Local officials bring mock Warren, Sanders debate to Chicago stage

By Beth Stewart
Medill Reports

As Chicagoans prepare to cast their vote in the Democratic Presidential primary on March 17, many took a closer look at the campaign platforms of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders during a mock debate at the Hideout Inn in West Town.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa debated in the roles of Warren and Sanders respectively during the First Tuesdays event hosted by Ben Joravsky and Maya Dukmasova of the Chicago Reader.

Less than 24 hours after the Iowa caucus debacle, with still only 62% of the results reported at the time, the standing-room only crowd packed into the Hideout was buzzing with excitement even before the event began.

In addition to the poorly facilitated caucus, Johnson raised an important question in his opening remarks: “3 % of the population there is black, though 30% of them make up the prison population. And somehow this is supposed to be a state that we feel comfortable setting the trajectory of who will be the nominee,” he inquired.

The question, while Democratic voters are anxious about electability against Donald Trump, is a valid one. The winner of the first few primaries may steer the direction of undecided voters and a state that Johnson noted is hardly representative of the American people had the opportunity to set the tone.

Ramirez-Rosa, added to Johnson’s concerns, explaining that the actions of predominantly white voters will not determine who will beat Donald Trump this November.

“In modern American history, where we have elected a Democrat, it has been because young people and people of color have shown up in droves,” he said.

Only Sanders has that kind of support, Ramirez-Rosa added. The Iowa polls reported by the New York Times, appear to back that up with Sanders’ double digit lead over Warren among voters under 30 and non-white voters.

Johnson reminded the crowd that the leftist platform Sanders is running on is one that has roots in the Black Panther Party from the civil rights era of the 1960s. African Americans know acutely the cost of advocating for free healthcare, education, and housing, especially here in Chicago, as the police murder of Fred Hampton comes to mind. While he finds many commonalities with both candidates and would support either, only Sen. Warren has an agenda that speaks directly and specifically to Black people, he said.

Ramirez-Rosa noted that the endorsements of United Working Families in Chicago and the Dream Defenders, a black led movement out of Florida, do show growing support for Sanders among black leaders.

“We are not supporting a candidate, we are supporting a movement,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “And that’s a movement to make sure that we are fixing our broken criminal justice system. That’s a movement to make sure that we have living wages. That’s a movement that ensures that we are addressing the historical inequities that have disproportionately impacted the black community.”

Angela Tate, a graduate student attending the event, said she is from Sacramento but will be switching her voter registration to Illinois to vote in this primary. Tate supports Warren, though she has some concerns about her misrepresenting her identity as Native American.

“I pull for her because I do think that she is very deeply engaged with what black women are asking and talking about, but I do think she needs to address the native community in a more concrete way.” Tate said.

Johnson ended the debate with a plea to the crowd to not focus just on our differences in presidential candidates, and rather put our efforts into local elections where change happens.

“The revolution is Jeanette Taylor,” Johnson emphasized referencing her hunger strike. “The revolution is local…and can’t be simply confined to how much money we raise for a presidential election.”

Christine Dussault, a Chicago public school teacher from Logan Square, supports Sanders based on his platform to abolish ICE and support of the Green New Deal. However, she agreed that change happens locally.

“I think at the end of the day we need to come together,” Dussault said. “We might be on different sides for the presidential ticket, but I think leading with all the really important rights that we have here [in Chicago] are central.”

First Tuesdays is a monthly political talk show at the Hideout Inn at 1354 W Wabansia Ave. The event for March 3 is a special on the road episode to watch the Super Tuesday results live at the Promontory at 5311 S Lake Park Ave.

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