THE BLOG
07/27/2015 11:03 am ET Updated Jul 27, 2016

An Open Letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders

Win McNamee via Getty Images

Dear Senator Bernie Sanders,

When you first announced your candidacy for the Democratic nomination, you breathed new, progressive life into the race to elect our nation's next president. We, like millions of voters committed to seeing real economic and social change, had few reasons to be excited about the field of candidates who promised progress but did not have the track records or donor bases to back up that promise. That changed when you announced your candidacy.

But Senator Sanders, as excited as we are by your unrelenting commitment to making our society more equal and just by reversing decades of mounting income and wealth inequality, protecting the environment, making college affordable, and a host of other progressive causes, there is one issue that you must progress greatly on if you wish to become the president that America needs in 2016. That issue is racial justice.

Last Saturday, at Netroots Nation in Arizona, you and Governor Martin O'Malley received the essential wakeup call of wakeup calls. When Tia Oso got up on stage and asked, "As leader of this country will you advance an agenda that will dismantle structural racism in this country?" she echoed the central, burning question that millions of African-Americans have asked for centuries and that no 2016 presidential candidate thus far has answered adequately.

At this crucial time in our nation's history, you must elevate racial justice to a central position in your platform. You must do this, because a black grandfather can die by a police officer's chokehold in New York City, even as he yells that he can't breathe. You must do this, because a 12-year-old black boy can be shot and killed immediately on sight by police for holding the same toy gun that so many other white children his age would never have to worry about playing with. You must do this, because the poor brown child in an inner city public school is not getting anywhere close to the same level of education that the wealthier white child is getting in the suburb. You must do this because the legendary Voting Rights Act is now without a key provision and as a result, potentially thousands of black and Latino voters have effectively been disenfranchised by devious new election laws across the South. You must do this because impoverished black communities that are doubly oppressed by structural racism are literally exploding with frustration and despair.

Saying that racism exists in your next speech or adding #blacklivesmatter to the end of your next tweet is not enough. It's never been enough. This moment calls for you to truly make racial justice a central campaign issue. You must fight for racial justice as fervently as you fight for economic justice. By extending your passionate messaging to racial justice issues with bold solutions for black Americans, you will energize them and retain your hold on progressives, impressing all with your honesty, boldness, and willingness to take on entrenched political power.

Senator Sanders, if you do that, then not only will you stand a much better chance of winning the Democratic nomination with the support of the black vote, you will also be doing the right thing. Here are just two major policy areas of many that you must make top priorities in your campaign.

Your first issue: racial segregation, a term that has largely disappeared from discussions on inequality in this country. Black residential isolation and joblessness sit entrenched at the center of almost all of America's black racial inequality problems. As sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton have shown, the achievement gap, concentrated poverty, economic difficulties, and unemployment all stem directly from the physical separation of black communities from white society.

By proposing a bold black homeownership and economic opportunity program, you could energize black Americans with what would be the largest civil rights bill in America's history. A plan to gradually integrate America's cities through large-scale homeownership assistance, job training and placement programs, educational advancement opportunities, and strict enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 would outdo the other presidential candidates with the sheer breadth and boldness of such a plan in today's political climate. Huge, New Deal-style racial justice efforts have not been seen since the 1960s. You must come out swinging with your trademark big ideas and populist rhetoric, applied to racial justice.

Your second issue: police brutality and the dismantling of mass incarceration. You have already spoken on the need for such efforts in words related to Sandra Bland's death, but America needs to see an aggressive plan for the rolling back of police brutality and violence at the heart of your campaign.

Thanks to the herculean efforts of Black Lives Matter activists, the tragic loss of black life has been sweeping across the nation's media with seeming perpetuity. We trust that you know the statistics about the horrors of police brutality. Indeed, you've spoken about them recently. However, to bring the sweeping reforms, energy and justice that this country needs, you must place your clear commitment to racial justice at the center of your campaign. Reform of the police state and mass incarceration cannot be fringe issues. They burn with frantic, desperate urgency in the hearts of black communities across America. They want to hear you speak with your characteristic passion in their communities and to trumpet solutions to these horrors across the nation -- from the center of your campaign.

We know your historical views on racism, Senator Sanders. By placing your racial justice commitments at the center of your campaign today, you will bring America closer to justice as President.

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