Sanders, Warren address black Christian voters at presidential forum

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the Black Church PAC Presidential Forum in College Park.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses the Black Church PAC Presidential Forum in College Park.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke to a crowd of young black Christian voters Saturday morning as part of the Black Church PAC Presidential Forum.

The Democratic presidential candidates discussed white nationalism, gun violence, student loan debt and other issues at the front of voters’ minds with Rev. Michael McBride and Rev. Leah Daughtry, the political group’s co-founders.

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Warren, who was raised in the Methodist church, leaned into the faith aspect of the program, telling the crowd her favorite Bible verse, Matthew 25:31, is a “guiding principle” in her life and policy.

“The Lord calls us to act. To feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to visit those in prison,” Warren said.

Both candidates discussed how their policies would benefit African-Americans and combat problems particularly affecting them, including unaffordable prescription drugs and a disproportionately high rate of black women dying during childbirth.

Sanders said his Medicare for All plan would drastically reduce the cost of insulin, which diabetics need on a daily basis and which cost an average of $450 a month in 2016, according to the Health Care Cost Institute. Diabetes is disproportionately prevalent in the African-American community. Asked about black maternal mortality — black women die in childbirth three times as often as white women — Warren emphatically pledged further funding for research, doctors and hospitals.

Sanders and Warren also condemned white nationalism and white supremacy. Warren described the ideology as a “terrorist threat,” and said the U.S. Department of Justice should treat it as such. Sanders, who is Jewish, told the crowd he understood the threat white supremacy presents because much of his extended family died in the Holocaust. Sanders’ father immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1921.

“We will go to war with white supremacy and white nationalism in every aspect of our lives,” Sanders said.

The frank discussion was welcome to some in the audience. Clarice Burton, 38, said the increased visibility of white nationalism makes many young black people nervous. Hearing Sanders and Warren speak made her feel like she could “trust the system again.”

Burton, a Maryland resident, has not decided who to throw her support behind in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but was pleased with the topics of discussion Saturday morning. The student debt burden on people of color is an issue she is particularly concerned about; even if young black people graduate from college and obtain advanced degrees, they can be held back by the cost of repaying student loans, she said.

Both Warren and Sanders support tuition-free college and canceling student loan debt. Warren outlined how her proposed wealth tax for those with at least $50 million in assets would not only make tuition-free college and student debt cancellation possible, but also provide $50 billion in funding for historically black colleges and universities.

Warren and Sanders made up the second day of the forum; U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Mayor Pete Buttegieg spoke Friday. The forum was hosted as part of the Young Leaders Conference, a multi-day event for young black Christians. Saturday’s event with the candidates was bookended by sessions about the fundamentals of preaching and preparing young men to be good husbands.

This is the second campaign stop in Georgia for both Sanders and Warren. Warren held a rally in Lawrenceville in February and Sanders visited Augusta in May.

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