- Critics of Sen. Bernie Sanders have long argued that the 78-year-old Vermont lawmaker’s mass of supporters is characterised by sexist white men – so-called Bernie bros.
- Recent endorsements from two of the most outspoken women of colour in Congress – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar – could help to change that narrative.
- The endorsements might also help sway Democrats who want the next president to be a woman and are torn between Sanders and his progressive ally and 2020 competitor Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
- In a speech at a Saturday rally in Queens, New York, Ocasio-Cortez called for a “mass mobilisation” that is “multiracial, multigendered, multigenerational, and multigeographic.”
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Critics of Sen. Bernie Sanders have long argued that the 78-year-old Vermont lawmaker’s mass of supporters is characterised by sexist white men – so-called Bernie bros.
Recent endorsements from two of the most outspoken women of colour in Congress – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar – could help to change that narrative.
On Saturday, Sanders was joined by Ocasio-Cortez at a campaign rally in Queens, New York, that attracted a diverse crowd of nearly 26,000 people.
While Sanders focused his speech heavily on his plans to improve the lives of the country’s working class, the freshman congresswoman made an explicit argument for a “mass mobilisation” centering on fighting bigotry and promoting social equality.
“We need a United States that really, truly, and authentically is operated, owned, and decided by working and all people in the United States of America,” Ocasio-Cortez said during her speech. “It is multiracial, multigendered, multigenerational, and multigeographic. We have to come together, not ignoring our differences but listening to them, prioritising them, understanding injustice, understanding that we operate in a context where slavery evolved into Jim Crow, evolved into mass incarceration, evolved into the realities we have today.”
Polling has long undermined the idea that Sanders’ supporters are largely white men.
In a Morning Consult/Politico poll of registered voters in February, about 32% of men and 31% of women said they would “definitely” vote for Sanders if their state’s Democratic primary or caucus were held that day. About 31% of white respondents said they would vote for Sanders, while a slightly larger portion of those who identified as Hispanic (37%), African American (32%), and “other” (33%) said the same.
The “Squad” members’ endorsements might also help sway Democratic primary voters who want the next president to be a woman and are torn between Sanders and his progressive ally and 2020 competitor Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Sanders has said that his gender and age pose “problems” for him, at least compared with Warren, in the Democratic primary.
“I think that there are a certain number of people who would like to see a woman elected, and I understand that,” he told CNN in June. “There are people who would like to see somebody who was younger, and I understand that also. There are a lot of factors out there.”
One attendee who spoke with Insider at the Queens rally said Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement and Sanders’ energetic return from leave after a recent heart attack were influential in her decision-making.
“I’m actually for Warren, but after hearing Bernie speak, I have a lot of soul-searching and thinking to do,” Alethea Shapiro, a 40-year-old mum of four from Long Island, told Insider on Saturday.
Shapiro said she also attended Warren’s massive rally in Washington Square Park last month.
Ocasio-Cortez, a 30-year-old Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent, argued that the country needs a movement that takes American history into account in its policy-making. She said that Sanders’ advocacy for working-class people had long benefited marginalised communities of colour like the one she grew up in.
“What we need to do in this country is organise a fundamentally positive and welcoming movement, one that is not only mindful of the ugly histories that created our present inequalities,” she said, adding: “We also recognise the imperialist and colonial histories that contribute to our endless wars and our immigration crisis.”
Murray Elias, a 66-year-old white man who lives in Manhattan and works in the music industry, said Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement was strong evidence that Sanders’ coalition is increasingly diverse – and much more so than his critics give him credit for.
“I think it shows that this is not just a movement of what the media or the establishment wants to just label as Bernie bros,” Elias, who attended Saturday’s rally, told Insider. “It’s a lot more diverse than Hillary Clinton liked to paint it in 2016, and it’s even more diverse now.”
Cori Bush, a progressive Democratic candidate for Congress in Missouri, told The New York Times that the endorsements from Ocasio-Cortez and Omar “knocks away that whole Bernie Bro idea.”
Ocasio-Cortez told the enthusiastic crowd that it was Sanders’ 2016 primary bid that inspired her “to question and assert and recognise my inherent value as a human being that deserves healthcare, housing, education, and a living wage.”
She introduced her fellow democratic socialist as “the man, the ally,” and described him in familial terms.
“I call him Tío Bernie. Maybe to my goddaughter he’s abuelo; maybe to some others he’s brother,” she said. “But he’s my tío, Bernie Sanders.”
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