feel the bern

Why Trayvon Martin’s family attorney is endorsing Bernie Sanders


Another prominent African-American woman is feeling the Bern.

Natalie Jackson, the civil rights attorney who represented the family of Trayvon Martin alongside Benjamin Crump during the George Zimmerman trial, is endorsing presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt).

She joins former Ohio state senator Nina Turner in a small but growing number of black women who are throwing their support behind the senator in hopes they can begin shifting African-American support away from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, endorsed Clinton earlier this month.) Black women outvoted every other racial and gender demographic in 2008 and 2012, making them one of the most important voting groups in the 2016 election; they overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama in both elections. Jackson hopes she can help galvanize similar support for Sanders.

Of course, Jackson knows it won’t be easy. Clinton’s support among black voters in key primary states like South Carolina and Nevada eclipses Sanders’, according to recent polling numbers.

In an exclusive interview with Fusion, Jackson said those polls don’t discourage her. She told me Sanders is the only candidate with the political will to dismantle the structural racism that empowers cops to kill African-Americans with impunity, and to create the kinds of economic policies needed to help pull them out of poverty.

TJS: So, why are you throwing your support behind Sen. Bernie Sanders?

NJ: I’ve been supporting him from the very beginning. I like the fact that he is anti-establishment and pro-economic justice. My initial support of him was around his refrain that “We have to take money out of politics.” Then he came out for us when he hired Symone Sanders [as his national press secretary]. It really reinforced that I made the right decision. After the Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle, a lot of people were upset that they interrupted Bernie Sanders. But I thought that he did what a president should do: Instead of taking the criticism as an insult, he saw it as an opportunity to improve his campaign and that’s what we want our leaders to do.

TJS: Do you feel that he handled the Netroots Nation disruption pretty well, too?

NJ: I do. The fact that he consulted with Symone Sanders and Black Lives Matter activists, I felt that is what a president should do in the face of criticism. You have to be willing to listen to people’s complaints and not just say, “Oh, they’re just critics.”

TJS: What do you think he needs to do to earn more black support? He still trails Hillary in the polls when it comes to black voters.

NJ: The established system, especially for black people, is inherently racist—systematic racism. And when you have systematic racism, it doesn’t take a racist to operate that system. It just operates the way that it does. So, I think what we have to do is educate our people and let our people know that it’s OK to say, “This establishment is not working, so let’s try something else.” So when I hear people say, “he’s a socialist…”

TJS: That doesn’t turn you off? The word, “socialist”?

NJ: No, it doesn’t. I think that’s probably the best thing for black people. We’ve been taught that democracy is the best thing. And democracy is, but capitalism, especially parasitic capitalism, which is what we’re dealing with now when you have the top 1 percent [controlling much the wealth], that’s not good for anyone. And if it’s not good for the regular person, it’s sure not good for black people.

TJS: If Sanders is elected, what key policing issues will he need to address during his first months in the White House?

NJ: The social ills that we see, people try to fix them in the middle. Take the criminal justice system for instance. They try to fix it at the arrest, in prison or when people get out. But those are just Band-Aids. And we do need those band aids, but at the same time, we have to fix it at the root of the problem. The root of the problem is really the systematic oppression that a lot black people are under like poverty, the lack of housing and good healthcare, good schools. When we talk about police brutality, we have to remember and remind people that the very foundation of our nation is human rights and freedoms over government authority; that government doesn’t abuse people. And that is what we see with police brutality: government sanctioned abuse of people.

TJS: You’re good friends with Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and work with her Trayvon Martin Foundation charity. What do you think of her supporting Hillary?

NJ: I haven’t spoken with Sybrina about that, but Hillary Rodham Clinton is clearly the second-best choice, so I don’t have a problem with it. If I wasn’t voting for Bernie, I would vote for Hillary. And if Bernie doesn’t win the primary, I’m voting for Hillary. So, I think we have to be careful with all of this Hillary-bashing.

TJS: How do you respond to people who say that Bernie is just some old, white guy from Vermont who only appeals to white hippies?

NJ: Bernie Sanders has survived being a politician in Washington for over 25 years. He is not a wide-eyed newcomer. While I think it’s true that he appeals to “white hippies,” I also think he should appeal to black folks and the fast evaporating middle class, too. I’m a former naval intelligence officer from a military family who are proud Americans. The humanity that Bernie Sanders represents is true to the American Dream.

TJS: If you were on national television and had 30 seconds to pitch Bernie to America, what would you say?

Jackson: One of the things that people get wrong is that he is the idealist or the dreamer. But what we’ve been sold by all of these politicians so far are dreams and ideas; Bernie actually has a solid plan that says, “Listen: True American democracy is the empowerment of the average working class person; not corporate business interests or the privileged top 1% (which the majority of Black America has never been a part of). College should be free for students, universal health care should be available to everyone, corporate money shouldn’t rule governmental action, and government should focus on things that will help everyone not the few.” I don’t think he’s the dreamer. We’ve been sold status quo dreams all of these years and some of us can’t recognize the real from the dream anymore. Bernie Sanders is real, and he’s discussing the things that we need. Especially black people.

This interview has been condensed and edited.