WASHINGTON — After protests twice derailed campaign events in recent weeks, the Bernie Sanders campaign has asked to meet with Black Lives Matter activists in Washington.
In an email obtained by BuzzFeed News, the campaign's African-American outreach director, Marcus Ferrell, told a group of activists that Sanders wanted a more formal interaction. As a sitting U.S. senator, the meeting could be arranged as a means of "possibly introducing legislation and making a constitutional change. We would like to know what YOU would like to see happen."
Campaigns are rushing to curry favor with Black Lives Matter activists, whose public actions confronting Sanders twice disrupted the campaign, forcing Sanders to more forcefully voice his support of the movement. He has also since announced Symone Sanders, who is a young black woman, as his national press secretary; she was hired after she met with the senator about the activism and criminal justice. Bernie Sanders has also released a comprehensive racial justice platform, referenced by Ferrell in the email.
According to a source familiar with the communication, Symone Sanders reached out to the women who confronted Sanders and shut down his rally in Seattle that had been attended by thousands. But when they requested to meet with the senator himself and demanded an apology for how he'd treated the activists at Netroots, the campaign declined.
Many activists were also displeased that Symone Sanders seemed to introduce a way to silence protesters — telling supporters to chant “We Stand Together” should they interrupt the candidate while he spoke at a rally earlier this month in Portland.
"As you may or may not know, our campaign and your movement has run across each other on 2 different occasions. We would like to have a more formal interaction with the movement," Ferrell wrote in the email. "We are hoping to establish a REAL space for REAL dialog between the folks on this email and our campaign."
Sanders, the candidate, has said no candidate for president is going to work harder to eradicate racial injustice. But the aide took it a step further Saturday.
"Thank you for the diligent work for our community," he wrote in the email.
Here's the full email:
My name is Marcus Ferrell, I am a senior staffer for Senator Bernie Sanders presidential bid in 2016.
I am reaching out to you on behalf of our campaign because you are the folks doing the work for Black Lives Matter. I apologize it took our campaign so long to officially reach out. We are hoping to establish a REAL space for REAL dialog between the folks on this email and our campaign. If you guys know of anyone that should be on this email chain and is not, please feel free to forward them this message and my contact information.
As you may or may not know, our campaign and your movement has run across each other on 2 different occasions. We would like to have a more formal interaction with the movement. We wanted to let you know that we hear you, we want to do a better job speaking out on the issues, and as a sitting U.S. Senator, possibly introducing legislation and making a constitutional change. We would like to know what YOU would like to see happen. Would you be willing to have a preliminary conference call to set up a face to face meeting with the Senator in DC? I'd like to get feed back from you to see if that could even be an option.We would like to meet with you within the next month.
We have introduced a Racial Justice platform on our website. Please feel free to take a look at it and tell us where we can improve and strengthen our platform. https://berniesanders.com/issues/racial-justice/.
My contact information is below. Feel free to call, email, direct message me at any time. Thank you for the diligent work for our community. Onward and Upward.
Southeastern Political Director/African American Outreach Director
On Sunday, Sanders told Meet The Press that the message had been sent out without his knowledge by a staffer, that the campaign was reaching out to all kinds of groups, that Black Lives Matter was important, and that he did not think the campaign needed to apologize for the delay in officially reaching out:
CHUCK TODD: BuzzFeed has an article out this morning. Headlines is this: Sanders' campaign reaches out to Black Lives Matter activists. Quote, I apologize it took our campaign so long. Tell me more about it.
BERNIE SANDERS: Well, that was sent out by a staffer, not by me. Look, we are reaching out to all kinds of groups, absolutely. I met with people at Black Lives Matter. We're reaching out to Latino groups. We're reaching out to the unions. We're fighting to expand Social Security and we're reaching out to senior groups. We're reaching out to health care groups because we believe that everybody in America is entitled to health care. We're reaching out to everybody.
But on this issue of Black Lives Matter, let me be very clear, the issue that they are raising is a very, very important issue. There is no candidate for president who will be stronger in fighting against institutional racism and, by the way, reforming a broken criminal justice system.
Chuck, we have more people in jail in the United States of America than any country on Earth. And we need real changes. We need to do away with the militarization of local police departments. We need to do away with minimum sentencing. We needed indication and jobs for our young people rather than jails and incarceration.
TODD: I understand that. But you said a staffer put it out but you felt an apology was necessary?
SANDERS: No. I don't. I think we're going to be working with all groups. This was sent out without my knowledge.