OPINION

Thompson: Clinton not reaching African-American women

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 presumptive Democratic nominee for president, is clearly not a Barack Obama. She has yet to define herself as a candidate who can relate and connect with people at the grassroots level in ways that candidate Obama did. She has yet to deliver a campaign message that, at the very core, would inspire the people in the inner cities to come out and embrace her campaign as they did for Obama.

She has no slogan or catchphrase like Obama’s “Yes We Can” that people can run with. Nothing that explains how she proposes to improve the lives of people despite her lifetime in politics. And she offers no response to concerns that she can rein in the Wall Street bankers who have paid her thousands of dollars for speaking engagements.

Though she has spoken out repeatedly about the Flint water disaster in media interviews, Clinton should have visited the city a while ago, talking to residents and not just sitting and waiting for a proposed Democratic debate in March. She could have made an unannounced trip to Flint without media fanfare to see firsthand what was happening.

Those were her opportunities to show in stark contrast what differentiates her from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist who is running as the anti-Wall Street candidate.

A key voting block that Clinton will have to seriously court is African-American women who make up 52 percent of the population in black America. Though she is not a Shirley Chisholm, the former U.S. representative from New York who in 1972 became the first woman to seek the presidential nomination, Clinton has to show she has the fire to convince black women to support her campaign.

No underestimation, black women are a political powerhouse. According to a 2014 Black Women’s Roundtable report, 64 percent of black women voted in 2008 compared to 56 percent of their male counterparts. Those figures were pretty much the same for the 2012 election cycle.

“Sen. Sanders is speaking to what black women care about. We are at the bottom of the economy, and he’s talking about increasing the minimum wage. You cannot have racial justice without economic justice,” Natalie Jackson, a Florida attorney who was co-counsel in the Trayvon Martin case, told me over the weekend. “We have to address the income gap by fighting for a seat at the table. Bernie (Sanders) is the only one showing us that he is not bought by corporations.”

Jackson said Sanders’ message resonates with the interests of black women. But if Sanders doesn’t win the nomination, Jackson is prepared to support Clinton.

“While I like Hillary, she is really the establishment candidate,” Jackson said. “She is the status quo and that has never been good for black people. She has been a part of the establishment not by any fault of her own, but she worked with all these corporations.

“We need somebody who is not tied to the system,” Jackson said.

Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and activist, said she is campaigning for Sanders.

“I’m a first-generation college graduate. My mother died at 42 when I was just 22. She died on the system of welfare, leaving seven kids behind as a single parent. I wanted to break the cycle of poverty,” Turner said. “Sanders is the only candidate talking about taxing Wall Street and investing that money into education so that our young people can walk off the graduation stage like I did. For black mothers this is foundational. This is real.”

Turner said she was drawn to Sanders because “he has the heart and soul of a warrior and a public servant.”

Detroiter Jessica Care Moore, a renowned poet and head of the theater group Black Women Rock, said while she hasn’t decided which candidate she supports, Sanders is speaking to issues that are dear to her.

“I’m a woman and I think we need women in power. But Sanders has been consistently speaking to the issues of the working poor, wealth inequality and making college accessible to anyone who works hard despite income,” Moore said. “This country needs a movement. We have a humanitarian crisis in Flint. We have a police brutality epidemic in our community. Universal health care ... all these things matter to mothers (like myself).”

Simone Lightfoot, education and civil rights advocate, said she, too, is on the fence about her presidential favorite, but admitted Clinton will have to work harder.

“Hillary is politically brilliant, a mastermind with an extremely impressive resume. But as a black woman and a veteran her record on African-American advancement is very thin. While she may have the most black staff members, she has not fully laid out an urban agenda,” Lightfoot said. “The whole notion of holding a debate in Flint was purely political to find opportunities to cash in on African-American misery.”

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9 FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.