Ha! Sorry? Not Sorry: Bernie Sanders Nixes Aide’s Apology to Black Lives Matter

Lauren Victoria Burke
Sen. Bernie Sanders is intereviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press Aug. 16, 2015.
YouTube/NBC screenshot

A day after an aide apologized to Black Lives Matter organizers on his campaign's behalf, presidential wannabe Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) publicly dissed the apology, telling Chuck Todd on Meet the Press Sunday that it wasn't necessary.

BuzzFeed's Darren Sands reported Saturday that Sanders' African-American outreach director, Marcus Ferrell, emailed a group of activists asking them to have a "more formal" meeting with the senator.


"I apologize it took our campaign so long to officially reach out," Ferrell wrote the activists. "We are hoping to establish a REAL space for REAL dialog between the folks on this email and our campaign."

The email also said that the campaign wanted to "have a more formal interaction with the movement. We wanted to let you know that we hear you, we want to do a better job speaking out on the issues, and as a sitting U.S. Senator, possibly introducing legislation and making a constitutional change." 

But when asked on the NBC show whether he felt an apology to Black Lives Matter was necessary, the Vermont senator told Todd, "No, I don't. I think we're going to be working with all groups. This was sent out without my knowledge."

Before that, Sanders had flatly said, "We will meet with everybody," then rattled off the names of different constituencies, indicating that Black Lives Matter is no more or less important than any other group he may or may not meet with.


The exchange between Sanders and Todd was a study in how black advocates are treated by some progressives in a Democratic Party that depends on black votes to win on the national level. In the case of Sanders, his campaign avoids any specific endorsement of policies of concern to black advocates—in this case the specific policy agenda of Black Lives Matter. Meanwhile, progressives have had no problem loudly endorsing, supporting and repeating the concerns of other groups under the Democratic Party's wide umbrella—even though those groups are less loyal. It's hard to imagine Sanders saying that he'd meet with immigration or LGBT advocates just as he'd reach out to "all kinds of groups," in a clear effort to negate their relative importance.

What we see with Sanders when it comes to black-agenda priorities is a resistance to supporting items of importance. This is in contrast with what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also a Democratic presidential candidate, has said on the campaign trail as she speaks bluntly on racism in the criminal-justice system, white privilege, police brutality, racial profiling and overincarceration. 


Meanwhile, the group of voters in America with the highest percentage of participation is black women. Sanders has attracted massive crowds at his rallies but would appear to be a phenomenon among white progressives who are resistant to focusing on the specific policy concerns of Black Lives Matter. Those specific demands have been public for over a year and can be seen here

Sanders recently hired Symone Sanders, a young black woman, as his national press secretary. Symone Sanders, a member of the National Urban League's Young Professionals Network in Arlington, Va., reportedly came up with the idea that Sanders' supporters would chant "We stand together" if there were a disruption at any future Sanders event. It's an idea that did not go over well with many young activists.  


Symone Sanders participated in an NUL Young Professionals Black Lives Matter Action Lab last Thursday night in Arlington, where about 80 young professionals packed the room and discussed activism and policy.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. She appears regularly on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. Follow her on Twitter

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