Barack Obama’s official and long-awaited endorsement of Joe Biden on Tuesday was likely greeted by a collective sigh of relief from the Democratic establishment. But what was largely seen as Obama’s inevitable support for his vice president’s White house ambitions might not mesh that well with the so-called Bernie Bros — loyal supporters of Bernie Sanders — even after the Vermont senator suspended his own campaign and theoretically cleared the path for Biden to be the presumptive Democratic nominee. The endorsement could prompt them to reluctantly rally around Biden as a means to defeat the person who Sanders has called “the most dangerous president in modern history.” Or, more perilously, the endorsement could make them even more resolute in their support for their preferred candidate, who made no secret of keeping his name on the ballots for the remaining primaries. Regardless, Obama could not have been more clear or more urgent in his endorsement of Biden. Without mentioning Donald Trump’s name, Obama spelled out the country’s future based on the present if voters re-elected the incumbent president. “Right now, we need Americans of goodwill to unite in a great awakening against a politics that too often has been characterized by corruption, carelessness, self-dealing, disinformation, ignorance, and just plain meanness,” Obama said matter of factly. While Obama has been largely playing the sidelines during the primary process, his role has been understated, according to a New York Times report published Tuesday. Obama “had at least four long conversations with” Sanders before the Vermont senator suspended his campaign on Wednesday. The New York Times also reported that Biden was hesitant to involve Obama too much in his campaign, something that stood in stark contrast to the repeated requests from the Democratic National Committee for him to play a larger role. “But the former president, often communicating through Eric Schultz, a political aide who has also served as a bridge to the Biden campaign, insisted that his best use would be as a passive peacemaker,” the Times reported. Now, with Biden as the only Democratic candidate who has not suspended his campaign, Obama has also been cleared, so to speak, to factor much more heavily in a race against Trump that was expected to turn nasty. It may be up to Obama to figure out a way to bridge the divide between Biden and Sanders’ supporters, many of whom have threatened to either withhold their votes or cast ballots for another candidate to demonstrate their displeasure with the Democratic Party as a whole. That was true for Sanders’ youngest supporters, especially the Black ones, two demographics that helped power Obama to victory in both of his presidential elections. A Sanders ad tried to bridge the disconnect between him and Obama, but it was greeted with skepticism and called “disingenuous” on social media. In reality, Sanders and Obama have had more of a complicated relationship. According to The Atlantic, during Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, multiple sources reported that Sanders considered running against him in the primaries before ultimately supporting Obama’s reelection. Sanders’ deputy campaign director Ari Rabin-Havt denied these reports, telling CNN, “This never happened. Bernie Sanders never considered a primary challenge to Obama. Bernie was running for reelection in 2012 and that’s what he was focused on.” However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Sanders has disagreed with Obama immensely on political stances or actions. For example, back in 2017, he called the former president’s speech at a Wall Street-sponsored event “distasteful,” according to Time. This was an event where Obama accepted $400,000 to speak. Sanders explained, “I think at a time when people are so frustrated with the power of Wall Street and the big-money interests, I think it is unfortunate that President Obama is doing this.”
In 2018, with the midterm elections approaching, Alfonzo Tucker, Jr., was particularly eager to vote. The mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Tucker’s hometown, was running for governor, and the year before he had canvassed for Doug Jones, a Democrat running in a closely watched US Senate race.
But Tucker wasn’t able to cast a ballot – state officials refused to even let him register. It wasn’t until weeks later that he learned why he had been deprived of the right to vote. He owed the state $4.
The US is founded on the promise of democracy and fair representation, but it is also the country where minorities are frequently disenfranchised for political gain. Among the most vulnerable are millions of Americans, disproportionately African Americans, like Tucker, who have been entangled in America’s racially biased criminal justice system, and losing civil liberties like voting as a result.
The barriers facing Americans like Tucker, advocates say, are modern adaptations of poll taxes and other devices which were designed to keep people from the voting booths during the Jim Crow era – when white politicians used the law to curb the civil rights of African Americans. Alabama is one of 30 states that requires people with felony convictions to pay back the financial obligations associated with their sentence before they can vote again.
Tucker’s case is particularly glaring. He lives less than a hundred miles north-west of Selma, the birthplace of the voting rights movement in America. This week, civil rights leaders are commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches led by Martin Luther King Jr and civil rights activists as they protested against laws preventing Afr ican Americans from voting. Many were brutally beaten in Selma during the protests.
The specific policy that had ensnared Tucker dates back to the turn of the 20th century when Alabama leaders, openly seeking to preserve white supremacy, stripped anyone convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude”, among other offenses, of the right to vote.
“What is it that we want to do? Why, it is within the limits imposed by the federal constitution, to establish white supremacy in this state,” John Knox, the chair of the convention, said at the time. “If we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law – not by force or fraud,” he added.
Tucker said the legacy of that discrimination affects the lives of people like him today.
Sitting in his living room, surrounded by pictures of family, Tucker said things are much different now for him than they were in the early 1990s, when he was much more “aggressive”. In the late 1980s, he got into a fight at a club with a University of Alabama football player and wound up being convicted of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. A few years later, he fought with a police officer and was convicted of second-degree assault, a felony. He wound up going to prison for two years and serving several more on probation.
After he got out of prison, Tucker rebuilt his life, working at steel factories and in maintenance, and chipping away at the approximately $1,600 that the court had ordered him to pay. He had two more children, which made him want to stay out of trouble. He joined the Nation of Islam.
Before his conviction, Tucker had never voted. But in prison, Tucker had read about Medgar Evers, who fought for equal citizenship and was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963. When he got out, he started regularly voting in elections. He and his wife Narkita would bring his young children into the voting booth with them, wanting to teach them about the importance of a single vote, and the long struggle African Americans had faced to gain access to the ballot.
But in 2013, Tucker got a letter from his state officials saying he could no longer vote.
He was angry and upset, but didn’t act immediately – the letter didn’t tell him anything about how to get his voting rights back. Then came another letter, a few years later, this time addressed to his son, Alfonzo Tucker III, who had just turned 18, and claiming that he too was ineligible to vote. The younger Tucker, however, didn’t have a criminal record. It was a mistake, possibly because he shared his father’s name.
Tucker got his son registered to vote, but the episode lit a fire in him. As the 2018 midterm elections approached, he went to an event where activists were helping people with felony convictions learn about their voting rights, and called up the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to talk about his case. Two weeks later, the board sent him a letter saying he still owed $135.10 in connection with his conviction.
Tucker, who relies in part on disability income, borrowed money from his sister to pay off the debt. But just when he thought it was settled, a courthouse clerk told him he owed money for another decades-old criminal offense – an additional $5,535.47 which she said he had to pay back to gain back his vote.
Faced with the staggering amount, Tucker contacted Blair Bowie, an attorney at Campaign Legal Center, a Washington DC voting rights group. It took Bowie 15 minutes to realize Alabama officials made a huge mistake.
Under Alabama law, people with felonies only have to pay off the money originally assessed as part of their criminal conviction to regain their voting rights. By 2018, Tucker had paid back most of what he owed. But, unbeknown to him, the state had added an additional debt of $131.10, a fee that was irrelevant to whether he could vote because it was not part of his original conviction. And the $5,535.47 debt was from a misdemeanor offense, Bowie saw, which does not cause someone to lose their voting rights in Alabama.
All that Tucker actually owed in order to vote was $4.
“What is voter suppression if not officials wrongly telling you that you can’t vote?” Bowie said. “That’s been a classic way of disenfranchising people, particularly in Alabama.” After he paid the $135.10, Tucker drove two hours to Montgomery, the state capitol, with a friend to hand-deliver the receipt to a staffer at the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
But weeks later he had not heard anything back. The elections came and went, and Tucker couldn’t vote. The parole board declined to comment on Tucker’s case.
Bowie eventually referred Tucker to John Paul Taylor, an organizer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who followed up with the board and got Tucker registered to vote in 2019. Bowie and Taylor said Tucker shouldn’t have had to rely on experts to get his voting rights back.
“Here’s a very clear example of a person who has jumped through every single hoop that you’ve given them and they’re still being denied because of something that they really don’t even know about,” Taylor said.
Meanwhile, Tucker and Bill Foster, the friend he went to Montgomery with, helped start a group in Tuscaloosa to assist people with felonies get their voting rights back. Tucker’s story helps people understand that they can in fact vote once they complete their sentence, said Larry Tucker, his cousin. And Alfonzo said he’s met other people who have wrongly been told they owe the state money.
So far, Tucker estimates that they’ve been able to help about 10 people – people like Terrance Gray, 49, who learned he was eligible to vote last year. Gray believed he had been ineligible to vote since he was released from prison in 1996.
“He told me that it will make a difference if more people go and vote,” Gray said of Tucker. “He’s always been on me about that.”
Tucker plans to cast his first ballot since the ordeal this year (he says he likes Bernie Sanders). He thinks the state should give him back the extra $131.10 that he paid.
Persons in Greene County who need help in restoring their voting rights should contact the Alabama New South Coalition at the Democrat newspaper office, 205-372-3373.
Next Tuesday, March 3, 2020, is a primary election day in Alabama and 14 other states which has earned the nickname of ‘Super Tuesday’. In Alabama, there is a Democratic Presidential primary, where voters will award 52 delegates to a set of candidates including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttagieg, Amy Klobuchar, Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. In the Republican primary voters will choose a candidate to run against incumbent U. S. Senator, Doug Jones, among the candidates are Jeff Sessions, Bradley Byrne, Tommy Tubberville, Roy Moore and others. There are some statewide races for Public Service Commission, Supreme and Appellate Court judges. In Greene County, there are local contests for Revenue Commissioner, School Board seats in Districts 3 and 5. Incumbent Revenue Commissioner, Mary McShan is opposed by challenger, Arnelia ‘Shay’ Johnson. In School Board District 3, incumbent William Morgan is opposed by Veronica Richardson and in School Board District 5, incumbent Carrie Dancy is challenged by Mary Edwards Otieno. Another issue on the ballot is Amendment No. 1, which would move from an elected State School Board to a State School Board appointed by the Governor. The Alabama New South Alliance (ANSA) is recommending a ‘No’ vote on this amendment because it would limit democratic choice by the people of Alabama and give all of this decision making authority to the Governor. The ANSA has endorsed Joe Biden for President, Laura Casey for Public Service Commission and Billie Jean Young for State School Board – District 5. The local Greene County ANSA chapter has endorsed Arnelia ‘Shay’ Johnson for Revenue Commissioner, William Morgan for School Board District 3 and Mary Edwards Otieno for School Board District 5.
New Hampshire voters delivered a narrow but clear victory to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, as he edged out former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg for first place by less than 5,000 votes. But the surprise of the nation’s first 2020 primary was a close third place finish by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), counted out by many observers only a week ago, who now becomes a serious contender in the party’s more moderate wing. Sanders and Buttigieg each earned nine of the state’s 24 convention delegates, while Klobuchar took the remaining six. Trailing badly behind the front runners were Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in fourth place and former Vice President Joe Biden in fifth. Biden left New Hampshire on Tuesday to fly to South Carolina, which will hold its primary on February 29. With more than nine out of ten precincts counted, the Washington Post reported that Sanders had won with nearly 26 percent. Buttigieg had over 24 percent, Klobucher had almost 20 percent, Warren had just over nine percent and Biden had just over eight percent. Not appearing on the New Hampshire ballot was former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg. But the billionaire received enough write-in votes to win the hamlet of Dixville Notch, which traditionally reports its results shortly after midnight. Finishing last among the Democratic contenders, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced late Tuesday that he will end his quixotic bid for the party’s nomination, which drew a small but loyal following. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) also said he would end his longshot bid.
The ANSA delegates heard from four candidates running for the District 5 State School Board position, which represents 15 counties across the south central part of the state. Candidates Billie Jean Young, Tanya Smith Chestnut, Joanne Shun and Woodie Pugh addressed the group and answered questions about closing the school achievement gap for Black children, infusing Black history into the school curriculum and increasing resources for public education. Billie Jean Young received the endorsement. Laura Casey, a Montgomery attorney was endorsed for Chair of the Alabama Public Service Commission over Robert Martin. In her screening, she exhibited a firm grasp of the problem of wresting control of energy policy and pricing from the utility companies, which is the role of the Public Service Commission. The ANSA also had a spirited screening of candidates for U. S. Congress from around the state and endorsed: District 1 – James Averhart, District 2 – Nathan Mathis, District 3 – Adia Winfrey, District 4 – Rick Neighbors, District 7 – Terri Sewell. The ANSA also endorsed incumbent Doug Jones for U. S. Senate, although he is not opposed and will not appear on the March 3 primary ballot. ANSA also urged a ‘No’ vote on Statewide Amendment No. 1 which provides for appointment of the State School Board by the Governor in place of the current system of election by districts. ANSA chapters around the state will have screenings for county and local candidates over the next two weeks and submit these recommendations to the state office to be included on sample ballots together with the endorsed statewide candidates, to be distributed at the polls for the March 3 primary election. The Greene County ANSA membership will hold screenings for local candidates running for Revenue Commissioner and School Board seats in Districts 3, 4 and 5, on Sunday, February 9, 2020 at 4:00 PM at the Eutaw Activity Center. After the ANSA endorsement screenings, the group reconvened for a luncheon as the Alabama New South Coalition. The group heard a greeting from Ivan Peeples, a Greene County high school senior and ANSC youth 2nd Vice-President. There were also remarks from William Scott of the U. S. Census Bureau on the importance of a full count for the 2020 Census, which will be held on April 1, 2020. Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham was the keynote luncheon speaker, who spoke on the importance of voting in the 2020n elections. He said, “We expect there will be disagreements in the March primary but we must come together and vote together in the November 3 General Election, to change the direction of this country.” Woodfin stressed, “ The Democratic Party is the party of hope for people. The other side embraces fear and supports disunity. We must come together in November to use our ballots to change America and Alabama for the better.” Persons interested in joining and leaning more about ANSC, may contact Shelley Fearson at the ANSC State Office in Montgomery at 334-262-0932; or Carol Zippert, Greene County ANSC at 205-372-0525. Meeting in Montgomery on Saturday, February 1, more than 150 delegates to the Alabama New South Alliance (ANSA), a sister political organization of the Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC), made endorsements of candidates running in the March 3, 2020 primary. ANSA members heard from candidates and asked them questions as part of the endorsement process. Representatives of Presidential candidates: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Michael Bloomberg were present and participated in the screening. Former Vice President Joe Biden received the ANSA endorsement.
SELMA, AL – “The Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast is power-packed this year. In fact, it is more power-packed than any breakfast we have ever had,” said former Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders. The Breakfast is this Sunday, March 3rd, at 7:30 a.m. on the campus of Wallace Community College Selma.
Dr. James Mitchell, President of Wallace Community College Selma, said: “It is great for this college to host the Annual Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast on our campus. It is great for the students, faculty, community, and all those connected with the college to see and hear from national and world-recognized leaders up close. This is always a powerful event, and this year promises to be even more powerful.”
“The world-renowned Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for President in 2016 and who received three million more popular votes than her opponent, is being honored. She is known all over the world for her work as U.S. Secretary of State and her advancement of women’s rights. She will be inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame at the National Voting Rights Museum and will receive the International Unity Award at the King Unity Breakfast,” said Sanders.
At this same breakfast, we will have U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who was Secretary Clinton’s chief competitor for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and is running again for President in 2020. We will also have three other 2020 presidential candidates speaking at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast: U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio; former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Mayor of San Antonio Julian Castro; and U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
“Other speakers will include Martin Luther King, III; Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; Dr. Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); and Barbara Arnwine, President of the Transformative Justice Coalition. There will also be powerful singing performances by the original SNCC Freedom Singers and mutli-award winner and gospel legend Dottie Peoples,” said Sanders.
The 2019 Bridge Crossing Jubilee begins this Thursday, February 28th, at 7:00 p.m. with an Old Fashion Mass Meeting with Reverend Jamal Bryant, of Atlanta and formerly of Baltimore, at Tabernacle Baptist Church. There are 40-50 events during the Jubilee, most of which are free to the public, from Thursday, February 28th, through Sunday, March 3rd.
Friday includes many workshops, including an all day Education Summit starting at 8:00 AM at the Hank Sanders Technology Building at Wallace Community College; the 5:00 p.m. Mock Trial at the Dallas County Courthouse; children and youth activities; the annual A Public Conversation with Mark Thompson, host of Make It Plain on SiriusXM Channel 127 and MSNBC Contributor, and others; and other events. MSNBC will be in Selma from Friday through Sunday providing coverage.
Saturday morning are two work sessions at Wallace Community College Selma to kick off a national nonpartisan voting initiative, Lift Our Vote 2020. National Bridge Crossing Jubilee Coordinator Faya Toure said: “The Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday afternoon in downtown Selma with diverse musical performances, arts, food and so much more.
Saturday also includes the Hip Hop Youth Summit, the annual parade and more. The Annual Freedom Flame Awards Gala, which is filled with nationally and internationally renowned honorees, on Saturday at 7:00 p.m., culminates a day overflowing with events that include something for all, no matter your age, race, gender,
Progressive activists hailed a “huge victory” and a “giant step toward single-payer healthcare” on Tuesday, after Senate Republicans were forced to postpone a vote on their proposed healthcare bill.
Many warned, however, that the battle was not over, promising continued attempts to pressure Republican senators over the Fourth of July recess and beyond.
Thousands of activists from groups including Our Revolution, Indivisible and Planned Parenthood had spent the past week mounting frantic efforts to derail the legislation, which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said would leave 22 million more people without health coverage over the next 10 years.
On Tuesday, after a number of GOP senators said they would not vote for the bill, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, told his caucus he would delay the vote on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) until after the coming July 4 recess. There were five Republican Senators – Dean Heller, Susan Collins, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.
“It’s beyond a victory,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, which encouraged members to pressure Republican senators to vote against the bill. “What people are saying is, ‘We want a society, we don’t want a market to protect our health.’”
The bill would have been a victory for insurance companies, DeMoro said, and senators’ apparent distaste for the legislation was a blow for both those companies and Republicans.
“I think this is a giant step toward single-payer healthcare – the fact that they defeated the Republicans – because ultimately, embedded in that is a defeat for free-market fundamentalism.” What people are saying is, ‘We want a society, we don’t want a market to protect our health.”
Indivisible, a progressive organization established after the 2016 election to oppose Donald Trump and Republican policies, mobilized activists from more than 3,000 chapters across the country to protest the bill. “It is a huge, huge victory,” said Ezra Levin, Indivisible’s executive director. “But it’s not a final victory.”
Levin said Indivisible’s ultimate goal was to defeat the bill outright, but the short-term plan had been to delay a vote until after the Senate recess.
House Republicans who voted for the first and second iterations of their own healthcare bill, which passed in May, faced angry receptions at town hall events during the April and May recesses.
“McConnell was trying to rush it through this week because he knew Fourth of July recess was coming up,” Levin said. “He knew senators would be heading back to their states and hearing from their constituents, so he knew it was going to get harder if the vote was delayed.”
It was “not a foregone conclusion” that the bill would be defeated, Levin said. “The challenge now is going to keep the pressure up. We cannot forget what happened on the House side. This is a huge blow against Trumpcare but in order to actually defeat this, pressure will have to continue.”
Winnie Wong, co-founder of People for Bernie, an independent activist group with more than a million supporters, echoed Levin’s concern but praised collaboration between dozens of leftwing groups in the weeks leading up to the delay of the bill.
“It’s an effort that is being held up by almost all progressive groups,” she said, “whether they have anything to do with the Democratic party or not, I think there is a unification between all progressives right now around making sure Trumpcare does not go through the Senate.
“All these Republican lawmakers are really feeling the heat from their constituents. They are not stupid. And in some states you see them doing the right thing.” Our Revolution, a progressive organization founded in the wake of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, said supporters had made “almost 8,000 calls” to the Senate to oppose the bill.
“Today’s delay is a victory for the 22 million people who are at risk of losing coverage,” said Shannon Jackson, Our Revolution’s executive director. “As senators head back home for the Fourth of July holiday we will continue to demand they vote ‘no’ on this immoral and disastrous bill.”
The Working Families Party (WFP), meanwhile, organized weekly protests outside the offices of Nevada senator Dean Heller and a sit-in in the office of Susan Collins of Maine over the past few weeks. It also held a demonstration at Reagan national airport in nearby Arlington, Virginia, on Friday which targeted senators flying home for the weekend.
“An unprecedented resistance movement has knocked Trumpcare off course,” said WFP national director Dan Cantor. “But we will not stop organizing, protesting or speaking out until this immoral proposal is crushed, discarded and buried.”
With the threat of a vote after recess week, however, Richards warned that it was “now more important than ever for people to make their voices heard”.
“Republican leadership needs to hear over and over that the people of America will not stand to see healthcare stripped from millions, and they will not stand to see Planned Parenthood’s patients lose their access to healthcare,” she said.
“Now, as senators go home for recess next week, it’s time to send the message that we need to stop this harmful bill once and for all.”
Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders became known for his work during the Civil Rights Movement and was the first candidate to explicitly declare that Black Lives Matter, but would he address slavery if elected president?
Well, yes. In fact, the Democratic candidate said Wednesday at an event in Philadelphia that he would issue a “necessary and overdue” apology about the horrific system, The Hill reports: “An American president has yet to muster up the courage to formally apologize for the 400 heinous years of rape, death and inhumanity that occurred during the enslavement of black people in this country that still impacts million of slave descendants,” an audience member told Sanders before asking whether he’d apologize for it.
“Want the short answer?” Sanders asked in response. “Yes.”
His response isn’t all that surprising. In July, Sanders said the nation should apologize for slavery. He later reiterated his statement, saying, “as a nation we have got to apologize for slavery, and of course the president is the leader of the nation.”
This year’s presidential race has spotlighted an often-overlooked aspect of the student loan crisis: the disproportionate college debt burden shouldered by African American students. The average $71,086 price tag for higher education at a four-year public institution is already well beyond the reach of most middle-class families. But for African American students, the cost of college hits even harder. The average college debt for African American bachelor degree holders is $37,000, compared with just $28,051 for the average student who is white.
The problem stems from both and is compounded by racial disparities in wealth accumulation. The twin legacies of chattel slavery, when black people were economic assets, and discrimination—in particular the housing discrimination that for generations has denied African Americans access to the same generous mortgages that built so much of white wealth—have left black families with only six cents of wealth for every dollar held by the average white family. All this makes it harder for African Americans to finance their college educations and piles up student debt on black students—which, in turn, further exacerbates the racial wealth gap.
While nearly half of white students are able to fully cover college costs with their own earnings, family contributions, and federal financial aid, only 30 percent of black students are in the same boat. Among the relatively well-off students of both races who do enroll in college, black students are 25 percent more likely to accumulate student debt, and they borrow over 10 percent more than white students.
This added financial burden also makes the black students 33 percent less likely than their white counterparts to complete their degrees. Federal data show that 28.7 percent of black students who leave college after their first year do so for financial reasons. The upshot is that fewer black students begin college; even fewer graduate, and those who do graduate carry much heavier student debt loads than their white counterparts. Indeed, high college costs combined with low levels of wealth in black communities have helped push the four-year college completion rate of African Americans to less than half that of white students.
Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have proposed solutions to the African American student debt crisis, but from different starting points. Their contrasting plans reflect the stylistic and ideological divide between the two candidates. Clinton’s so-called College Compact appeals to education wonks with an arguably technocratic approach. Sanders’s far-reaching College for All Act, by contrast, expands both student opportunities and government’s role. There’s a predictable difference in the price tags, too: Clinton says her plan would cost $350 billion over a decade, mostly thanks to expanded grants to states and colleges. The Sanders plan would cost at least $750 billion over the same period, based on the campaign’s $75 billion-a-year estimate. He proposes funding it through a financial transaction tax overhaul that’s projected to create more revenue than is needed for his college plan.
The Republican candidates, for their part, have proposed plans that would actually exacerbate the student debt crisis by cutting or eliminating the Department of Education. Such cuts would hurt economic mobility for all students, particularly African Americans, and undercut national efforts to promote an educated and productive workforce.
Of the two Democratic proposals, the Sanders plan would do the most to help black students. Sanders’s College for All Act could be a selling point among African American voters, a bloc that until now has firmly favored Clinton. Clinton’s plan takes a modest step toward addressing the disproportionate student debt burden on low-income students, especially African Americans. But her approach follows the conventional model of making higher education more affordable by expanding Pell Grants to low-income Americans, awarding grants to qualifying institutions that meet federal criteria, and regulating predatory loan companies. This perpetuates the means-tested, competitive, accountability-based approach toward higher education exemplified by the now-defunct No Child Left Behind Act.
Sanders, by contrast, directly tackles persistent racial inequalities by making public colleges tuition, fee, and debt free. His plan would make higher education an American right, reopening access to public colleges and universities for all students. It would eliminate tuition and fees at all public colleges and universities, by default ending the federal government’s practice of raking in billions worth of profits from student loans. Sanders’s plan also would cut interest rates on student loans almost in half, saving more than $6,000 over four years for the average borrower seeking a bachelor’s degree.
Both candidates propose higher federal grants for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), but once again the Sanders plan would provide substantially more support. The College for All Act would direct $30 billion to private HBCUs and an estimated $1.5 billion annually to public HBCUs, compared with only $25 billion for all HBCUs proposed by Clinton.
Such institutions are key to helping break the cycle of disrupted education and poverty that high African American student debt perpetuates. In addition to offering African American students “stereotype safe” environments largely free of social stigma and racial animus, HBCUs have done yeoman’s work in educating black Americans constrained by limited economic resources.
HBCUs have accomplished this despite a long history of underfunding. In their mission to improve access to African Americans seeking an education, public HBCUs have kept their tuitions and fees to only 61 percent of the average cost of all public schools. These institutions play an essential role in making the higher education system truly inclusive.
Although black students are no longer barred explicitly from attending historically white colleges and universities, they still represent only a relatively small percentage of the student body at those institutions. For instance, about 28 percent of South Carolina’s population is black, yet black students make up only 10 percent of the student body at the University of South Carolina, the state’s flagship public university.
By contrast, the nearly 3,000 students enrolled at South Carolina State University, the state’s only public HBCU, are overwhelmingly (96 percent) black. Since more than three-quarters of students enrolled in Historically Black Colleges and Universities attend public (not private) HBCUs, a free public higher education plan will help ensure that no black student will be forced to forego higher education due to financial barriers.
Both Sanders and Clinton have helped spotlight the dire fiscal straits of African American college students. But in forwarding race-conscious plan that fulfills the a vision of college education as a right—a right that extends to all Americans regardless of income or wealth and regardless of race—Sanders has made an argument that will resonate directly with debt-burdened black students.