As both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders pivot toward upcoming contests in Nevada (Feb. 20) and South Carolina (Feb. 27), the biggest question for the Sanders campaign is whether it can adapt its insurgent message to make it resonate with voters, particularly those of color, beyond Iowa and New Hampshire. On Thursday, ahead of a Democratic debate in Wisconsin, the Sanders campaign released a new four-minute ad that gives an indication of how the campaign plans to expand Sanders’ self-described message of economic revolution.
The ad features Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, who was killed in 2014 while in a police chokehold on Staten Island. A grand jury decided not to charge the officer responsible for Garner’s death with a crime, setting off protests around the country and stoking the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a powerful and emotional ad that focuses largely on Erica Garner and her transformation into a protester in the wake of her father’s death. The video is titled “It’s not over,” which is a line Garner uses in the ad to link the civil rights movement to the struggle for fairness and justice that continues today—and to Bernie Sanders.
“Our people died for this. Martin Luther King died for this. Malcolm X died for this. And who were they? They was protesters. I’m behind anyone who’s going to listen and speak up for us and I think we need to believe in a leader like Bernie Sanders… I believe Bernie Sanders is a protester.”
The emphasis on Sanders as a protester against the abuses of the criminal justice system, not just of the economic system, comes as Sanders needs to widen his appeal among black voters. As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie pointed out earlier Thursday, the Clintons have built a strong following over the years in black communities in the South and their representatives on Capitol Hill. To counter that support, the Sanders strategy appears to be to target the youthful demographic that has gravitated to his message elsewhere, appealing to young black voters as a protester himself.