12 Examples Of Bernie Sanders Powerful 50+ Year Record On Civil Rights And Racial Justice


Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has come under recent scrutiny for his position regarding gun rights and what some are characterizing as indifference to civil rights and racial justice.

Most recently, Sanders came under fire while speaking at last weekend’s annual meeting of Netroots Nation, the country’s largest gathering of progressive activists when a group of about fifty mostly black protesters started chanting “What side are you on, black people, what side are you on” during Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley’s onstage appearance at the Phoenix Convention Center. Shortly after O’Malley left the stage, Sanders was also silenced by the #BlackLivesMatter protesters who were shouting out the names of women who have died in police custody.

However, as Time and Alternet recently pointed out, Sanders has a more than 50-year history of activism, of standing up for civil and minority rights.

In an article entitled “The Radical Education of Bernie Sanders,” Time details Sanders campaign for class president at James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York. This was the late 1950s and the teenaged Sanders ran on a platform promising to raise scholarship money for children orphaned in Korea during the recent military conflict there. Although he lost the election, as Time reported: “the outcome set a precedent he would love to repeat on the national stage. The winner adopted the Korean scholarship idea and made it happen.”

Time continued in that vein, reporting that:

For Sanders, who maintains he is running to win, pushing Clinton to the left would be fitting capstone to a lifetime spent agitating from the sidelines of powerful American institutions. As a teenager, he read Karl Marx, and as a college student he organized sit-ins against segregation, worked for a union, protested police brutality and attended the 1963 March on Washington. Throughout that time, the central theme of his life has never wavered. “We were concerned obviously about economic injustice,” says Sanders of his college days. “And we were concerned with the question, ‘How do you make change?’”

Alternet published a list of “20 Examples of Bernie Sanders’ Powerful Record on Civil and Human Rights Since the 1950s” and we are including a very brief overview here. For more information, be sure to see Alternet‘s full list and the aforementioned article by Time.

Key items in Alternet‘s list include:

1950s: Sanders campaign for class president at his high school, running on platform was “based around raising scholarship funds for Korean war orphans. Although he lost, the person who did win the campaign decided to endorse Sanders’ campaign, and scholarships were created.”

1960s: Sanders is arrested while protesting segregation in public schools in Chicago. “As a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders was active in both the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1962, he was arrested for protesting segregation in public schools in Chicago; the police came to call him an outside agitator, as he went around putting up flyers around the city detailing police brutality.

1970s: Sander calls for full gay equality. “40 years ago, Sanders started his political life by running with a radical third party in Vermont called the Liberty Union Party. As a part of the platform, he called for abolishing all laws related to discrimination against homosexuality.”

1980s: Sander fights for the victims or Ronald Reagan’s imperialism in Latin America while serving as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Sanders formally protested the Reagan administration’s policy of sending arms to Central America to “repress left-wing movements.” As Alternet reports, Sanders traveled to Nicaragua in 1985, condemning the war there. Writing about it in his book, Outsider In The House, Sanders explained that

The trip to Nicaragua was a profoundly emotional experience….I was introduced to a crowd of hundreds of thousands who gathered for the anniversary celebration. I will never forget that in the front row of the huge crowd were dozens and dozens of amputees in wheelchairs – young soldiers, many of them in their teens, who had lost their legs in a war foisted on them and financed by the U.S. government.

1990s: A longtime opponent of the death penalty and harsh prison conditions, Sanders condemned a 1992 crime bill expanding the death penalty, saying it promoted “state murder:”

My friends, we have the highest percentage of people in jail per capita of any nation on earth….What do we have to do, put half the country behind bars? Mister Speaker, instead of talking about punishment and vengeance, let us talk about the real issue. How do we get to the root causes of crime? How do we stop crime? … I’ve got a problem with a president and Congress that allows five million people to go hungry, two million people to sleep out on the street, cities to become breeding grounds for drugs and violence. And they say we’re getting tough on crime. If you want to get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman, and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living. Let’s not keep putting more people into jail and disproportionately punishing blacks.

2000s: As a member of the United States House of Representatives, Sanders was one of a small minority who voted against the controversial Patriot act in 2001 and has voted against expanding the law ever since. Voting against the expansion of the act in 2011, the now U.S. Senator Sanders wrote:

I voted against extending the Patriot Act today for the same reason I voted against enacting it in 2001: it gives the government far too much power to spy on innocent United States citizens and provides for very little oversight or disclosure.  While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and the civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans.

Today: Most recently, Sanders has taken on a lot of controversial issues regarding civil rights and racial justice to include:

  • Strongly condemning police violence;
  • Embracing immigrants while others turned them away;
  • Defending voting rights against voter suppression efforts;
  • Fighting against employment discrimination;
  • Calling for an end to the war on drugs, private for-profit prisons and immigrant detention quotas;
  • And as Alternet points out in their last example: putting out an affirmative plan to end economic crisis in minority communities.

As Time concludes at the end of their article:

Sanders has lost six major elections since his race for high school class president. But persistence has brought him to his current post, and he’s seeking to be the oldest candidate ever to go to the White House. His goal, at the very least, is to foist his ideas in the Democratic primary. Now, as before, victory can be seen broadly: He can win the nomination himself, or embed his ideas with the person who does.

Samuel Warde
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