Tuesday, March 10, 2020
As the Democratic presidential primary season winnows down to a two-man race between U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, Sanders campaign surrogates Phillip Agnew and Barbara Smith visited Jackson to talk about his campaign and "the material needs of everyday people in Mississippi," which Agnew centered as the core of Sanders' message.
Sanders did not travel to Mississippi for the campaign stop in the auditorium of the Two Mississippi Museums on Friday, March 6, as promised earlier in the week. He canceled his scheduled appearance with Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, a long-time supporter, before the event, as the senator diverted his travel plans to fight off a Biden surge in Michigan.
Agnew told the nearly full room that his role in hosting the event was to have "an open and honest conversation," to discuss "what we can do to grow this movement and win the White House."
"This political process should be about bringing all of us in and not electing some savior who's going to do everything," Agnew said. "It's easy for me to say to someone, how many people you got in your family that's been to jail? Why are they in jail? Mostly for weed. Have they ever seen $5,000? Probably not. Well, do you know who's making $20 billion a year off of marijuana while they've got life? And I've seen it happen—people say, Bernie's got my vote."
'Bread and Butter Concerns'
Agnew, a Florida native, became politically active in 2012 after Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman pursued, shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed high-school student. Before joining the Sanders campaign, Agnew helped co-found the Dream Defenders, a Florida-based activist group that focuses on community organizing as well as prison, environmental, and education reform.
Barbara Smith, a longtime feminist scholar and two-term Albany, N.Y., councilwoman, joined Agnew at the Friday event. She argued that the Sanders campaign represents meaningful change. "I think the cosmetic approach is an approach that people really love in this nation, because you know that they don't really want masses of people to understand what is actually going on here," Smith said. "People have day-to-day bread-and-butter concerns including health care for all, Medicare for all, that this campaign really addresses."
"It's natural, I think, when you have the opportunity to support a candidate who stands for (these things)—why wouldn't I want to be a part of that?" Smith said, adding that the only campaign she had worked on previously was Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential run. Sanders endorsed Jackson in that effort, and Jackson endorsed Sanders in turn, throwing his support behind the Vermont senator two days ago.
Smith's list of goals for the Sanders campaign was extensive, including extensive police reform: "Holding police accountable. Demilitarizing and diversifying police forces and creating an unarmed corps of first responders. Think about that."
The discussion was part of a larger "weekend of action" with Agnew leading volunteers in door-to-door canvassing. On Sunday, canvassers organized outside Callaway High School in north Jackson. After staff helped ensure supporters had the right app installed to help with voter outreach, actor Danny Glover stepped forward to offer words of encouragement.
"This could be a very important moment for not only this state but what is happening around the country," Glover said.
Both Glover and Sanders, as well as Lumumba, have campaigned in Mississippi on behalf of unionization at the Nissan plant in Gluckstadt. Both Sanders and Biden have drawn union support for nomination.
'A White Horse of the Establishment"
In contrast to Sanders' cancellation, Biden came to speak at New Hope Baptist Church and Tougaloo College on Sunday, March 8. There, Biden credited the African American community nationwide for his resurgence in the polls and his campaign's jolt back into the lead after Super Tuesday.
Both candidates are hoping to sway voters, but polling data for Mississippi suggest a strong 77% to 22% lead [ LINK: https://www.dataforprogress.org/blog/2020/3/8/ahead-in-ms-mo ] for Biden in the Magnolia State where powerful Democrats from U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy endorsed him and appeared with him over the weekend in Jackson. Sanders did not take much more than 30 percent in any state on Super Tuesday except for his home state of Vermont—the percentage of the Democratic vote that his campaign believed could get him to the Democratic National Convention and, ultimately, the nomination.
Edward-Isaac Dovere reported in The Atlantic in 2019 that Sanders' presidential strategy was to get 30% of the vote so he could play "spoiler" for the party, ultimately landing him in the White House: "He's counting on winning Iowa and New Hampshire, where he was already surprisingly strong in 2016, and hoping that Cory Booker and Kamala Harris will split the black electorate in South Carolina and give him a path to slip through there, too," Dovere wrote. "And then, Sanders aides believe, he'll easily win enough delegates to put him into contention at the convention. They say they don't need him to get more than 30 percent to make that happen."
But even with Sanders' slim prospects for a win in Mississippi, Agnew remains determined, indicating that Biden was coming to Mississippi "riding a white horse of the establishment," using one of Sanders' favorite terms for the Democratic Party, which he does not identify with even as he runs for its party nomination.
"I like to say that we're an unstoppable force against a seemingly immovable object," Agnew said.
Email state intern Julian Mills at [email protected]. State reporter Nick Judin contributed to this report.