Sanders Illinois campaign in full swing before March 15 primary

Bernie Iowa
Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd on the eve of the Iowa Caucus in Ames, Iowa (Caroline Kenny/MEDILL)

By Caroline Kenny

The Bernie Sanders campaign has set up shop in Chicago. On Roosevelt Road in the South Loop, campaign staffers and volunteers are working hard in anticipation of the March 15 primary in Illinois between the Senator and his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In a state that Clinton calls home, the Sanders campaign has a lot of ground to make up and cover. The Illinois Democratic electorate is about 30 percent African-American, and in primaries thus far, Clinton has won the African-American vote by extremely wide margins. To overcome this deficit, the Sanders team in Illinois is working around the clock to spread Sanders’ name and explain his policies.

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Sanders is an advocate of organized labor and denying trade deals. One of his main talking points is slamming Clinton for her previously calling the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” in 2012. Clinton said she changed her view on the TPP during the Oct. 13, 2015 Democratic debate, but Sanders is not letting her live this or her other flip-flopping on issues down.

Larry Cohen, the former chairman of the Communications Workers of America union, currently heads the Labor for Bernie group. In this role, Cohen urges organized workers to spread the message of the campaign in the workplace and help union workers understand the importance of voting for someone who keeps their jobs in this country and lets them fight for the wages and benefits they deserve.

“We need to highlight issues like the rotten trade deals we’ve had,” Cohen said after a press conference at the Chicago Nabisco plant. “600 jobs at Nabisco are about to go, and how do we stop them when we have trade deals that encourage movement to places where there are no workers rights and really no pay?”

Cohen also said that as opposed to Clinton, Sanders has been a longtime proponent of workers rights, ever since his days as mayor of Burlington, Vt.

“Words aren’t going to do it,” Cohen said. “Bernie fights against TPP every single day.”

With the Illinois primary quickly approaching on March 15, the Sanders team in Chicago is working long hours, all week long to contact voters and get people to commit to vote.

On Super Tuesday, Sanders won three states, bringing his grand total to four, while Clinton leads with 10. Before the Illinois primary, there are still seven Democratic contests to be won, but supporters of the Senator say Illinois is important territory to pick up due to its large population, resulting in a big delegate count.

Jonathan Jackson, the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson, is a Sanders supporter who said, contrary to what the votes so far have said, that Sanders is the candidate that will do right by African-Americans, not Clinton.

So far, Clinton has won African-American votes by extremely large margins. Just last week in the South Carolina Democratic primary, Clinton took home 84 percent of the African-American vote, as opposed to Sanders’ 16 percent.

In order to win big across the state, Sanders will need to pull in a large amount of votes from the African-American community, a group he fought for during his time as a University of Chicago student during the Civil Rights era.

“He didn’t have to stand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, he didn’t have to get arrested fighting for equal housing at the University of Chicago,” Jackson said. “He’s made it a conscientious choice to be inclusive. He planted the seeds for racial justice.”

Photo at top: Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd on the eve of the Iowa Caucus in Ames, Iowa (Caroline Kenny/MEDILL)