The Bernie Sanders campaign: Connecting with black voters is a work in progress.

 photo 46f769a0-d795-4a95-aabd-58aeae51330c_zpsqjycpysy.jpg

The Bernie Sanders campaign: Connecting with black voters is a work in progress.

After taking a look at the campaign staff and advisers for Hillary Clinton, looking specifically at people of color in major positions, I promised I would do the same for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

As it stands to date, there is not a lot to report, but there has been some progress since his initial announcement. Based on examining his campaign staffing page, and searching to identify the people currently listed there, he needs to step up the hires of people who can assist him with networking in the all important segment of the base that votes for Democrats, specifically women of color, and black women in particular.

Vis-a-vis a Bakari Sellers (Clinton supporter) twitter exchange I found a new black female staffer, whose name is not yet on the Sanders campaign website—Donni Turner.

 photo 2f7a1289-0e29-42b4-91a1-c64530addfd7_zps7qy6c6uz.jpg

From her linked-in site, here’s her bio.

Donni Turner, a Capitol Hill veteran, former White House intern and legislative strategist, advises the Secretary on departmental policy issues, coordinates statewide legislative initiatives, and develops programs consistent with departmental and administration priorities. As director of policy, Donni led Maryland’s implementation of the Veterans Full Employment Act which helps veterans receive expedited occupational and professional licenses. Donni successfully worked with the Joint Enforcement Task Force on Workplace Fraud and the General Assembly to amend the Maryland Workplace Fraud Act. Donni also led the Department’s legislative efforts related to the Maryland Foreclosure Task Force.

At the Podesta Group, Donni Turner provided expert counsel on a wide variety of issues, including homeland security, governmental affairs, education, and technology. Working with veterans’ service organizations, she was instrumental in ensuring that the Veterans Training Act and the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act provided post-9/11 GI benefits to veterans participating in distance learning and certificate and diploma programs at career colleges.

Donni also served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, the Assistant Majority Leader. She was responsible for the Senator’s fair housing legislation as well as homeland security and governmental affairs. Earlier, she was the Legislative Director for U.S. Representative David Scott. In that position, she was responsible for managing the Congressman’s legislative priorities, floor activity, and floor votes, coordinating legislative initiatives, and directing legislative staff and committee activities.

Donni began her career as a congressional staffer in the office of former U.S. Senator Max Cleland. She received two awards during her tenure with Senator Cleland: the Bill Johnstone Public Policy Award in 2002 and Employee of the Quarter for the Second Quarter of 2001.

She has strong roots in Atlanta GA, where she was one of five sisters who graduated from HBCU Spelman College. Turner, is now tweeting for Bernie.

I was able to identify one Latina, Susana Cervantes, who came into his campaign from her position in the draft Elizabeth Warren team.

(announced June 22, 2015) Western regional field director on the Run Warren Run campaign. Worked for the Nevada Democratic Party, Organizing for Action in Chicago and in 2012 as a field organizer for President Obama’s re-election campaign in Las Vegas, and started as an organizer for the United Farm Workers in California.

With the exception of his speech to an enthusiastic crowd at La Raza, his mass events have attracted overwhelmingly white audiences, even in areas that have sizable minority populations. The good news is that the campaign is very aware of this, and on his upcoming schedule he will be making some venue shifts.

Supporters have raised the point that it is early yet, and he does not have the funding to make those hires. His key advisers, and spokespeople currently are all white males. Tad Devine is a very experienced political operative and has reported that Bernie’s schedule is about to shift into places where he will be addressing black audiences, which is good to hear.

He has opportunities to connect more deeply with African-Americans in the days ahead. He is slated to speak Saturday at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Baton Rouge and at the end of the month he is set to address the National Urban League in Fort Lauderdale. A campaign aide said that Sanders will talk about race, touching on malnutrition in the inner city and youth unemployment among other topics in upcoming speeches. Last week Sanders, 73, spoke at the National Council of La Raza, where he touted his immigrant roots and vowed to push for a pathway to citizenship.

‘Energize minorities’

And he recently tweeted: “We must energize minorities all across the country to engage in the Democratic process and thwart efforts to disenfranchise minority voters.”

“It’s important for him to make sure the core constituencies know who he is,” said Tad Devine, a senior campaign adviser. “We have a story to tell about him and we are going to campaign actively in different communities.”

Campaign trips to Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina are planned for August—all three states have significant black populations. Spotlighting Sanders’ early activism will be key to connecting with African-American voters, Devine said.

I disagree with Devine on that last point. Repeating that Bernie attended the March on Washington. and his other early civil rights activities isn’t sufficient. What needs to be done is to point out his voting record on issues of high interest to communities of color, and he will need to talk more comfortably about systemic racism, police violence, incarceration, voting rights, and defacto segregation in schools and housing. Pivoting rapidly to a discussion of jobs is not the answer to our concerns about racism in America. They will certainly help, but there are plenty people of color with jobs, who are oppressed daily (and who die) as a result of this nation’s built-in structural racism.

Bernie Sanders needs more staff who can connect him with existing black voting networks. Black people gather in church, in barbershops and beauty parlors, and in powerful social, fraternal and sorority groups.

Will be looking forward to seeing how he is received at SCLC, and at the Urban League in Florida, where he will be part of a Candidates Plenary, Friday, July 31, 8:00 am – 10:00 am, which includes Democrats Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, as well as Republicans Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson.



  1. I don’t think I need to do O’Malley – his numbers are so low – but will do if asked

  2. I’ve sent Sanders a contribution and mentioned his urgent staffing problems. Of course with the small amount of money I sent, he could probably hire one person for an hour!

  3. This: “he will need to talk more comfortably about systemic racism, police violence, incarceration, voting rights, and defacto segregation in schools and housing.”

    He doesn’t even have to talk comfortably about those issues right now … but he does need to acknowledge them and seek out the advice of those who can talk comfortably about them. We don’t need to elect people who can get into the weeds on every policy issue but we need someone who can prioritize those issues.

    The focus on jobs is good, we need more jobs and more family supporting jobs. But if some of us aren’t getting job interviews because of the color of our skin or a criminal record or the inability to get to the interview site, then “jobs” are not enough. We need to tear down the barriers to job seeking and that will be very tough to do of you are blind to them.

    • I have a boss whose daughter is named Shanice. She is 15 and white and has already figured out that her name will likely and unfortunately not stand her in good stead when it comes to finding a job if the person doing the hiring goes by paper documents only. Since one of my jobs (the one at which I do not work for Trevor) is for an online job board I see that this is a real concern.

      Trevor says that if they are in a group of people and someone calls her name you can see folks scanning the crowd for a black girl.

      A bit more on topic, I look forward to seeing how all the campaigns unfold as time goes on. I cannot get a handle on O’Malley. I’ve read some good things but then I hear that folks in Baltimore hate him.

      • It is interesting about O’Malley … they hate him because of his record on racial justice and policing. He was from the DLC wing of the Democratic Party who bought into the broken windows idea that you throw people in jail for every little thing to get them to straighten up. So the very thing that is derailing Bernie is the thing that has left O’Malley’s train in the station: a walk the walk record of not caring about the plight of people of color or at least not understanding it. Baltimore is one of the most segregated cities in the country and he was so hated as governor that his handpicked successor lost to a Republican in a blue state. Not really a great platform to run from. Charlie Pierce wondered why liberals weren’t swarming around O’Malley because on the issues he looks pretty progressive. I think that perfectly coiffed white guy with all the right words reminds them too much of John Edwards.

  4. “Campaigns that hope to make meaningful strides in terms of energizing black voters, who matched or outstripped turnout by their white counterparts in 2008 and 2012, should start by hiring highly qualified African-American staffers at every level of the organization — and I don’t mean just “minority outreach.” They can do a better job as engaging high-level consultants from diverse backgrounds that supply digital support, media buying, direct mail, and other key campaign functions.

    In short, they should be who they say they are: progressive and Democrat. Anything else is just talk.”

    “And before media outlets seize on this news, I would caution them to examine their own houses. The press corps (and mastheads) that will cover 2016 are as lily white as the campaigns they cover.”

  5. Thanks for cross-posting this over here, Sis! Wanted to comment on how interesting I found this post, but there were too many comments Over There. We will see how this develops in the next few months in the Sanders campaign.

    Glad you mentioned beauty parlors as places where black folk gather. Stylists are often the first people to notice anomalies on the face and in the hair and can alert clients. This has happened to me. And it’s cool that a beauty parlor can be a place for political discussion or other kinds of discussions.

    • If you want to test the political pulse of the community – go directly to beauty parlors and barber shops. There are very few black women who don’t go and get their hair done – whether it is permed, pressed, braided or locked.

Comments are closed.