Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and the power of women of color in 2020

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware.

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks outside of Gianni’s Pizza, in Wilmington Delaware, on April 25, 2019. | Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Memo from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to Joe Biden: Get ready for the boos.

That might be the best advice Sanders could offer Biden as the former vice president jumps into the 2020 presidential race.

Sanders “got a rocky reception” at She the People, The Guardian reported. He appeared Wednesday at the first-of-its-kind confab that convened 1,700 women of color to assess candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Eight aspirants spoke at the Houston forum.

I watched as the moderators grilled him on C-SPAN.


Sanders was asked, repeatedly, what are your specific plans and solutions to address the concerns and needs of women of color?

He responded in generalities, touting his platform that calls for free college tuition, hiking the national minimum wage, and humane immigration policies.

The Vermont senator won some applause, but also plenty of catcalls, groans, and boos.

He was asked:  How would he “lead on” “the fight against white nationalism and white terrorist acts?” Sanders dodged.

He was asked again.

“I know I date myself a little bit here, but I actually was at the March on Washington with Dr. King back in 1963,” he replied.

More catcalls, groans and boos.


Biden announced his presidential run the next day and the media instantly declared him a front-runner in the 20-candidate field.

Biden might want to run that by these women first. The Houston forum is the latest evidence that women of color have arrived politically. This time, they are not playing.

They have heard the talk that Democrats must nominate the person best equipped to beat President Donald J. Trump. But they know that Democrats must inspire and motivate women, especially African-Americans, to get them the polls.

In 2016, 69% of Latino women and 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election, CNN exit polls showed. In 2012, President Barack Obama won 96% of the black female vote.

Powerful movements like She the People, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo show women are taking charge of their political destinies. They are demanding a voice — the voice — in 2020.

Some forum participants told the Associated Press that Biden’s entry “is causing consternation” among some.

“I’m over white men running the country,” LaTosha Brown was quoted as saying. “To ignite the kind of base that needs to be ignited to beat Trump, I’m not sure he moves them,” added Brown, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter.

Biden will cite his vast political experience to argue he is the only one who can go mano a mano with Trump. He will lean on his role as second-in-command to Barack Obama.

“Though we supported President Obama, I think we still wanted to see more happening on behalf of black and brown communities, specifically black communities,” Cherise Scott told the AP.  “I think Joe Biden’s great. I think Joe Biden was a hell of a vice president. But I wouldn’t vote for him for president,” Scott said.

Sanders and Biden are highly successful and loyal Democrats. They are also septuagenarians who rose at a time when women were seen, but not always heard.

They must do more than pander in generalities. They must demonstrate they are not tone-deaf on the issues that are critical to women of color. Economic, political and cultural equity. An end to sexual violence, abuse and harassment, and much more.

Laura Washington is a Sun-Times columnist and a political analysis for ABC 7-Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @MediaDervish

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