June 24, 2016
Tucked away in a back room of a barbershop near Broad Street and Parrish Avenue, Black Men for Bernie Sanders founder Bruce Carter led a discussion Friday morning breaking down Democratic National Convention protest plans and long-term goals for what he deemed an ever-growing movement.
Joining him at a table were Gary Frazier – an activist from Camden, New Jersey, leading the group’s local efforts – and, among others, Erica Mines, the Philadelphia Coalition for REAL Justice activist who made headlines protesting at a Bill Clinton campaign appearance in April.
“We should never shut down anyone, for any reason, because I believe that’s how we have groups like ISIS come about because people feel ostracized,” he said his group’s headquarters inside Barbers on Broad. “Our goal is to make sure that everybody who has a stake in Philadelphia, and in the DNC, recognizes their ability to have their voices heard.”
At an event billed as the “Get N The Game” initiative’s launch, Carter also read an open letter he’d written to Sanders, who declared that he would vote "yes" for primary foe Hillary Clinton in the general election.
“Let us first say thank you for waking us up and exposing the rigged system that has destroyed America. Your courage has caused millions to rise up, volunteer and take action,” it reads. “We know that you are inside the system but we don’t believe you are a part of the system. Please stand strong for those that have stood for, with and are still standing for you.”
“The establishment thinks this is just going die out. Well, what happens sometimes is that you wake up the wrong people.” – Bruce Carter, founder, Black Men For Bernie
While Mines wasn’t on board with that particular message, the mission is uniting groups of common interests in advance of next month’s convention.
Over the next several months, members of Carter’s group plan to visit 200 cities, where they’ll partner with local barbershops to connect with black men between the ages of 17 and 27 “to address how they can be part of the solutions to the social ills plaguing our communities."
Registration and involvement will be their focus of that mission, while the DNC-timed focus will be drawing attention to the challenges facing families in Philadelphia’s poorer neighborhoods with the “hope that something positive will happen when millions of people are watching Philly,” Carter said.
In addition to a march planned from Washington, D.C., there will be similar marches through Philadelphia, voter-registration drives (with a goal of 20 million new registries) and events featuring discussions of economic development, inequality and human rights issues.
Carter said he will also lead a “deregistration effort” should Clinton get the nomination as expected. They also have two “bucket lists” of people they support and others that they’d like to see voted out of office on both the local and national levels.
“Our current system is jacked up, and it sometimes dishonors those who want to participate in the voting process,” he said, noting that inspiring African American men to run for office in their communities is a motivating factor. “We need to figure out how we make that happen. We have energy and purpose and, as black men, we need to be part of that process.”
Mines took a harsher edge against ills in “the birthplace of the so-called democracy we live under,” seeking people to align themselves against the struggles facing the black and brown communities.
She chided Mayor Jim Kenney for not doing away with police stop-and-frisk practices and decried limitations on protests, increased police presence throughout the city and moving “homeless people out of Center City” as the convention approaches.
“We need people to get in line with the truly disenfranchised communities, not just come to the city and make it a ‘Bernie or Bust’ situation. This is not something to celebrate. It’s about tearing down an imperialistic infrastructure," she said. "If we are ... to have a democratic process, you need to get in line, organize with us and other people here in Philadelphia who understand the struggles here, not just come here and then leave us to deal with the backlash.”
Frazier said he’s already been in eight states personally.
“We’re not going to lay down for the Democratic Party. Bernie can do what he wants to do, but he doesn’t control the masses of people. Real change has to come,” he said.
“This is about really raising the bar on issues that continue to get covered up over and over and over again,” he said. Politicians “show up in our neighborhood, and ask for our votes at election time. Then, they’re gone, and our conditions don’t change.”
To that end, Carter called out the Democratic Congressional Black Caucus as the “saddest indictment of the Democratic process,” labeling this week’s sit-in “a joke.”
“Capitalism is coming to an end,” Mines said. “It’s failing on both sides, [Democratic] and Republican, and the people, the masses, are rising up across the board. What we don’t want is for the DNC to become whitewashed like the Occupy Movement.”
As for Sanders saying he’d vote for Clinton, Carter “would like to ask him that question on July 29, because there’s a lot of things that could happen. Until then, I’m doing everything I can so there’s an option for him to run as president.”
“I’m not afraid of Donald Trump,” he said. “I’ve had white men as president that really didn’t care about different people. That doesn’t scare me. I’ve lived that life. People who’ve been poor, they’re not afraid of that, either. The only people who are afraid are the people that will be comfortable.
“The establishment thinks this is just going die out. Well, what happens sometimes is that you wake up the wrong people.”
As for logistics, Friday’s launch represents the start of an effort where supporters will visit some 200 cities across the country before Election Day. PhillyVoice will keep you apprised of the group’s local efforts through the DNC and beyond.