Vermont diversity leaders have a message for Sanders

US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaking to a crowd in Ames, IA while campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination for President. Photo by Gregory Hauenstein (Flickr/greghauenstein).

US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaking to a crowd in Ames, IA while campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination for President. Photo by Gregory Hauenstein (Flickr/greghauenstein).

When Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at the Netroots Nation Presidential Town Hall in Arizona this month, he was interrupted by activists from the Black Lives Matter movement who demanded that the two candidates – Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley – address racial injustice issues.

Sanders was caught off guard, and it has been reported that he shouted at the protesters, eventually threatening to walk off stage if they didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

Later in the day he regrouped, saying: “I want some help on this. I’m being very honest,” CNN reported. “I want some ideas, as somebody who was arrested 50 years ago fighting for civil rights trying to desegregate schools in Chicago, who spent his whole life fighting against racism, I want your ideas. What do you think we can do? What can we do?”

One Vermonter has some ideas, and in an open letter to Sanders’ campaign, Curtiss Reed, a longtime racial equality trainer in the state, offered five steps Sanders should follow to improve the racial dynamics of his campaign.

For starters, Reed wants Sanders to meet with leaders of color in Vermont, “which is something that he hasn’t done.”

“Bernie needs to talk to his own people – his people of color that are right here in the state of Vermont – so that he has a much greater handle on the New Jim Crow and how racism has morphed since his days back 50 years ago,” Reed said in an interview.

Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity in Brattleboro, also wants Sanders to stop calling Vermont a white state.

“We become marginalized in the narrative about Vermont,” Reed said. “He’s projecting this view of Vermont simply not having any people of color. Maybe in his own way that’s what he feels and what he thinks.”

Few is not none

In the 2010 U.S. Census, 10 of the state’s 14 counties declined in white population, Reed said. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2010, 59 percent of the population growth was “the result of ethnic and racial minorities” whether born in the U.S or those who migrated here.

“Our numbers are relatively small, but they’re not zero,” he said.

Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, the first Asian American woman in the Vermont House, said characterizing Vermont as a white state insinuates that Vermonters don’t know or care about race.

“[Reed’s] letter is very brave, and it resonates a lot with me,” Ram said.

It is important for Sanders to “acknowledge that there are people of color living in Vermont” and “convey that living in Vermont doesn’t mean someone has a lack of understanding of social justice and racial equality,” Ram said.

Ram has not endorsed a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary. She is waiting to see which one has the most “inclusive agenda.”

The biggest challenge the senator faces, Reed says, is his avoidance of issues that matter to people of color.

“Race is really difficult to talk about, so let’s avoid it all together. So let’s be colorblind,” Reed said.

Town Hall Fallout
The July 18 town hall in Phoenix has had a chilling effect on Sanders’ campaign. Within 15 hours on July 29, a full 11 days after the event, there were 10 new blogs and articles published citing his comments there.

The event inspired Twitter hashtags that are still in use, including #sayhername, a Twitter prompt that was used to see which candidate mentioned Sandra Bland first at the conference – and #BerniesoBlack, a jibe at Sanders who instead of listening to activists about police brutality at Netroots Nation talked about marching with Martin Luther King Jr. half a century ago.

Reed has been working for two decades to help “well-intentioned white Vermonters.” His clients have included Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Megan Smith, commissioner of the Department of Tourism and Marketing, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Vermont State Police Col. Thomas L’Esperance.

Weinberger could have given Sanders a lesson in how to deal with protester disruption. The mayor showed “conspicuously courageous leadership,” Reed says, when a group of disgruntled citizens appeared at an intergenerational racial justice dialogue facilitated by Burlington leaders two years ago.

“He grabbed Mike Schirling, the chief of police, and he invited the protesters right on the spot to go back into a conference room, sit down and hear what they had to say right then and there,” said Reed. “Not to tell them that they were disrupting a pre-planned program, but to have the courage to sit and listen and engage with the passion that people were expressing.”

Reed also said the recent applicant pool for a new police chief in Burlington was one of the most diverse the city has seen.

Smith, the marketing and tourism chief, has worked closely with Reed to improve tourism outreach to people of color. The department has developed an African-American Heritage Trail, with a map and guide featuring points of local interest.

Smith said the first time her department heard him speak, his message resonated.

“He said to me, ‘There’s no people of color in your state magazine,’ and he ticked off a lot of points, and I said, ‘We need to fix that right away.’

The Vermont State Police couldn’t be reached for comment, but Reed said they’ve consistently implemented trainings for a decade around “fair and impartial policing,” and that his group has helped with training, recruitment and executive coaching with senior leadership.

Leahy has introduced pivotal legislation for people of color. Sanders, on the other hand, hasn’t been a leader on civil rights issues, Reed says.

“He’s done nothing specific from my accounting on racial justice, in the way that Leahy has done,” said Reed, citing Leahy’s involvement in the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, and ending mandatory minimum sentencing.

“Those things speak to the core of the civil rights movement,” he said.

Reed said there is only one way for Sanders to make his efforts seem like more than just posturing: develop meaningful relationships with local leaders.

“I want to meet with Bernie one-on-one, to let him know, firsthand, where I think he can do better by Vermont.”

Curtiss Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. Photo by Randy Holhut/The Commons

Curtiss Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. Photo by Randy Holhut/The Commons

Five recommendations

Reed starts the letter in a friendly tone, explaining how Sanders can transform his “consciously unskillful” attitude exhibited in the Netroots Nation event, to one that is “consciously skillful.”

Here are Reed’s five recommendations for Sanders:

1. Stop saying you are from a white state. “Acknowledge there are people of color living in Vermont,” instead of “reinforcing a narrative that people of color simply do not count” here.

2. Meet with groups of Vermonters of color across the state “to learn of the micro-aggressions, micro-invalidations, and micro-injustices we experience.”

3. Meet with organizations governed and managed by people of color who are “engaged in the struggle to dismantle structural racism in Vermont” and learn from them.

4. Meet with white Vermonters who are operating at a consciously skillful level to learn the “challenges they face while helping their well-intentioned white colleagues.”

5. Stop talking about your experience in the civil rights movement “like an Eagle Scout showing off his merit badges” and instead focus on actions to deal with racial injustices today.



Jess Wisloski

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  • Rich Lachapelle

    Bernie would be wise to completely ignore the advice of these local “race hustlers”. With his long track record of promoting social justice in general he has nothing to apologize for, especially for his own lack of skin melanin. Race relations in Vermont and in the US will only improve when we all stop our long, tireless obsession with the “race issue” and with the liberal culture of victimology in general. The incessant focusing on race by the lamestream media and by our current President has set race relations back 100 years. The criticisms of Bernie by these charlatans for his supposed lack of empathy in this area are in themselves a “micro-aggression”.

    • John Davy

      Unfortunately there’s a long history of “social justice in general” not being shared with black Americans and other people of color (not that that’s likely to bother anyone who thinks Obama is responsible for setting back race relations. Sheesh.) By the way, literally zero people have criticized Sen. Sanders for his “lack of skin melanin.” I love Bernie but his pointing to his actions 50 years ago as evidence that he’s invested in racial justice here and now is a little embarassing.

    • Mari Cordes

      These are hardly “race hustlers” and “charlatans”. These are our friends, neighbors, community members and leaders calling on all of us, and in this case Bernie Sanders, to stop the ignorance, stop the defensiveness, and stop the denial that race IS, actually, still an issue. The fact that you call this critical work for our community health “incessant focusing” just shines the light on your own ignorance. I’m very grateful that Curtiss wrote these recommendations, and am very grateful for the brave many that are speaking out. And I wish that President Obama had spoken more publicly and earlier on the race issue – he actually has said quite little until the media finally picked up on how many black people are being killed for nothing other than their race. Oh, and I’m white, and not a charlatan.

    • Jason Wells

      Rich, I am with you 100% on this one great comment. Bernie I don’t like him one bit but give me a break he truly has nothing to apologize for. And for the folks on here who feel the need to state their race in the comments “black Vermonter white Vermonter etc” who cares get over it we are all just people.

  • Vicki Garrison

    I agree with the sentiments of this article. Sanders has historically spoken about economic inequality without consideration for how this is impacted by race, racism, privilege, and power in American politics. This is because he approaches the issue of economics from his privileged lens without ability to connect with or regard for other equally valid perspectives, impacted by race. Bernie’s one-size-fits-all approach to economic inequity fails to acknowledge and address the historical and current reality and impact of racism on the lives of people of color. In essence, Bernie’s approach is offensive and endorses colorblind racism ideology.

    As a native black Vermonter, I was familiar with Bernie Sanders as a child, as he frequented and collaborated (in some capacity) with The King Street Youth Center, an organization my mother co-founded. Because of this young real life connection with Bernie, I maintained interest in and followed his political career with the desire to support his political agenda (as I knew my mother had in the early 80’s). This, however, posed an internal conflict for me, that has increased throughout the years, because Bernie’s agenda and messages have remained consistent AND these have been consistently void of me, void of people of color, which is extremely problematic/privileged/racist. What is equally problematic/privileged/racist is that after not mentioning or responding to resounding nationwide concerns related to racial inequality during the launching of his presidential campaign, Bernie, three months in, added some superficial, safe, and, potentially, minimizing sentiments about the “tragic history of racism” in this country and progress obtained through civil rights activism. As a person of color, this is too little too late and not enough, as Bernie continues to fail to meaningfully consider and address how people of color are included in and impacted by his vision, his agenda, as a presidential candidate. Why? Because he can’t. The fact that Bernie marched with Martin Luther King means little to nothing because his ally-ship is perceived to have ended there. He has consistently demonstrated a lack of care for, engagement with, and understanding of people of color throughout his political career that manifested into the continuation of us being rendered invisible and our needs mute as evidenced by his political voice, vision, and accomplishments. In essence, Bernie’s political conduct to date serves as a metaphor for racism in this country where complacency is the norm to meet the needs of the dominate culture (privilege), engagement in “race talk” is self-serving, and where black lives don’t matter. Bernie Sanders needs to unpack his white privilege and learn how to deconstruct and reconstruct his own vision to include voices and needs of people of color before he can be a presidential candidate that has the ability to serve ALL people and impact racial progress in America. As a child, I looked up to Bernie Sanders and viewed him with hope. As a young adult, I maintained hope that I would one day be reflected in his vision. As a mature adult, Bernie has proven to me there is no hope for people of color in his politics.

  • Jill Michaels
    • This is excellent and fascinating – thank you so much for bringing it to my attention.

    • Judith McLaughlin

      The same thing happened to my stepdaughter when she had to locate to a new school.

      The kids in her new school were horrible to her – they made fun of her, laughed behind her back, told lies about her, ignored her, etc..etc.. This went on for an entire year.

      It didn’t matter that she was white and from a well to do family.

      Kids can and will be cruel to anyone.

    • Jess Wisloski

      Thanks for sharing Jill!

  • Ann Raynolds

    Dear Rich,
    I reach out to you from the vantage point of a white American who lived & worked years in the predominantly black neighborhood of Boston (Roxbury). You know not of what you are speaking. We are privileged as white people and some do not even recognize this. It is ONLY through open discussion, engagement with the realities almost daily confronting our fellow Americans of color that we can resolve injustices and fears. Their concerns are real and should be ours as well. People of color face danger just living anywhere in America, and I would be glad to meet with anyone to discuss the pain I have experienced firsthand from experiences of friends of color. Mr. Reed’s advice to Bernie is right on target, and, being a Sanders supporter, I do believe Bernie is looking honestly at his lack of knowledge of how it has been to live with dark skin color for over 400 years in this country.
    I am old, I returned to my home country of Vermont when I thought I was dying (and I’m still kicking 15 years later), but I am always activated to speak out when I read such things as your comment. I continue my visceral sorrow and upset when I read comments such as yours — all too prevalent I fear.
    I reach to you not with anger but with compassion to ask that you open your mind, because you are probably writing from the vantage point of a well-intentioned person who simply does not know or understand that these issues are not going away if we white people ignore them (most black people live with them and so cannot ignore them.). If you are not, as apparently you are not, following the tragedies to African-Americans at the hands of the police this year, then please consider reading online about the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center on the threats to anyone of color by groups of white supremacists and worse.

    • Ann, thanks so much for working compassion into your response. I truly believe that working from an attempt to be compassionate, especially to people at whom I’d rather just yell, is the only lasting way to effect change.

      May I also add Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” to the list? http://newjimcrow.com/

      • Jess Wisloski

        Thanks for that share Nate – I can add this for some context.

  • Janice Prindle

    Well, Mr. Lachapelle, you’ve just proved Mr. Reed’s point. Racism is indeed alive and well in Vermont, as in our nation.

    I am appalled at your characterization of Curtiss Reed and his organization as “hustlers,” not to mention your bizarre view that focusing on the problem of racism in America is due to a “liberal culture of victimology” and has “set race relations back 100 years.”

    Do you know what was happening to blacks in this country 100 years ago, Mr. L.? Lynchings, Jim Crow laws, extreme segregation and every trick in the book to prevent blacks from voting — not just in the South, either. No indeed, liberals and other decent Americans of every color, concerned about racial equality, have not “set us back,” they have been the ones to move us forward. But not far enough.

    When people of color can be denounced as “charlatans” for speaking up about the racism that they experience daily, even in “liberal” Vermont, it’s pretty clear racism continues to be alive and well. The national statistics on employment, wages, and police shootings support Reed’s statement that a progressive candidate like Bernie needs to speak to all Americans, honestly, acknowledging that America has a racism problem — not a race, but a racism problem. I know that being white and of the same generation as Bernie, it is easier to see the progress made in our lifetime than it is to truly experience what it’s like to be a person of color in America today. Mr. Reed is right, we can’t expect “brownie points” for righteous actions 50 years ago.

    I think Bernie is smart enough and cares enough to take this advice, in fact, I understand he already has, in a more recent speech, begun to “connect the dots” between the economic issues and racism.

  • Wanda Hines

    Thank you Mr. Reed….clear and concise. As aVermont African-American woman, it is a shared perspective I’ve witnessed all to often first hand over the last few decades. With this in mind, I especially concur with your following recommendations:

    1. Stop saying you are from a white state. “Acknowledge there are people of color living in Vermont,” instead of “reinforcing a narrative that people of color simply do not count” here.

    2. Meet with groups of Vermonters of color across the state “to learn of the micro-aggressions, micro-invalidations, and micro-injustices we experience.”

  • Vicki Garrisom

    Sanders has historically spoken about economic inequality without consideration for how this is impacted by race, racism, privilege, and power in American politics. This is because he approaches the issue of economics from his privileged lens without ability to connect with or regard for other equally valid perspectives, impacted by race. Bernie’s one-size-fits-all approach to economic inequity fails to acknowledge and address the historical and current reality and impact of racism on the lives of people of color. In essence, Bernie’s approach is offensive and endorses colorblind racism ideology.

    As a native black Vermonter, I was familiar with Bernie Sanders as a child, as he frequented and collaborated (in some capacity) with The King Street Youth Center, an organization my mother co-founded. Because of this young real life connection with Bernie, I maintained interest in and followed his political career with the desire to support his political agenda (as I knew my mother had in the early 80’s). This, however, posed an internal conflict for me (that has increased throughout the years) because Bernie’s agenda and messages have remained consistent AND these have been consistently void of me, void of people of color, which is extremely problematic/privileged/racist. What is equally problematic/privileged/racist is that after not mentioning or responding to resounding nationwide concerns related to racial inequality during the launching of his presidential campaign, Bernie, three months in, added some superficial, safe, and, potentially, minimizing sentiments about the “tragic history of racism” in this country and progress obtained through civil rights activism. As a person of color, this is too little too late and not enough, as Bernie continues to fail to meaningfully consider and address how people of color are included in and impacted by his vision, his agenda, as a presidential candidate. Why? Because he can’t. The fact that Bernie marched with Martin Luther King 52 years ago means little to nothing because his ally-ship is perceived to have ended there. He has consistently demonstrated a lack of care for, engagement with, and understanding of people of color throughout his political career that manifested into the continuation of us being rendered invisible and our needs mute as evidenced by his political voice, vision, and accomplishments. In essence, Bernie’s political conduct to date serves as a metaphor for racism in this country where complacency is the norm to meet the needs of the dominate culture (privilege), engagement in “race talk” is self-serving, and where black lives don’t matter. Bernie Sanders needs to unpack his white privilege and learn how to deconstruct and reconstruct his own vision to include voices and needs of people of color before he can be a presidential candidate that has the ability to serve ALL people and impact racial progress in America. As a child, I looked up to Bernie Sanders and viewed him with hope. As a young adult, I maintained hope that I would one day be reflected in his vision. As a mature adult, Bernie has proven to me there is no hope for people of color in his politics.

  • John Greenberg

    Bravo Curtiss Reed!

  • Lindsay Wenkouni

    As a Vermonter of color I also agree with the sentiments of this article. Thank you Curtiss Reed.

  • Michael T Heath

    Wislowski delivers a first-rate examination of the erstwhile presidential candidate and his better-late-than-never conversion to broaching the touchy subject. Like a true socialist, Mr Sanders has tunnel vision around class struggle – perhaps believing that ALL issues spring from economic ones. Certainly if everybody made the same wages and lived in the same neighborhoods we’d have fewer problems, but we don’t and don’t, with enough egregious violence still lurking as if the KKK controlled police and politicians and armed citizens cost to coast. Sanders is intelligent, but wisdom comes from experience. He hasn’t gone through the same hell black folks face daily, nor does he sincerely empathize with them yet. Grow a bit, Mr Senator. We will notice for sure.

  • Ron Pulcer

    Regarding: “Sanders was caught off guard, and it has been reported that he shouted at the protesters, …”

    I actually watched a video of Sen. Sanders at NetRoots, the day after the event. Yes, he was caught off guard by the protesters interrupting the event. But he was NOT “shouting” back at them. He raised his voice to try to be heard. He even stated that he did not want to shout at the audience. So much for “it has been reported that”.

    Also, Sen. Sanders has acknowledged that these protesters are bringing up a very valid issue and concern on several subsequent interview programs, and stated his willingness to listen and work with them.”

    I do agree with Mr. Reed’s first 4 points. On the fifth point about Bernie Sanders history during the 1960s, from the perspective of Mr. Reed and other commenters, Bernie’s work during Civil Rights era of 1960s might be old history, old news, or not as meaningful today to them. However, it does point out Sanders differences with other Presidential candidates, both Democratic and Republican. Voters in other states might be interested or surprised to learn about this. So to go completely silent on that aspect of Mr. Sanders life is probably not the way to go. Yes, he could tone it down or drop it from some speeches. There’s got to be a happy medium to reach voters in other states who don’t know much about Bernie Sanders.

    From Pinterest:
    https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/0d/01/8b/0d018bd8898e322cb32b0593a481528d.jpg

    BTW, Hillary Clinton did not attend NetRoots, because she was at a “fundraiser”. So she has not gotten the same scrutiny as Sanders and Martin O’Malley.

    Any discussion of race or ethnicity is always a challenging subject. Anyone can be easily misunderstood and then civil discussions can suddenly become uncivil.

    Dialogue is a two-way street. Has Mr. Reed and others considered Bernie Sander’s family background?

    Bernie’s parents were Jewish. His father came to America from Poland at a young age, after other family members were killed in the Holocaust. The Jewish people also have a history of discrimination and were (and still are) targets of ethnic hatred.

    I am not Jewish. But as a Christian, I say everyone is a “child of God”. So Jewish lives also matter, and so do Muslim lives as well. Believers as well as non-believers. All races, all ethnic groups.

    To think that Bernie is “tone-deaf” to how people are suffering in this country and around the world is a bit crazy. Yes, he probably does need to address the concerns of African Americans more directly…

    However, Bernie is well aware of the “divide and conquer” strategy of the elites in power. We are also witnessing the divides within both political parties, within both the so-called right and left. United we stand, divided we fail. We are already very fragmented and divided within this country.

    If Bernie goes around from state to state, city to city, and tries to tailor his message for specific interest groups, he could end up sounding just like a lot of other politicians, and sound less “authentic”. Other politicians are always changing their statements to appease different groups on different days. The fact that Bernie has been consistently concerned about economic just for “all” resonates with me.

    When I attended Bernie’s kickoff event in Burlington, I thought he had a good strategy in that he addressed ALL people across the spectrum of our country. He just happens to go about it differently. He is not trying to appease a certain group or groups of voters in terms of race or ethnicity. But his platform has something for everyone, but from more of an age or life cycle basis: Free / lower college tuition for young people, strengthen Social Security and Medicare for senior citizens, higher wages and paid leave time for workers, parents, families of all ages (which just so “happens” to include all races and ethnic backgrounds, including African Americans).

    Bernie’s approach seems to be more implicit then explicit. He covers the spectrum of our society, but from a different angle than race and ethnicity. If Bernie talks about skyrocketing college tuition and high interest rates, he is talking to young people, that that does include young African Americans, young Hispanics, and young people from every background. When he is talking to seniors, that includes African American seniors, Hispanic seniors and senior citizens from every background.

    I can understand what Mr. Reed is suggesting and I agree with his first 4 out of 5 suggestions. But I also can understand the approach that I think that Sen. Sanders is taking. He knows how “Divide and Conquer” works (against us), and I think he is trying to avoid “dividing” the electorate of this country.

    I hope that Sen. Sanders will dialogue with Mr. Reed. But I also hope that non-white population in Vermont will also work to better understand Sen. Sanders as well. His approach is different than what you might want or expect, but maybe there are reasons for his approach, right or wrong.

  • Fred Woogmaster

    Thank you, Mr. Pulcer, for posting such a substantive comment – with which I generally concur.

    Senator Sanders has been a constant beacon of light for all marginalized citizens over the course of his entire public career.

    He speaks to the three pillars of liberty, justice and equality forcefully and consistently – with great courage.

    His authenticity – which I greatly admire – is commendable.

  • Infinite Culcleasure

    This might sound politically awkward, yet, I wonder how one is bestowed with the title of
    “diversity leader” when their followers are politicians, dept. heads, and well-intentioned “white Vermonters”?

  • Regarding, “…But I also can understand the approach that I think that Sen. Sanders is taking. He knows how “Divide and Conquer” works (against us), and I think he is trying to avoid “dividing” the electorate of this country.”

    The false premise of Sen. Sanders’ approach to avoid “Divide and Conquer” is that we are in the first place united. And Sanders now understands this from his NetRoots experience.

    Unfortunately for Sanders his civil rights credentials of 50 years ago mean little to contemporary communities of color which are seeking a response to the refrain “What have you done for me lately!” by Janet Jackson.

    When Sanders touts his 50 year old civil rights credentials the response by people of color is, “So what?”

    Opposition research in communities of color across the nation will begin examining Sanders’ relationship to Vermont’s communities of color and will, at this point in time, extrapolate that the relationship is at best characterized as benign neglect, an afterthought. They will justifiably question his commitment to racial justice in the national arena based on the state of his relationship with Vermont leaders of color.

    Sanders has very little time to garner the trust and support of Vermont’s communities of color before opposition research by communities of color nationwide kicks in. I believe this should be a powerful incentive for Sanders to drop the 50 year old references in favor of highlighting his actions designed to address contemporary racial injustice separate and distinct from economic injustice.

    • Ron Pulcer

      Curtiss,

      Thanks for the reply. I understand your point about “false premise” re: “that we are in the first place united”. But I did mention a few paragraphs beforehand:

      “However, Bernie is well aware of the “divide and conquer” strategy of the elites in power. We are also witnessing the divides within both political parties, within both the so-called right and left. United we stand, divided we fail. We are already very fragmented and divided within this country.”

      So I am not claiming that we were ever united, whether across race, state lines, political parties, etc.

      You are probably correct about the 50 year old history, and I can understand from your perspective. But then again, Sen. Sanders is running nationwide, and people in other states had never heard of Bernie before this year. It’s not just about Vermont, we only have 3 Electoral Votes.

      As far as the opposition research, you have an interesting point. But it makes me wonder if those who would be doing the “opposition research” would be aligned with Republican Party or Hillary campaign? Or, are they truly “independent” of other political campaigns?

      As an observer of the political process, I have to point out what constitutes the political divides and political parties depends on what state you live in. I grew up in Michigan in Metro Detroit. In SE Michigan, the affiliation to Democratic to Republican parties in part has to do with racial issues. Here in Vermont, it seems to me to be more about economic issues. There are certainly overlaps. You are correct that the folks you represent don’t want be ignored by our political leaders and representatives. But then again, Bernie is representing Vermont and not Michigan, so his approach is certainly different than a Senator from another U.S. State.

      Now on that he is on the national stage, I’m sure he will have to evaluate his approach to the issues you and others are raising, and have further discussion and speeches on these topics.

      BTW, have you heard about Karen Hunter’s “Party of Lincoln” idea? She has a radio show on Sirius XM 121 (Insight). She has suggested that African Americans vote in the Republican primaries (Party of Lincoln), and vote for Ben Carson. I think it is another approach of disruption, but targeted at the Republican primary process instead of the Democratic process (as seen at NetRoots).

      http://www.karenhuntershow.com/#!party-of-lincoln/c1hk8

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karenhunter/black-voters-republicans_b_6030592.html

  • The dynamic is quite complex. Things are not always what they appear to be.

    Some of the most aggressive and disruptive anti Vietnam War protesters were planted by the FBI to give the movement a bad name.

    Sanders does have work to do to demonstrate that he really does “get it” – today. I believe he will demonstrate that if given an opportunity.

    It is Sanders’ drive for equal justice with liberty that I find so appealing.

  • Roger Carnahan

    The problem that Mr. Sanders has is that he has not been challenged by the Vermont press. So any type of tough questioning or criticism he “folds.

    Anytime he would come under scrutiny, the Vermont press would provide cover for him. I am thinking about that creepy article he wrote about “women fantasizing about rape” in 1972.

    I lived in Vermont all my life and I never heard about that article before. If that was a republican, he would be done forever.

  • Regarding: “This might sound politically awkward, yet, I wonder how one is bestowed with the title of “diversity leader” when their followers are politicians, dept. heads, and well-intentioned “white Vermonters”?”

    I agree it would sound politically awkward if those were our only partners, however that is clearly not the case.

    For example, as executive director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity I maintain contact with nearly 200 leaders of color across the state. In May 2010 we convened Making Vermont Work for Everyone: A Think Tank for Vermont Leaders where 50+ of these leaders met at the Vermont Law School. Collectively we decided to work in concert towards four strategic goals in Education, Economic Development, Civic Engagement and Wellness. Some of our accomplishments with these leaders include…

    1. convincing Gov. Shumlin and the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing to launch the Vermont African American Heritage Trail with the dual purpose to education Vermont students on Black History and to expand the state’s economic pie through cultural tourism. Vermont Partnership volunteers identified 95 potential sites to include on the Trail.

    2. successfully advocating for changes to the governor’s online webpage for gubernatorial boards and commissions. We promised that if he made the changes we would promote the site to our statewide constituents. Doing so has led to Shumlin’s appointment of over 30 Vermonters of color to various gubernatorial boards and commissions from the State Police Advisory Commission to the Community High School to the State Board of Education to the Human Rights Commission to the Vermont Community Development Board just to name a few.

    3. nearly one third of members on the State Police Fair and Impartial Policing Committee are persons of color, as almost half of those serving on the Vermont Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission.

    4. fulfilled a request from leaders of color at the 2010 think tank to create subsequent conferences focused on inclusion and equity with Vermont’s mainstream leaders—and thus was born the Annual Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Conference. Now in our fourth year, participation by leaders of color range from 25-40%.

    5. continue to issue our six year old newsletter, Fairness Matters, that highlights issues, civic engagement opportunities, and the accomplishments of leaders of color. From time to time I have sent an advance copy of my commentaries to leaders of color to solicit their thoughts in an effort to present our thoughts collectively.

    Please contact me directly if you any questions about our work. I will meet with anyone, anywhere in Vermont at a mutually convenient time who wants details of our groundbreaking work most of which over the last two decades has been underwritten with volunteer labor and private donations.

  • Ellen Oxfeld

    I think Curtiss Reed has articulated some common sense suggestions that will help Bernie Sanders to incorporate a greater understanding of structural racism in the United States and Vermont into his campaign and to advocate more effectively on these fronts.

    Of course, race and class are not the same, and a sole focus on class cannot in and of itself end racism.

    But, at the same time, let’s not forget the concrete ways these issues are often tied together, and the ways the programs Bernie advocates would go a long way in fighting racism.

    To be clear, I am NOT saying that it is enough to talk about class and never mention the operations of racism specifically, that would be ridiculous. But, at the same time, we shouldn’t through the baby out with the bathwater (so to speak). Here are a few examples off the top of my head of how the policies that Bernie Sanders fights for are essential ingredients in ending racial oppression (and again, this should not be misread to indicate that I think talking about class alone is sufficient in ending racism):

    1. Single payer: infant mortality is double amongst black mothers as opposed to white mothers; African-American women with breast cancer have lower survival rates than white mothers, and the list goes on and on. Studies show that blacks and other racial minorities receive worse medical care than whites, and also, that poor people receive worse care than the rich. Single payer won’t solve all of these overnight but will certainly help make giant strides in reducing these glaring disparities. As MLK said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

    2. Economic policies: it goes without saying that Bernie’s economic policies would benefit the communities in our country that are most economically oppressed, and this includes many communities of color who have seen their situation deteriorate steadily as wealth is siphoned off to the top due to the neo-liberal economic policies that Bernie opposes (and which, quite frankly, are supported by the other candidates).

    3. Criminal justice system reform and civil liberties: Bernie has pretty much a 100% voting record on civil liberties, including expanding voting rights and all anti-discrimination measures, including strengthening penalties for hate crimes. I think his strong civil libertarian bent means that ending police violence against innocent civilians, ending disproportionate incarceration of racial minorities and fighting discrimination would be central to any Sanders’ presidency.

    I would also add that historically we see a connection with deteriorating economic situations and an increase in both racism and xenophobia. These must be fought head on, of course, and it is not to say that structural racism is ever absent — even in good economic times. But, it is also important to change the neo-liberal economic policies that bring this economic situation about in the first place and can exacerbate all these.

    I don’t think any of the other candidates as come close to doing that.

  • Matt Kelly

    I agree- there is a problem with people of color being killed by Police – and it isn’t being talked about, not even by Curtiss and his organization. http://thefreethoughtproject.com/police-killing-native-americans-higher-rate-race-talking/

  • Ellen Oxfeld

    And, I would like to link to this article from Alternet which details many of Bernie Sanders legislative and other actions in support of civil rights, human rights and against racism:
    http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/20-examples-bernie-sanders-powerful-record-civil-and-human-rights-1950s

  • Ellen Oxfeld

    Here are a few other facts that need to get out there in all fairness: Bernie Sanders was a strong supporter of the Voting Rights Act and has long played an active role in calling for expanded voting rights. In the last year, he has been speaking out about police violence ever since the events in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. The record is there in the Alternet article cited above.

    It is one thing to say that Sanders emphasizes class, and a different thing to say he ignores racism — which is just not the case.

  • Ron Pulcer

    Matt and Ellen,

    Thanks for the above web links!

  • steve merrill

    Like the old neighbor said to the Pol campaigning on his porch, “so what have you done for ME lately?”..Must Bernie rehash his bona-fides at every event, always? That video listed above (Race To Vermont, YouTube) was good, and it’s NEVER easy to be a “new kid” more so being black/brown. I was the only “farm kid” on my bus w/manure shoes going from barn to bus, in a yuppie suburb in the 1960’s and boy did I catch hell for that, only to be eclipsed during the Cuban Missile crisis (my mom was a Russian emigre’) when we had swastikas and hammer/sickles painted in the street, and just when years went by and got “settled” it was off to “Trade School” in the absolute worst part of Fitchburg with goons and rejects from every school in the district so beatings/hazing were an everyday occurrence always unseen by teachers/faculty. Now we have “hazing laws” yet kids still commit suicide from unabated bullying. One of my buddies was bi-racial but he got the most grief from his dad being the police chief in his small town, so he got it from both sides. The only silver lining that not only saved me but made me money was my cow-tongue sandwiches for lunch, at first it was a “gross-out” but then I charged the kids to “touch the bumps” on the edges @ 10 cents a feel!! We need to radically change the “cop-shootings” mentality, right here in Vt. along with court sanctioned “testi-lying” by same as when a dash-cam shows a cop is LYING under oath and the Judge ONLY dismisses the case, BOTH the cops AND the Judges/DA’s should be busted for false swearing. Look at how long (2-3 minutes?) it took the cops to execute “shovel-guy” Wayne Brunette, and why did one cop BLAST him while the other didn’t even shoot once? Here in Newport a cop (the Prive case) LIED under oath, trying to bust a guy on a FELONY rap, when his dash-cam showed his lies Judge Bethyhusen just “dismissed” the case while the cop is free to beat, taser-shock, and arrest others again? Same with the cop who lied about a “red-light” runner who SHOWED in court the cop was LYING, and WE, through the VLCT, just pay and pay “excessive force” settlements on these rogues? And where’s AG Sorrell? All but the most egregious always get “cleared”, and then bumped down to small cities like Hardwick that have a hard time hiring, just because they are “certified”? We have a POLICE problem, and yes race plays a BIG part, but you will NEVER see a rich man nor a cop in jail, period. The whole system is rotten from the state AG to the Judges & local DA’s, and finally to the cops they cover for, again and again. And where did they get these enhanced powers/tactics from? The so-called “War On Drugs” which has shredded the 4th Amendment and given them powers unseen in this country pre-1960. Thank God for cell-phone cams lest this would remain unseen, now we have to rescind the search & seizure laws, Terry stops, civil forfeitures and support the good cops who MUST come forward to weed out the “stick-happy” bullies and beaters and picket the judges who allow this crap in their courtrooms and elect an AG committed to REAL reforms. Otherwise minorities and poor whites will continue to get beaten and falsely prosecuted. WE have to let THEM know it’s OVER..SM, North Troy.

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