.
Some on the left expressed disappointment that Symone Sanders had chosen Biden – she worked as press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. But she has said that Biden will come through and that the base will vote for him.
Nina Turner is 51 years old and, in some ways, her life has been the opposite of Symone Sanders’. Turner was born to teenaged parents in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1967, a ‘burning time’, when the civil rights movement shifted from non-violence to revolt. Cleveland, for young African American parents then, would have been a harsh place, poverty-stricken, with a police force not inclined to treat black people with dignity.
Turner worked part-time jobs to help her mother after her parents split, and eventually finished university and graduate school. You could say that Turner is 100% grass roots. She became a legislative aide and was elected a state senator. She is a street-fighter, introducing a bill to regulate male reproductive health as a political statement against legislation attempting to restrict women’s access to contraception and abortion. She ran for Ohio secretary of state, but was defeated. Yet her reputation was made.
She became a champion of Bernie Sanders and a fierce opponent of Hillary Clinton. After he failed to win the Democratic Party nomination, she became part of an organisation called Our Revolution, which aims to carry out some of the ideas of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Now, serving as his campaign president, she is driven and focussed. Even to the point of chastising a women’s political group in a fiery speech, after they had ridiculed Sanders at their convention.
Jill Stein, of the Green Party, wanted her as a vice presidential running mate but Turner told her that the Democratic Party was still worth fighting for.
Both Nina Turner and Symone Sanders tells us this: the Democratic Party will stay close to its roots, close to its base.
It will bet on those who have never let the party down and, in that way, they will not become the radicalised vehicle that the Republican Party, in some quarters, has become.
To not know about these two African American women is not to understand what the Democratic Party is. And how and where it intends to defeat Donald Trump.