I had the pleasure of chatting with Sen. Nina Turner and Dr. Cornel West about their support for and endorsement of Bernie Sanders and what their message is. We all shared laughs and meaningful conversation as West and Turner shared a donut at DSM Brew Coffee Co.
Among being brilliant and filled with empathetic wisdom, West is an American philosopher, a professor, a political activist, an author and a democratic intellectual. Known for books like "Race Matters" and "Democracy Matters," West has a rich background in and insight on racial disparities and division, the importance of unity and togetherness and standing up against tyranny with a mind open to love and humanity.
Turner is a passionate politician, author, teacher and motivational speaker from Ohio. Her roots in faith shine bright when she soulfully spreads her message of collectiveness and the universal struggle we experience. Watching and listening to her speak feels like going to church. Turner has been a progressive voice in ensuring equity and equality among racial communities, the working class and women’s rights, reverberating the importance of conversation and the human connection.
Questions and answers:
1. Both of you were surrogates for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race - what about Sanders and his campaign still appeals to you?
West: "That he’s the same brother on fire for truth and justice. He’s the same brother tied to integrity and he puts solidarity at the center of his project. He’s got to bring us together – he loves to bring us together and he knows that bringing us together can change the society, change the world. So, absolutely 2016, 2020 – we’re going to win this time, though."
Turner: "He’s the same. The goal is to change the material conditions of the working-class people from all backgrounds in this country. It remains this focal point of his campaign and his mission and that speaks to me and it speaks to people all across this country who we’ve meet and talked to who are suffering. We need somebody whose only special interest is them and he’s made that really clear."
2. A lot of people like Bernie’s ideas but have a different primary candidate in mind. What would you say to voters who are still unsure about Sanders or look to him as a second option?
West: "I don’t think there’s another candidate who has brother Bernie’s ideas. There might be some that look as if they do or they’re semblances and imitations and simulacra but Bernie’s the only one that really has the kind of commitment to fundamental change as it relates to poor and working people."
Turner: "I push back on that entire premise. The senator is polling number one in Iowa, number one or two in New Hampshire, number one in California – that’s one measure, the polls. The other measure is we closed last quarter with five million donations. We had a stellar night last night [debate night]. The working-class people really came through for the senator while he was right there up on that stage. What I would say is that the senator is cultivating a grassroots movement in this country that has not been seen in modern times. If you look at whether it’s the polls where people want to vote or the polls on the issues that matter the most to people – things like healthcare, the economy, now more so foreign policy because of what the current president has done – that for many people Sen. Sanders is their first choice, whether they know it or not."
West: [both laugh] "That’s a nice way of putting that. That’s a beautiful way of putting it."
3. What reactions have you gotten from communities of color regarding your firm support for a guy like Bernie? Did you receive any push back or frustration from your communities when you announced your support for Sen. Sanders since there were strong and experienced candidates of color in the race for many months?
Turner: "I mean, there’s a difference between the real world and the Twitter world if that’s what you mean. We just met with the Legislative Black Caucus here in Iowa. We’ve done house parties across this state. The black community is open to the senator’s mission. We talk to members of the Black Caucus that talk about the suffering in places like Waterloo – I think Waterloo was rated number one at one point in time in terms of the worst city for African Americans to live. We talk to them about Medicare for All, College for All, cancelling student debt, the Thurgood Marshall quality education plan and people really open up. I was at a house party about three weeks ago and then one about two months ago and the target audience was communities of color, the black community and other communities of color, and at both of these house parties we reached that goal where the overwhelming majority of the people who were in the house were black and brown people. By the time they heard from my message to the field pitches, they had a clear understanding of which candidate’s policies would change their material conditions and which ones would not. Once we’re able to talk to people, we don’t get push back about our support for Sen. Sanders."
West: "That’s exactly what we were experiencing a few hours ago with the black preachers that we met with. After we had a chance to sit down and talk with them, they were open."
Nina Turner: "They were at “amen.'"
4. On the Joe Rogan Experience last summer you said, “Part of the problem with the American dream is that is doesn’t go far enough,” partly because it doesn’t encourage people to think about the needs of others. How do we go further?
West: "We have to make a distinction between the American dream and what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed in August of 1963. He said, 'my dream is rooted in the American dream.' Part of the American dream was wonderful because it has to do with everyday people being able to live lives that flourish. The narrowness of the American dream is that it’s too materialistic. It doesn’t put a stress on ensuring that we focus on the predicament of the least of thee, of the weakest, the most vulnerable, the most oppressed, the most hated, the most demeaning and degraded. If we have a broader conception to what it is to dream that includes all of us, and that is a collective matter – this is why the Bernie campaign is so simple because when he says, 'not me, us,' he’s putting the stress on the we-ness, on the collective quality of the lives we live together rather than just individualistic possessions we’re able to have or power that we’re able to exert over against others. That’s why brother Bernie is so rooted in King’s legacy. That connection between brother Bernie and Martin Luther King Jr. is very real."
5. I love watching you speak – you really know how to work a crowd with your passion. Tell me an issue you’re most passionate about on this campaign trail?
Turner: "The opportunity to meet so many people from all walks of life because I’m reminded of our collective struggle, our collective journey. Sometimes you can be in your own bubble, your own community and if it’s not as ethnically diverse or diversity of experience, you start to feel like it’s just you or just your community. As we’re able, blessed, to travel all over this country and come into contact with our Muslim sisters and brothers, come in to contact with our black and white sisters and brothers or Asian – a lot of different people from walks of life – you continue to find out that we truly all are in this together and that if you are catching hell in this country, we’re catching it together. I think for me, I’m always still humbled by the universal nature of my message. White people will come up to me, and even elder white people – sometimes you look at people and make an assumption – I said especially elder white people because to just look, I might think artificially that I don’t have anything in common with them or they’re not vibing with what I’m saying. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised that when you touch on the spirit, the heart of the matter, you speak a type of universal language and to me, that in itself, is both powerful and humbling. In summation, just being able to go around this country and talk to people from different walks of life, different backgrounds and find that universal connection. You got to connect with people and we’re doing that."
West: "Sister Nina does it in a very special way. I think she’s talking both about a connection but she’s also talking of the joy in the struggle because that’s what has been sustaining. That’s also what is distinctive about the Bernie campaign. People who are a part of the campaign and the movement find joy in working together. They find joy in changing the world. As you give, you receive."
6. There’s a recent trending hashtag on Twitter — #ITrustBernie – why do you trust Bernie?
West: "Put me on that tag! [both laugh] Just put brother West on that tag. I trust him because he’s that kind of brother. He’s worthy of trust. He has a record of over 45 years of being trustworthy."
Turner: "We trust him because he’s authentic. We trust him because he’s courageous. We trust him because he’s committed and we trust him because he tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This ain’t no hustle for him, this is real."
I will end the article with a quote from the great Martin Luther King Jr. This is a quote that resonates with me, Sen. Turner, Dr. West and Sen. Sanders:
“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’”