Sanders campaigned for a packed-out Bartow on Monday, Jan. 18. (Photo by Johnathon Patrick).Sanders campaigned for a packed-out Bartow on Monday, Jan. 18. (Photo by Johnathon Patrick).Gregory Williams - Contributing Writer
gwill626@uab.edu

Lines stretched around the Boutwell Auditorium last Monday evening as supporters and skeptics alike prepared to hear the underdog of the 2016 presidential race, Bernie Sanders, speak. But this wasn't just any old Monday—Sanders had chosen to speak in the historic city of Birmingham, Ala. on the birthday of civil rights icon, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now, some may view this as a gesture of respect to the black community, and an obvious symbol of Sanders' solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. I'd like to believe most of those people didn't attend the event.

The first observation I made upon arrival to the Boutwell, about 45 minutes before the doors opened, was that I wasn't early enough to beat the crowd. Parking was already scarce, and by the time we actually joined the line, it literally stretched around the block. There were TONS of people showing up, and when I noticed that, I made my second observation: there sure are a lot of white folks out here. Now, this isn't to say that was a bad thing at all, it was simply key in understanding the significance of the events to come.

At about 7 p.m., the event finally began and an all-black choir performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” That was my first checkmark. I searched around for some fellow folks of color as some of us stumbled through the lyrics that weren't “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” If I didn't make this point earlier, the crowd was more millennial than it was white. And it was REALLY white. After that, he brought out Dr. Cornel West and Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, a black woman and I subsequently made my second and third checkmarks. These checkmarks, of course, being on my list of things that make black folks comfortable. I'm still not sure whether I'm being cynical or Bernie was really trying to secure the black vote, but it effectively identified him as a politician to me and turned me off to the whole thing, not to mention his simple listing of political standpoints, all things I've heard before and learned to question. I know, it's MLK day in Birmingham, so of course he'd want to acknowledge that, and he's still the lesser of numerous evils in my opinion. Regardless of what Sanders was trying to accomplish Monday, most of my white friends were still asking me who Cornel West was afterwards, and most of my black friends that didn't go asked, “Bernie who?”
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