With the first presidential nominating contests looming in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is turning his attention to key primary states that are more diverse, to secure minority voters who have been largely absent from his campaign events so far.
The Vermont Independent is leading his main rival Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, locked in a close race in Iowa, but trailing behind her in South Carolina, where African-Americans are expected to make up more than half of the Democratic primary vote.
As an effort to make inroads with Black voters, Sanders recently launched his “Feel The Burn HBCU” tour. Each stop will feature some of his notable black supporters, including Dr. Cornel West, former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, actress Tatyana Ali from the NBC sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Run the Jewels" rapper Killer Mike. Prominent Black Lives Matter Activist Shaun King will headline the second leg of the tour on Thursday, Jan. 28 at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi.
NBCBLK recently spoke with Danny D. Glover, the campaign’s National Historically Black Colleges and University’s Outreach Director, who’s spearheading initiative. He spoke about plans to visit about 10 HBCUs and why Sanders’ populist message resonates with minority students.
NBCBLK: What sparked your interest to join Sen. Sanders’ campaign?
Glover: I chose Sen. Sanders primarily because it makes sense. He is speaking directly about the issues minority students are facing – everything from income inequality, college affordability and racial injustice. [It’s] time for a change in America and I’m glad to be part of the revolution.
NBCBLK: What would you do to ensure the senator’s message resonates with minority students? I know the campaign just launched its “Feel The Burn” HBCU tour.
Glover: We look forward to getting into [HBCU] schools, engaging the student body and to let them know why Bernie Sanders is the best choice. He is the first presidential candidate who is embracing the importance of America’s 105 HBCUs – bring his message directly to them. Other candidates made stops, but none has a program to educate students of color about their policies and platforms. Our main thing is to hold conversations about the senator’s bold and consistent stances on why income inequality, college affordability and criminal justice reform are paramount issues of our time. Judging from our first stop, his message is resonating with students. Most had no idea who Bernie Sanders was. Now they’re getting to know who he is. We have about 10 more stops planned. This is an election we’re not sleeping on and taking lightly.
NBCBLK: It’s been widely stated that Hillary Clinton is better known in the black community. Polls show that too. Isn’t it a major challenge for the senator to secure enough minority voters in time to win more diverse states like South Carolina?
Glover: Hillary Clinton is a household name in most communities. Very few people know about the Independent senator from Vermont. So what we’re doing is galvanizing support in the Black community. Eighty-percent of the task is to show up and present his platform. We’re not letting any stones unturned. And along with the HBCU tour, we’re also working with student leaders. They are doing grassroots organizing on the campuses we won’t get to tour. Our campaign is not hosting thousand dollar fundraisers. We’re going straight to people – it’s a people’s campaign.
NBCBLK: When he launched his bid, many pundits said the senator don’t have a chance getting the Democratic Party’s nomination. Is he an underdog?
Glover: At this point, no. But maybe six months ago, yes, he was an underdog. He wasn’t getting attention from the mainstream. Bernie is a serious and viable candidate, so much that he’s being attacked [by his main rival] on issues he has been advocating for his entire life, such as health care.
NBCBLK: I hear many college students say they love the senator’s consistency, especially on issues including college affordability and income inequality. But given the political gridlock in congress, a few believe some of his plans might not become fruitful because he’s “too much to the left.”
Glover: I don’t think his policies are too far to the left. His policies are at the center – showing where the country needs to be. We have to get progressive, and also reach out to those who left the party and get them involved in the political process. That’s how we’ll have real change.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]