Sen. Bernie Sanders burned up any doubts about his appeal to young African-American voters Tuesday night with a fiery turnout at historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta.
The woolly Independent senator from Vermont drew nearly 5,000 millennial supporters. Many were students from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater and nearby historically black schools Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College. Some came from nearby Georgia State University. All stood in line for up to three hours to see the Democratic presidential candidate at Forbes Arena.
They wore Sanders t-shirts and buttons. They carried signs. They solicited volunteers. They “Felt The Bern,” as the Vermont senator’s refrain goes.
How has a 74-year-old self-described socialist connected with 2016 college students?
“This is my first opportunity to vote,” Morehouse freshman Dardae Owens, 18, told AMI Newswire. “My grandmother told me to come here to learn about Bernie Sanders for myself. He’s captured the attention of young people. We talk about it on campus.
“I like that his positions now are the same from years ago,” Owens added. “He’s progressive. He’s old, but he’s cool, too.”
Sanders's left-wing fire and brimstone appealed to other students.
“It’s nice to see someone who is super liberal in the presidential race,” said Mia, a 20-year-old Spelman student from Dallas. “I identify as a womanist, and my feminist views lie in a context of race as well, and I don’t think (Democratic front-runner Hillary) Clinton fully addresses how race can effect our gender’s quality of life."
“His message resonates with me and my people,” Georgia State senior Christopher Mitial, a Sanders volunteer, told AMI Newswire. “I’m looking for consistency. I looked at clips from the ‘90s and, across the board, he’s talking about the same things now: equal rights for all, universal health care, economic parity.”
Mitial acknowledged that there is a range of opinion on Sanders, whose past pronouncements have included a suggestion that Americans who don’t graduate college are “on a path to jail” and his criticism of the number of underarm spray deodorants on the market.
“We hear different views, including conservative,” he said. “No one’s afraid to share his thoughts. The blacks on our campus follow along the lines of (President) Obama, believing Bernie would be more like him. Then there are some who want to see a woman president. So, it’s pretty divided. But I know where my vote is going.”
Sanders and a succession of speakers tried mightily to persuade any undecided student voters.
Actress Jasmine Guy, former Ohio Sen. Nina Turner, South Carolina State Rep. Justin T. Bamberg and Georgia Sen. Vincent Fort warmed up the crowd with fierce rhetoric about why Sanders deserved their vote. (Bamberg and Fort announced that they had flipped to Sanders after publicly endorsing Clinton.)
Rapper Killer Mike took aim at Clinton for what he called a “wait a while” approach to the Black Lives Matter movement and a presumption that women must vote for her.
"And then she get good,” Killer Mike told an energized audience. “She have your own momma come to you, your momma sit down and say: 'Well, you're a woman.' But I talked to (feminist) Jane Elliott a few weeks ago, and Jane said: 'Michael, a uterus doesn't qualify you to be president of the United States. You have to have policies that's reflective of social justice.’ ”
In his remarks, Sanders condemned police-involved killings, disparities in imprisonment, and criminalization of marijuana. He took aim at Republicans over lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s municipal water supply. He pledged to “end sexism and racism” and guarantee “equal pay.”
“We have a broken criminal justice system that is tied to institutional racism,” Sanders said in one of many comments that drew uproarious applause. “We’re going to bring the justice back to the criminal justice system ... We have more people incarcerated than any place on earth. I make a promise to you: As president, after my first term, we will not have more people in jail than everywhere in the world.”
Sanders gave special attention to recent high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement.
“Together, we are going to end the horrors of what we have seen time and time again on TV of unarmed African-American men being shot and killed,” he said. “Lethal force has to be the last resort, not the first resort ... In America, police departments should reflect the diversity of the community they serve.”
The 42-minute speech got an enthusiastic response from a crowd that event organizers put at 4,821.
“For me, I would rank having a strong position on Black Lives Matter a seven out of 10 in terms of importance,” said Mia, the Spelman student, who declined to give her surname. “And Bernie Sanders seems stronger on that issue that really matters to us.”
“That’s why he’s building support from African-American students,” Jabari Williams, 22, said after Sanders’ appearance. “I know it’s politics, but he’s saying the right things to the right people. He’s much more liberal than his competition. He’s speaking to us, even at his age. We’re not like our parents were at our age. We have seen great change under President Obama and we need someone to follow him that we believe will carry on his work.”
“That’s important,” Owens, the Morehouse freshman, said. “We don’t want to see much change from President Obama. We want to see what he has done continue, and Bernie Sanders is the one who seems most able to do that. That’s why they say: ‘Feel The Bern.’ ”