For Black Democrats, "Bernie Or Bust" is Hustling Backwards

The year was 2011. 

Like most years in college football, there was a consensus #1 draft choice. Very little was debatable about if Andrew Luck was the no-brainer choice for whoever fell to the top spot in that year's draft. He was the crown prince of college football. Arm strength, leadership, size, speed, and as "pro-ready" as any quarterback since Peyton Manning was drafted. Luck was the golden child that possessed the tangibles and intangibles that would make him a sure fire hall of famer by the time his pro career ended. Everyone knew whoever drafted Luck that year would see their fortunes turn on end, including the team that was slotted to pick first that year - The Carolina Panthers.

There was only one problem. Three months prior to the 2011 Draft, Andrew Luck announced he would opt out of that years certain first selection - and the accompanying multi-million contract of guaranteed money - and return to Stanford for another year. I'm quite sure the Panthers were, understandably, heartbroken when that announcement came. The team had likely scouted Luck for over a year, planned a future with him, and was sure he would be the answer to all of their problems. Imagine if the Panthers decided, "You know what, since the player we want isn't available, we just aren't going to draft at all this year".

Doing so would mean missing out on the new "consensus" #1. Here, you have a player with all of the upside of Luck... a physical specimen with off the chart measurables who led his team to the national championship and win the Heisman trophy in the same year. This player, however, was shrouded in controversy and character issues. Claims of theft and illegal recruitment scandals followed him wherever he went - from Florida, to JuCo, then to Auburn University. He was a player with high negatives but even higher positives. Skipping out on this draft would have been a decision that would have cost the Panthers the chance at drafting Cam Newton.

The 2016 primary election is turning out to be the equivalent of the 2011 Draft.  Today, the Democratic party is entrenched in a heated primary cycle where the a fan-favorite is challenging the establishment and offering to fundamentally alter the way our nation functions. Bernie Sanders is gaining momentum in a race where, a year ago, Hillary Clinton was all but assured the nomination. Bernie Sanders has evolved from the crazy, old, stringy-haired Independent barking at politicians in the Senate to the crazy, old, stringy-haired Democratic nominee who has a damn good chance of being elected. The only difference between now and one year ago is people are NOW paying attention to what he is barking about, and they like what they hear. 

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Young Democrats have developed a peculiar love affair with Bernie, an infatuation that has crept its way into the Black community, for understandable reasons. His promises to fix a broken electoral system, eliminate for profit prisons, end an era of disproportionate mass incarceration of minorities, and reintroduce a federal government that works for the citizens resonates among democrats of all hues. Even more, the very promises Bernie pledges to keep, if elected, pull at many of the negatives that shroud his opposition, the front runner, Hillary Clinton. She embodies everything Sanders has set out to abolish, and because of that a seemingly stark divide has been established - real or not - between the two Democratic candidates. And, herein lies the problem.

As the primary season carries on, it becomes more evident that the uphill battle Sanders faces in acquiring the Democratic nomination is becoming increasingly insurmountable. In an effort to reshape the nomination, an new movement among Sanders followers has been to adopt the "Bernie or Bust" mantra. The threat to sit out the 2016 general election, should Bernie Sanders not receive the Democratic nomination, is gaining steam among Sanders supporters, and, by the looks of social media commentary, the pledge has taken root in the Black community as well. 

Here's what "Bernie or Bust" REALLY means. 

It means cutting record-setting African American turnout from the 2008 and 2012 elections, potentially, in half. In the 2008 General Election 131 Million voters turned out to the polls - a five million voter increase from 2004. Of that five-million voter increase, more than two-million were Black. For the first time in recent history, Black turnout mattered; so much so, Republican controlled states began to implement unprecedented levels of restrictive electoral legislation aimed at suppressing Black turnout across the country. From limiting early voting periods, to implementing Voter ID laws, to hindering registration in predominately Black communities, for the past 6 years, Republicans have vowed to thwart the voting power of the Blacks. Voluntarily abstaining from participation accomplishes this goal for them. Essentially, "Bernie or Bust" is self imposed voter suppression. 

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Electorally, it means handing over key states, and likely the election, to Republicans. Research shows that African Americans were singlehandedly responsible for the election of Obama in 10 key states where a majority of Caucasians voted Republican. These states include Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia - key electoral prizes that were largely decided by less than a five-point margin. Sitting out the 2016 election means the Republican candidate - whoever that may be - is likely to make strides in most, if not all, of those highly contested and extremely valuable states. In doing so, you lose the one and only roadblock in the way of the Republican forced agenda that means the death of the Voting Rights Act, the imposition of discriminatory "Religious Freedom" legislation nation wide, the repeal of universal health insurance, and a return to the same trickle-down economic system that ruined the nation's economy.

"Bernie or Bust" also means becoming a hypocrite. A blanket refusal to vote for Hillary Clinton in the General Election due to her negatives means questioning your motives in your likely support for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. If you have a problem with Hillary receiving campaign contributions from corporate donors, It should really grind your gears that Obama set national campaign records in 2008, and then subsequently shattered in 2012, largely by benefiting from (wait for it) corporate sponsors. That's right, the biggest beneficiary from Citizens United, and the broken campaign contributions system, was Barack Obama. If you oppose mass incarceration of minorities, no president has locked up and deported more minorities than President Obama. If you can't find yourself voting for a moderate, Barack Obama passed more conservative-friendly policies than any Democrat president in your lifetime, including extending the Patriot Act, corporate and financial bailouts, and conservative trade policies that encouraged outsourcing. More ironically, primary elections are designed to create a rallying effect around the eventual nominee, so if the tension of the 2016 election cycle has created a situation where you are adamantly opposed to the idea of a Clinton presidency, imagine how Clinton supporters felt in 2008. The Obama - Clinton feud was exponentially more contentious, significantly closer, and definitely uglier than Clinton's second run. Mudslinging and semi-racist undertones filled the primary election season, and Clinton refused to concede the election until weeks before the convention. Had Clinton supporters not rallied around Obama immediately after her concession, effectively dividing the Democratic Party, there would be no Obama presidency. 

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Most importantly, the "Bernie or Bust" movement throws away all of the political capital the Black community has accumulated of the past eight years. For the first time in nearly half a century, the black population has ushered in political change that hasn't been experienced since the Civil Rights Movement. Aside from the election of the first Black President, movements across the county are actually shaping policy debates, altering legislation, and redefining political activism in America. The Black Voice has also effectively garnered support from other demographic groups, creating coalitions that are driving forces in american politics. Sitting out this election works counteractive to the tools that have been acquired that make Black political activism effective: leverage and accountability. The Black Democrat has achieved levels of political leverage and has forced major candidates to shape their policy proposals, address minority specific issues, and has given the community a unified voice for the first time in a long time. Dividing the Black Voice throws away whatever political leverage has been built. You also lose any way to hold the eventual president accountable for policy decisions in the future should a large segment of the Black voice be lost. With a split Black electorate, coalitions are destroyed and Black mandates get shoved back to the pile rather than remaining a priority.

Should Hillary become the nominee, the goal should not be to abandon the process. The goal should be to change her into the candidate Black Democrats want her to be, to force her to take on Black issues, not as convenient talking points, but as solid policy proposals. The goal should be to use the political clout that the Black community gained, and to continue to shape the political landscape for future generation. Sitting out returns Black Democrats to pre-Obama politics where courting the support of the community was a secondary concern.

For Black Democrats, a blanket disavowal of Clinton support, should she be the eventual nominee, is hustling backwards. This is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton by any means, nor is it a criticism of Bernie supporters. However, in pining over the loss of Andrew Luck, you might find yourself missing out on Cam Newton and ending up with Tim Tebow. I understand that most of you are new to the political arena, and the Obama phenomenon brought you here, so I don't blame you for your attachment to Sanders, However, if the goal is to have a Democrat in the White House, should the outcome of the primary season not turn out in your favor, remember, anything is better than the Republican alternative. Voluntarily sitting out this election for that reason is the equivalent of remaining single your entire life because your first grade crush didn't pan out.