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Pulitzer Prize Board Will Review Junot Díaz Sexual-Misconduct Claims


By Anne Branigin, The Root

Author Junot Díaz is stepping down from his role as chairman of the Pulitzer Prize board following allegations of sexual misconduct. The board says that it will investigate allegations of harassment against Díaz, who remains on the board.

As The Guardian reports, the 49-year-old writer, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, was elected Pulitzer Prize board chairman in April, the same month the New Yorker published an essay in which Díaz revealed that he was raped as a child.

In that essay, Díaz also disclosed—to varying degrees—the harm he caused women as a result of his rape, which happened at the hands of a “grownup [he] truly trusted.”

Last week, on a Sidney Writers’ Festival panel, writer Zinzi Clemmons publicly confronted the revered Dominican-American writer over the harm he caused her when he forcibly kissed her six years ago while she was a graduate student at Columbia University.

Clemmons, who was 26 at the time, had invited Díaz to speak at a campus workshop on representation in literature when, she says, he cornered her and kissed her without her consent. After the May 4 panel, Clemmons repeated the allegations on Twitter, where they were quickly shared and discussed.

“I’m far from the only one he’s done this to, I refuse to be silent anymore,” Clemmons wrote. Sure enough, more women spoke up with stories about Díaz, saying that the writer had made misogynistic comments and acted aggressively or inappropriately toward them.

In a statement made to the New York Times, Díaz said that he “took responsibility for [his] past,” adding that it was the reason he “made the decision to tell the truth of my rape and its damaging aftermath.”

“This conversation is important and must continue,” read the statement. “I am listening to and learning from women’s stories in this essential and overdue cultural movement. We must continue to teach all men about consent and boundaries.”

The Pulitzer’s board said that Díaz welcomes the review and will cooperate fully with its investigation, according to The Guardian.

MIT, where Díaz works as a professor, says it’s also looking into the recent allegations.

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Redesigning Maternal Care: OB-GYNs Are Urged to See New Mothers Sooner and More Often


By Nina Martin, ProPublica

This story was co-published with NPR.

Doctors would see new mothers sooner and more frequently, and insurers would cover the increased visits, under sweeping new recommendations from the organization that sets standards of care for obstetrician-gynecologists in the U.S.

The 11-page “committee opinion” on “Optimizing Postpartum Care,” released today by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, represents a fundamental reimagining of how providers, insurers and patients can work together to improve care for women after giving birth. “To optimize the health of women and infants, postpartum care should become an ongoing process, rather than a single encounter, with services and support tailored to each woman’s individual needs,” the committee opinion states.

While an ACOG task force began rethinking its approach several years ago, the guidelines arrive at a moment of mounting concern about rising rates of pregnancy-related deaths and near-deaths in the U.S. As ProPublica and NPRhave reported, more than 700 women die every year in this country from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth andmore than 50,000 suffer life-threatening complications, among the worst records for maternal health in the industrialized world. The death rate for black mothers is three to four times that of white women.

The days and weeks after childbirth can be a time of particular vulnerability for new moms, with physical and emotional risks that include pain and infection, hypertension and stroke, heart problems, blood clots, anxiety and depression. More than half of maternal deaths occur after the baby is born, according to a new CDC Foundation report.

Yet for many women in the U.S., the ACOG committee opinion notes, the postpartum period is “devoid of formal or infor­mal maternal support.” This reflects a troubling tendency in the medical system — and throughout American society — to focus on the health and safety of the fetus or baby more than that of the mother. “The baby is the candy, the mom is the wrapper,” said Alison Stuebe, who teaches in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and heads the task force that drafted the guidelines. “And once the candy is out of the wrapper, the wrapper is cast aside.”

The way that providers currently care for pregnant women and infants versus new mothers exemplifies this difference. During the prenatal period, a woman may see her OB-GYN a dozen or more times, including at least two checkups during her ninth month. Her baby’s first pediatric visit usually occurs a few days after birth. But the mother may not have a follow-up appointment with her own doctor until four to six weeks after delivery — and in many cases, insurance only covers one visit. “As soon as that baby comes out, [the mom] is kind of an afterthought,” said Tamika Auguste, associate medical director of the MedStar Health Simulation Training & Education Lab in Washington, D.C., and a co-author of the ACOG opinion.

For working mothers, having to wait four to six weeks makes it harder to arrange a check-up.

Some 23 percent of mothers employed outside the home are back on the job within 10 days of giving birth, a 2014 report for the U.S. Department of Labor found; another 22 percent return to work within 40 days. Lack of childcare and transportation can also present significant hurdles to accessing care. According to ACOG, as many as 40 percent of women skip their postpartum visit; for low-income women of color, the rates are even higher.

“You may have a woman that has asthma, is having problems lactating, and is obese, and when they come to see you at six weeks, we have missed the boat here,” Auguste said.

Nor is a single visit enough time to address a new mother’s questions and concerns, especially if she had a complicated pregnancy or is suffering from chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or a mood disorder. “We’re trying to address all of the issues that women are dealing with after having a baby in one 20-minute encounter,” Stuebe said. “And that’s really hard to do.”

Under the new ACOG guidelines, women would see their providers much earlier — from within three days postpartum if they have suffered from severe hypertension to no later than three weeks if their pregnancies and deliveries were normal— and would return as often as needed. Depending on a woman’s symptoms and history, the final postpartum visit could take place as late as 12 weeks after delivery and ideally would include “a full assessment of physical, social, and psychological well-being,” from pain to weight loss to sexuality to management of chronic diseases, ACOG says.

In another significant change, ACOG is urging providers to emphasize in conversations with patients the long-term health risks associated with pregnancy complications such as preterm delivery, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. “These risk factors are emerging as an important predictor of future [cardiovascular disease],” the recommendations state. “ … [B]ut because these conditions often resolve postpartum, the increased cardiovascular disease risk is not consistently communicated to women.”

Earlier, more frequent and more individualized care could be a step toward addressing the stark racial disparities in maternal and infant health, said ACOG’s outgoing president,Haywood Brown, who has made reforming postpartum care one of the main initiatives of his term. Black mothers are at higher risk for many childbirth complications, includingpreeclampsia, heart failure and blood clots, and they’re more likely to suffer long-lasting health consequences. They also have higher rates of postpartum depression but are less likely to receive treatment. Regardless of race, for women whose pregnancies are covered by Medicaid, the postpartum period may be their best opportunity to get help with chronic conditions before they lose insurance coverage.

The new guidelines urge doctors to take a proactive approach, helping patients develop a postpartum care plan while still pregnant, including a team of family and friends to provide social and other support. According to ACOG, one in four new mothers surveyed recently said they didn’t even have a phone number of a health care provider to contact with concerns about themselves or their babies.

ACOG isn’t the only organization calling for a reinvention of postpartum care; patient-safety groups, researchers, nursesand midwives have also tackled the issue, recasting the three months after birth as akin to a “fourth trimester.”

“The postpartum period has become a priority,” said Debra Bingham, a professor of nursing at the University of Maryland and executive director of the Institute for Perinatal Quality Improvement who has participated in many of these initiatives.

Some providers, including Brown, who is affiliated with Duke University, are already incorporating some of ACOG’s ideas. Still, putting the reforms into common practice may take years. One of the biggest impediments is insurance reimbursement. Currently, payment for prenatal care, delivery and a single post-birth visit is bundled together into one global fee, creating a disincentive for doctors to see patients more than once, Auguste said.

The disincentives are greater for women on Medicaid, which pays for about half of U.S. births. What’s more, in many states Medicaid coverage ends at two months postpartum. The ACOG opinion didn’t estimate the cost of implementing its recommendations.

Brown agreed that revamping how postpartum care is reimbursed is critical, and insurance representatives — along with members of other medical specialties — were on the ACOG task force that drafted the new guidelines. “I want to make sure that I get some employee health plans and some health systems to adopt this nationally,” Brown said.

Indeed, although the guidelines are aimed at OB-GYNs, they would require changes throughout the maternal care system. That’s what ACOG is hoping for. “It’s really a societal call to action,” Stuebe said.

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When Bill Cosby Being Found Guilty is Too Much


By Kirsten West Savali, The Root

Bill Cosby has finally been found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand inside of his Philadelphia home in 2004.

Many people have voiced their anger and disappointment at the “unfairness” of it all. Why—Cosby apologists have wondered aloud—is Cosby facing consequences that powerful white men like Harvey Weinstein have not had to? The argument seems to be that Cosby’s inability to get away with sexual assault in a court of law proves just how much the judicial system is structured to discriminate against black men. These people really need us—and, by “us,” I mean, those of us who don’t support serial sex predators—to understand that black rapists matter.

They also claim that the guilty verdict against Cosby is all about the dismantling of his “legacy” and white society’s obsession with bringing down powerful black men.

 

Certainly, we must have nuanced conversations about the intersections of sexual violence and white supremacy. In fact, it’s critical that we do. But if the people introducing the “But-but-but Weinstein, Woody Allen, Bill O’Reilly, the guy from Party of Five!” comments to the conversation have never given any indication that they care about rape or rape culture—nor divesting from men who have harmed women, then it’s clear to me that they just don’t give a damn about women.

They do not care any more about Weinstein’s victims than they do about Cosby’s victims—and many of them are still stepping in the name of pedophilia with the Pied Piper of R&B. The conversations have not been, “Weinstein’s victims need justice, too!” They have been, “Why should Weinstein get away with assaulting women and not Cosby?”

What has also become more and more clear is that when state and sexual violence intersects and lands on black women, the nuance seems to disappear for some of these same people. It then becomes, “Let’s focus on black men, period. Why are y’all being divisive bringing up black women?!”

Until these Cosby apologists hold all of that nuance in conversations about black women who are victims of sexual and state violence—not conversations centered on the perpetrators/predators and the so-called unfairness of it all—then I will never believe they really care out justice. It’s impossible.

For the men defending Cosby, it’s about being free to be rapists without consequence like the rich white men they clearly want to be. As for the women defending Cosby? Get Out.

No, Cosby can’t get away (anymore) with rape like police officers get away with raping and murdering black people. No, he can’t get away with rape and sexual assault like white men get away with raping and murdering black people. He should have remembered that—or, better yet, just not sexually assaulted anyone at all. While this may seem like a novel idea to some, it’s not without precedence.

As I’ve repeated several times over the past few years since Bill Cosby has dominated headlines.

Defending a rapist does not make one revolutionary. It’s time to find another way.

Photo: Getty Image

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Malloy Signs Dreamer Bill, Antidote to ‘Toxic Environment’


HARTFORD —  With a jab at the president’s views on immigration, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation Friday that opens limited financial aid at public colleges in Connecticut to the undocumented “dreamers,” saying the new law was good policy and its bipartisan passage was positive politics.

“I think that this is an important day,” said Malloy, surrounded by students and advocates. “It is perhaps even more important in a society that has taken a turn for the worse, I think, when it comes to individuals who are in our country and our president’s comments have sought to demonize.”

The bill passed the House, 91-59, and the Senate, 30-5. The House vote Wednesday came a day after a federal judge dealt a setback to efforts by the administration of President Donald Trump to roll back limited protections for undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

 

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs the Dreamers bill into law.

DACA was created by the Obama administration on the premise that children illegally brought to the U.S., many of whom have known no other home, should be treated as low priorities for deportation while they seek legal status. About 700,000 persons have signed up for the program.

Malloy cast the bill-signing, which will help some DACA recipients attend college, in the larger context of the Trump administration’s continued opposition to the program.

“It’s a toxic environment in which to exist, and I hope the message is to the rest of the world that there is another way, that we can treat people fairly and honestly,” Malloy said. “We can do [it] in their best interest and, quite frankly, our own best interests.”

To qualify for tuition aid under the new law, a student must have moved to the U.S. before age 17, attended a Connecticut high school for at least two years, have no significant criminal record and be under age 36. State residents who are undocumented and have been honorably discharged from the military also will be eligible for aid.

The new law enables eligible undocumented residents to apply for the aid starting January 1, 2020, while honorably discharged veterans will be allowed to apply immediately. Federal Pell grants and state-taxpayer aid provided through the Roberta Willis Scholarship still will be unavailable. The law opens access to money the state’s public colleges set aside for financial aid from tuition dollars.

Malloy said the young adults have been educated in public schools in the U.S., and they are needed in the workforce. White House opposition to them remaining in the country makes no sense, he said.

“But the time I expect our president to make sense has long passed.”

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A Celebration of Women to Feature Judy Woodruff


HARTFORD — Connecticut Public will celebrate female leaders who have made outstanding contributions in media, journalism, or communications at Informed Voices: A Celebration of Women in Media.

The event will take place May 24, beginning with registration at 7:30 a.m., at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville, Connecticut and will include a breakfast reception at 8 a.m.

The celebration will feature keynote speaker Judy Woodruff, anchor and Managing Editor of PBS NewsHour. Woodruff is a veteran journalist who has covered politics and other news for more than four decades at CNN, NBC, and PBS. She is also the founding co-chair of the International Women’s Media Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting and encouraging women in communications worldwide.

Connecticut Public will honor Teresa Younger, President and CEO of Ms. Foundation for Women, with the Informed Voices Leadership Award. Under Younger’s leadership, the Foundation launched #MyFeminismIs, a multimedia campaign sparking a national conversation on feminism. The organization also funded a groundbreaking report on the sexual abuse to prison pipeline and joined leading women’s foundations at the White House to announce a $100 million funding commitment to create pathways to economic opportunity for low-income women and girls.

Also during the celebration, Connecticut Public will announce the recipient of the Carla Squatrito Scholarship. This scholarship will be awarded to a young woman who will be attending a four-year college or university in the fall of 2018.

Guests will also receive a sneak-peek of When Women Gather: Voices from the Sisterhood, a 30-minute local documentary airing on Connecticut Public Television in the fall of 2018.

To purchase tickets to Informed Voices: A Celebration of Women in Media, visit ctpublic.org/informedvoices.

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Gold Star Parent Khizar Khan to Speak at Student Conference


NEW BRITAIN — Khizr Kahn, Gold Star parent and author of An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Justice, will be keynote the Fourth Annual CSCU Conference on Student Success and Shared Governance on April 13  at Southern Connecticut State University,

The event will be held in SCSU’s  Adanti Student Center at 501 Crescent St., New Haven. Khan will speak from 1-2 p.m.

The daylong conference titled “Preserving Access, Building Futures, Creating Justice,” will focus on educational initiatives and innovative support services that promote student success and feature more than 30 presentations by educators and administrators within the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system.

At 9 a.m. Mark Huelsman, a higher education policy analyst at Demos, will speak on the rising levels of student debt and college affordability. From 2-3 p.m., there will be a student panel of current and recently graduated CSCU students who overcame challenges and found opportunities as CSCU students.

At 3 p.m., the Board of Regents Teaching and Research Awards will be presented to CSCU faculty in the areas of teaching, scholarship, research, and shared governance.

Keynote speaker Khizr Kahn and his wife Ghazala made national headlines for a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. The speech evoked the memory of their son, Humayun, who was lost to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, and called for dignity and respect to those who give their lives for the nation.

Kahn is an American citizen and graduate of Harvard Law School who was born in Pakistan. His 2017 memoir, An American Family, has earned praise and was named one of the five best memoirs of the year by The Washington Post.

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Manufacturing Consortium to Host Trade Specialist


WETHERSFIELD — New trade strategies to increase international sales will be explored at the April 18 meeting of the Southwest CT Manufacturing Consortium.

The event will be held at the Housatonic Community College’s Beacon Hall Event Center, Room 214, and will run from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Housatonic Community College is at 900 Lafayette Boulevard in Bridgeport.

Guest speaker will be Melissa Grosso, a senior international trade specialist with U.S. Department of Commerce’s Connecticut office.

“Melissa will share information on export-related services offered by the US Department of Commerce which are designed to help Connecticut companies increase their international sales,” said Lori-Lynn Chatlos, Business Services Coordinator in the Bridgeport American Job Center, and project coordinator.

Admission to the meeting is free, but pre-registration is required.  Please contact Chatlos at lorilynn.chatlos@ct.gov to register for additional information.

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Statewide Candidates Speed-Date Latinos


By

The challenge: convince well-connected Hispanic politicos why you’re the best candidate to represent them in statewide office —  and do it in under one minute.

That round of speed-dating, involving four potential governors, three treasurers, two attorneys general, one comptroller and the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, took place Wednesday at a New Haven gathering at the Greek Olive on Long Wharf.

Yolanda Castillo, Manchester Democratic Town Committee member

“As a Latino community, for those that have been involved in political life for all these years, we want to make sure that we support the people that think about our community and that are interested in making sure that everyone in Connecticut has a better quality of life. Latinos, people of color, our numbers are growing, and we have a voice,” said Yolanda Castillo, the caucus’s vice-chair and a member of Manchester’s Democratic Town Committee. “Think of our community, because our community is in need.”

With the clock racing, the crowded field of Democratic candidates tried to differentiate themselves by giving similar short pitches, touching on their resistance to the Trump administration and the kitchen-table issue of good jobs. A couple threw in rehearsed lines of Spanish.

Currently, only one Hispanic is officially running for statewide office. Connecticut has never elected one. Yet Latinos comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population; Latinos involved in politics have been pushing their parties to diversify their tickets.

The four 2018 Democratic candidates for governor, two for attorney general and one for comptroller who showed up Wednesday night are all white. The candidates for treasurer included an African-American man, a man of Sri Lankan descent and an Indian-American woman. Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a union organizer in Newtown considering a run for lieutenant governor or secretary of the state, was the one Latina who spoke to the voters.

Despite the lack of representation on the ticket, the candidates all know that Hispanic voters will be a powerful voting bloc that could play a role in deciding the front-runners from among a wide field of candidates. At the end of the meeting, the caucus members started counting up the delegates they’ll send to the Democratic convention next month, where candidates need to draw at least 15 percent support to make it on the primary ballot.

In conversations with a reporter during a meet-and-greet hour, some of the candidates struggled to get specific about what they plan to do for the Hispanic community.

All those aiming for the governor’s mansion expressed a willingness to revisit the Connecticut Trust Act, which prohibits state law enforcement from coordinating with federal immigration agents — with seven broad exceptions, such as if the target has had a felony conviction, been identified as a gang member or terrorist, or appeared to be an “unacceptable risk to public safety.” Advocates, like the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance’s Alok Bhatt, argue that loopholes are leading to courthouse arrests. Sean Connolly was the only one who hesitated, saying it didn’t fit with his “style [of] collaboration” to get into a dispute with the feds.

Several candidates also said they’d be open to funding legal aid for immigrants facing deportation cases. In 4,000 cases involving New Haven County residents, legal representation proved to be a strong predictor for who won relief from an immigration judge.

During the pitch to the caucus members, most focused on amping up the crowd.

CHRISTOPHER PEAK | NEW HAVEN INDEPENDENT

Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris, a former state senator, state consumer protection chief, and West Hartford mayor, kept his pitch short with fewer than 10 words.

“Tough times, challenges: we can do this,” he said. “Go, fight, win!”

Speaking with the Independent, Harris enumerated a much longer list of what he’d done for the state’s Hispanic population. As a legislator, he introduced a bill allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities. (Jodi Rell vetoed it; Dan Malloy later signed a similar version.) As head of consumer protection, Harris persuaded Medicaid to reimburse payments for medical interpreters, cracked down on notarios without a law license and simplified language on the department’s forms to be more readily understandable to non-English speakers.

CHRISTOPHER PEAK | NEW HAVEN INDEPENDENT

Sean Connolly

Sean Connolly, the former state commissioner of veteran services, said that newcomers today should have the same opportunity that his Irish grandparents found in Connecticut.

“My father came 52 years ago to our great state, bought and operated his own landscaping business and had his career in Connecticut, I’m running because too many people I’ve encountered said those opportunities don’t exist here in Connecticut anymore. We need to ensure and expand that opportunity: a fair shot for everybody, no matter who you are.”

He closed with a sentence in Spanish that earned cheers: “Ellos están conmigo. Quiero que ustedes estén conmigo tambien!” Translation: They are with me. I want you to be with me too!

Susan Bysiewicz, who’d just officially declared her entry into the gubernatorial race, said she worked hard to diversify state boards and commissions when she served as secretary of the state.

Sí, se puedo!” she declared, mistaking the verb’s conjugation. “We can win together!”

Bysiewicz said she planned to elevate the need for more federal funding for the cities that have taken in Puerto Rican evacuees — a bipartisan effort that would require getting Connecticut’s elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, to pressure the White House.

Guy Smith, former CEO of Americares and a liquor distribution company, said he’d stand up to the Trump administration.

“In my administration,” he said, “we’re going to have serious diversity and serious candidates from your community, and I will protect every citizen in Connecticut from you-know-who in Washington.” The line implied non-citizens wouldn’t get the same protections, earning a tepid response from the audience, at best.

The biggest applause of the night went to Kevin Lembo, the state comptroller. He originally launched an effort to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination this year, then surprised everyone when he dropped outciting personal reasons. He’s running for reelection.

In the attorney general race, Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutor, and Clare Kindall, a former assistant attorney general, described different approaches to how they’d respond to Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Mattei said he’d “run to the courthouse” to challenge any threats to the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who’ve been raised in this country and received special protections under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “This is a community that, in some ways, feels under siege,” he said. “I’m here to stand in solidarity.”

Kindall said she, too, would try to help the Dreamers by “doing everything permissible,” but she pointed out the limits of that strategy in a courtroom. “The state does not set immigration policy,” she said. “I wish I had a magic bullet.” Kindall said the resources of the attorney general’s office could be best used by defending sanctuary cities from retaliation and by looking into funding public defenders in immigration court, if they could get insurance.

Some candidates — including gubernatorial hopeful Luke Bronin and attorney general candidate Paul Doyle — arrived too late to make presentations, but in time for some last-minute schmoozing. Gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont sent representatives in his stead; Joe Ganim, another gubernatorial hopeful, later said he hadn’t received the invitation.

This story originally appeared April 5, 2018, in the New Haven Independent.

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To Help Prevent Sexual Assault, Consent Needed


Dear Editor,

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and comes at a time when our country is experiencing a reckoning with sexual violence. Many people are sharing their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, more institutions are holding perpetrators accountable, and space is being created for authentic conversations about consent.

Now more than ever is the time to highlight the important role comprehensive sex education plays in our schools and communities. Providing young people with critical information and skills around seeking and giving consent, how to respond when someone is pressuring them, and ways to step in and help a friend, can help prevent sexual violence. Young people deserve access to education and it needs to happen before they start college and before they become sexually active.

At Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, we provide sex education, information, and resources that teach about consent and healthy relationships. We help people across Connecticut and Rhode Island communicate respectfully and confidently, make well-informed and healthy decisions, and engage in relationships that are healthy and positive. Now is the time to make strides towards a culture in which consent is the norm and everyone has control over their bodies and lives.

Pierrette Comulada Silverman
Vice President of Education and Training
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England
New Haven, CT

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In Event Honoring MLK, Bernie Sanders’ Comments on Race and Barack Obama Raise Eyebrows


By Anne Branigin, The Root

There’s a lot to appreciate about Sen. Bernie Sanders, a longtime public servant who’s helped propel truly progressive policies, like a $15 minimum wage and universal health care, into the mainstream political conversation.

But one frequent complaint is that the 76-year-old Sanders remains dusty on race matters, and critics of the Vermont senator have more evidence to cite in his latest appearance. 

The latest perceived misstep came Thursday, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Speaking in Jackson, Miss., alongside progressive black Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (whose candidacy Sanders supported), Sanders honored the slain civil rights icon.

Here’s the quote in full, from BuzzFeed News:

“The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure,” Sanders started, responding to a question about the young voters who supported his campaign. “People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama, who won the presidency in 2008 and 2012.

“He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But behind that reality, over the last 10 years, Democrats have lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures all across this country.”

On the anniversary of King’s death, it would be the only reference Sanders made to the country’s first black president.

Critics of Sanders called the remarks tone-deaf, particularly given their timing.

But Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ top strategist, said that people had misunderstood the senator’s comments.

“What Bernie was doing last night was praising the power and significance of the Barack Obama presidency, while at the same time pointing out that the national Democratic Party has had a lot of failures over the last 15 years, as evidenced by our loss of state legislative and congressional seats,” Weaver said in response to the criticism, according to BuzzFeed News.

It should be noted that Sanders really didn’t talk about Barack Obama’s presidency, other than to say that it coincided with the failure of the Democratic Party. The plaudits Sanders gave Obama centered on his smarts and charisma as a candidate.

While the dustup over Sanders’ comments about Obama may seem like an unfair misreading, another, less-talked-about exchange seems to bolster a commonly held belief that the 2016 presidential candidate is still uncomfortable talking about race.

Take this, from the Washington Post:

Seated with Lumumba, the senator was asked about the marginalization of black LGBTQ citizens. He shifted the question to people “you didn’t talk about” like “people working two or three jobs” and “people who spend 50 percent of their limited income on housing.” He repeatedly turned discussion of fighting racism to fighting poverty.

Of course, the fight against poverty cuts across all racial demographics and is a pressing concern as economic inequality grows in the U.S. But any analysis of poverty that eschews race is incomplete and ignores very real and troubling trends—like how black and Latinx middle-class families are headed to zero wealth. It’s necessary to have targeted solutions to address this, and it’s necessary to have candidates comfortable with addressing this.

In his remarks in Jackson, Sanders also said that the Democratic Party “has got to be a 50-state party” and listen to voters all over the country, “including some of the poorest states.” Those presumably include Southern states, which Sanders had appeared eager to write off during the presidential primaries in 2016.

Sanders attributed his losses in the South to Democratic voters being more conservative in the region. If you want to know why that particular comment stung, just peep the map below, which shows America’s black population, in percentages:

Sanders’ latest remarks are undoubtedly another political Rorschach test: People inclined to distrust Sanders on race will remain concerned about his tone-deafness and inability to combine race and class analysis. Sanders’ supporters, meanwhile, will see another attempt from centrist Democrats to discredit a man whose support from young voters crossed racial lines.

The Vermont senator, who has shrugged off questions about a 2020 run, offers little in the way of clarity himself.

As BuzzFeed News reports, Sanders continues to frame civil rights and economic justice as two separate issues.

“Of course we need civil rights in this country, but we also need economic justice,” Sanders said backstage at the Jackson event.

But when asked by BuzzFeed about whether his presidential campaign had changed the way he talks about racial justice, Sanders affirmed that it had.

“It’s not a question of talking about it. It’s not phraseology. It’s what you’re gonna do about it,” he said. “Coming to Mississippi, coming to Alabama, to Flint, Mich.—did I learn something? Did I change as a part of that? Of course I did.”

But when pressed about how he changed, personally, Sanders again preferred to change the subject: “You’re asking about me. And I’m not important. What’s important are the kinds of policies that we need to transform this country. OK?”

Featured Photo by Getty Image.

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