The atmosphere at a North Charleston, South Carolina rally in support of Bernie Sanders was loud, if not borderline raucous. It was a multicultural crowd, mainly activists, in a converted event space that had once been a church, mobilizing to do groundwork for the Vermont senator as the days head toward the South Carolina Democratic Primary.
But the crowd of about 300 were here to be pumped up by one of Sanders’ most notable endorsers: Harvard professor Dr. Cornel West. West was on stage, animated as normal and referencing historical figures like Denmark Vesey, who once planned a slave revolt only about 10 miles from this place. The Vermont senator, he tells BET.com, has that kind of revolutionary inspiration for Black people in the Palmetto State.
“I think that Black people, we are the most progressive community in this nation, historically,” West said. “So it doesn’t make any sense that we would not go with the most progressive candidate running for president who has a real chance of winning.”
Sanders has been taking steam from former vice president Joe Biden in recent days as both battle for Black votes here. Polls have Biden at a slight lead over him and many predict a very close contest. A Feb. 21 Winthrop University poll puts Biden at 31 percent of African American voters while Sanders gets about a quarter of those surveyed.
But even here, amidst a crowd of Sanders’ soldiers, there are those who are not yet convinced because of the far-off goal in their minds.
“I just want to beat Trump in November, that’s clouding my thinking,” says Donna Reeves, who lives in Summerville, about 17 miles from here. She came to the rally to learn more, but no particular candidate has persuaded her yet. For her, it’s about the long game, so whoever the Democratic nominee is, they will have to be able to convince not just her, but everyone.
“How are we going to bring the rest of America to Bernie’s side?” she asks. “The consequences of [Trump] winning are so dire that I don’t want to pick the wrong person.”
West is in agreement, but only that it would be a huge disappointment if Sanders were not to become the nominee and go on to fight for the White House. He says he does not know what he would do in that instance.
“We’ll wait and see,” he says. “That’s like asking a jazz musician what they’re going to play in the fall…I can’t predict the future in that way, I live in the present with a vision for the future.”
He continues, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, my brother, but I can tell you this: Bernie stands so far shoulders above the other candidates that it’s going to be a major, major comedown” if he did not win. “But we have to fight fascism, there’s no doubt about that.”
Madison J. Gray is BET.com’s senior editor reporting from the ground in South Carolina.