Why I Joined Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives to participate in a CNN town hall style televised even
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives to participate in a CNN town hall style televised event at the University of South Carolina School of Law, in Columbia, S.C., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

When I was a graduate student studying African American history at Atlanta University, one of the nation's premier HBCU graduate schools, I had the opportunity to meet with James L. Farmer Jr., a founder of the Congress of Racial Equality, known better by its acronym of CORE. Farmer created the organization in Chicago in 1942, and was at the forefront of the movement to use nonviolent protest to dismantle Jim Crow segregation laws across the nation.

Farmer told me the story of his work, including being the subject of a house-to-house search by Louisiana law enforcement for his organizing activities there. He also told me about how CORE recruited idealistic young people of every ethnicity and background to fight racism across America, including James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were kidnapped and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi during the Freedom Summer activities of 1964.

My chance to sit down face-to-face with Mr. Farmer is one of the highlights of my life. That's why, when I learned about Bernie Sanders' history as the leader of the University of Chicago's CORE chapter during his time in college, I took notice. You may recall that no less an authority than Martin Luther King Jr. himself said after being hit with a rock while marching for integration in Chicago, "I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate."

The choice of a young Bernie Sanders to align himself with CORE as a college student in early 1960s Chicago says an enormous amount about his character and courage, as well as his commitment to righting the wrongs of American society. Bernie was not just a campus leader, either. We now know that he was arrested and prosecuted by Chicago authorities for protesting in favor of fair housing.

Bernie's history was my starting point in learning more about him, but what he's pushing for now is what clinched my decision to switch my endorsement for president from Hillary Clinton to him. There are three specific policy reasons I support him, and I am working as hard as I can to spread the word and win converts here in Georgia, especially in Atlanta's African American community.

First, Bernie is the only candidate we can trust to take on Wall Street. Much of the frustration you see in America today -- frustration that is manifesting itself in both the Democratic and Republican Presidential primaries -- arises from how we handled the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown brought to us by America's financial industry.

We were told that we had to save the banks, and that even though we were rescuing the big companies who raked in huge profits with setting the bomb that blew up the lives of so many Americans, we'd all be better off in the long run. We swallowed hard and accepted that plan, and then watched the federal government pump billions and billions of dollars into the banks that wrecked our economy.

The problem is that after we saved the banks, the bankers who blew them up were not held to account. We saw our money used to pay big bonuses to the same executives who drove our economy into the ground, and not a single one was prosecuted. We still see banks that are too big to fail and executives who are too big to prosecute. We still see the financial industry exerting enormous influence over our politicians and policy.

The big banks are using their cash to push to undermine even the modest reforms that were passed soon after President Obama took office. I know their power first-hand. In the early 2000s, I worked with then-Governor Roy Barnes here in Georgia to pass the nation's toughest law against predatory home lending -- a reform that we now know could have helped avoid many of the worst problems of the economic crisis. Instead of seeing those reforms adopted by more states, we saw Wall Street launch a major push to repeal the law. When Republicans took over Georgia, they did Wall Street's bidding and undid our reforms, setting the stage for the meltdown.

Bernie is the only candidate we can count on to not only resist Wall Street's push to undermine the regulations that control them, but to fight to break up the banks and the prosecute the bankers who deserve it.

The second big reason I decided to support Bernie is his commitment to expanding Medicare to cover every American. It is way past time for our nation to join the rest of the world's advanced societies and provide high quality health insurance for every American.

Here in Georgia and across the South, Republican-controlled state governments are refusing to expand Medicaid, even though the Affordable Care Act requires that the federal government pay for almost the entire cost of the expansion. Only Bernie's plan fixes that problem -- when we expand Medicare to every American, the days will be over when right wing politicians in Georgia and elsewhere can make a political point by denying healthcare to our fellow citizens.

The third big reason for I support Bernie is because he's the only candidate for president who supports our fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage. I am leading the "fight for $15" in the Georgia legislature, but like our push to expand Medicaid, we face a Republican-controlled state government united in opposition. If a President Sanders pushes a $15 an hour minimum wage through Congress, every working person in Georgia and nationwide will be paid a wage that lifts them out of poverty.

Some say Bernie's goals cannot be achieved. I respectfully but forcefully disagree.

Bernie is running on a clear, aggressive progressive agenda. If we elect him, that mandate will be powerful and transform the debate in Washington and nationwide. That's why I -- and I hope you -- will do everything you can to make Bernie Sanders the 45th President of the United States.