I once heard Al Sharpton say that if you were not getting arrested during the 1960s in America, he would have to question your leadership around racial justice issues. While I do not often agree with Sharpton, I full heartedly agree with that statement.
So, this begs the question: just what were the two potential Democratic nominees doing during the Civil Rights era? Bernie Sanders was volunteering with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and getting arrested in Chicago during a demonstration. Hillary Clinton was a Young Republican and volunteering with Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act. Is this important and relevant now? It is to me. And, it should be to you too.
Bernie Sanders was the leader of the University of Chicago chapter of CORE and as early as 1961 was leading sit-ins to protest racial discrimination in the university's housing policy- the first sit-ins to take place in the North. He also led a protest of a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Chicago for the chain's refusal to adopt a non-discriminatory policy in the South. In 1963 Sanders was arrested and convicted of resisting arrest after a protest of the city's segregationist policies in its public schools.
And, also in 1963, Sanders attended the March on Washington which featured leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr and John Lewis. His grades suffered from his focus on the movement and lack of attention to his studies. But, he was well-regarded at the university despite his grades. He was one of two students appointed by the university's president to a commission that studied the university's housing policies. Later he would go on to blast the administration, writing an open letter in the school's newspaper accusing the president of a double-cross. Sanders' record on racial justice goes back a long way and has impeccable credentials.
Still, the question remains, why is this relevant now? It is relevant now because Bernie Sanders' history with the Civil Rights movement demonstrates that the Senator has a long record of standing up for what is right- even when it is unpopular. And, that is exactly what I want from a president- the courage to do what is in the best interests of the nation even when it is politically unpopular. Hillary Clinton has demonstrated herself to be the polar opposite -- complete with wavering opinions, positions and votes that she has had to later denounce and waiting until an idea is popular with the public to support it. This includes issues like trade deals, the '94 Crime Bill, the Iraq War and same sex marriage -- all extremely important issues where Clinton displayed almost no leadership at all.
On the other hand, Sanders is an outspoken leader often taking positions that are unpopular but prove to be prudent and wise in the long run. He speaks out against unfair trade deals. He spoke out on the floor of Congress about the unintended effects of the '94 Crime Bill. He voted against the Iraq War and was outspoken against it. And, in 1996 he opposed the Defense of Marriage Act and in 2000 he supported civil unions for same sex couples in Vermont. Bernie Sanders is not afraid to lead and we should not be hesitant to support him.
Choosing between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is an easy choice for me. One has a long record of Republican capitulation, massive mistakes and shifty opinions. The other has a long record of social justice leadership, unwavering courage and correct opinions. Bernie had me at CORE. And, Hillary lost me at Goldwater Girl.
Don't make the mistake of thinking this is an unimportant distinction. Politicians trade in the currency of their record, opinions, victories and convictions. Sanders has demonstrated through his record a total commitment to revolutionary leadership -- the type of leadership we could use in the White House.