From left, Cornel West, Killer Mike, Bernie Sanders and Nina Turner discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. (YouTube/Bernie Sanders)
Following Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, S.C., Killer Mike represented Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the spin room, where a reporter asked what drew him to the self-described Democratic socialist.
“Smoking a joint and reading his tweets,” the rapper responded.
Hours earlier, Sanders and Killer Mike sat down with Dr. Cornel West and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner for an informal discussion about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on the eve of the federal holiday marking the birthday of the late civil rights leader.
“Let me tell you what kind of blew me away when you think about Dr. King’s life,” Sanders said during the discussion, which was live-streamed on his campaign’s website. “Obviously it took an enormous amount of courage to stand up to the segregationists, racists — they got jailed, they got beaten up — an incredible amount of courage. But what impressed me even more … he could’ve rested on his laurels. The establishment would’ve said, ‘You are a great black leader. Look what you did: You got the Voting Rights Act. Wow! You broke down segregation in the South. Incredible!’ But you know what? This is what courage is about. He said, ‘Enough.’ If he was going to be consistent with his own inner soul, he had to ask other questions.”
West and the other panelists were not hesitant to compare the Vermont senator’s crusade against the rich to the movement King started.
“I was sitting in church today, Mother Emanuel Church, and we were reading the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and it just makes you shake and quiver,” West said. “And I said to myself, ‘This is what the Sanders campaign is about. This is what it’s about. It’s about the poor, working people. It’s about keeping track of the weak and the vulnerable. It’s about mustering the courage to tell the truth about Wall Street, about wealth inequality.”
During the discussion, West referred to Sanders as “Brother Bernie.”
“Even the pastor’s sermon was preaching your gospel,” Turner told Sanders. “Dr. King, one of the last things he did in his life was the poor people’s movement. And people don’t want to talk about that. He went to Memphis with the striking garbage workers. … We have so many people who talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. And when they are in halls of power, they get afraid to speak up for the poor and disenfranchised. One of the things the pastor talked about this morning, he said, ‘We hear a whole bunch of people talk about the middle class. But ain’t nobody talking about the poor.’ Dr. West and I, we nudged each other and we said, ‘We know one.’”
The Vermont senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, Turner said, “is using that title to shine a light in the same way Dr. King used his title. His ascendancy was not just for himself, but it was for the people who did not have a voice.”
— Deanna Pan (@DDpan)
Killer Mike, who has become one of Sanders’ most visible supporters, said King was killed “for many of the same reasons this man is campaigning for.”
“He was killed because he spoke against the military-industrial complex,” Killer Mike said. “He was killed because he had the courage to say it and had the courage to demand it out of corporations.”
The rapper said that when he saw a Sanders tweet about the restoration of the Voting Rights Act, “I knew I had met the real deal.”
“Everything you’ve shown me since then has been in that line, and that’s why you have a guy named Killer Mike sitting next to you talking about the most nonviolent warrior my race has ever created.”
It wasn’t the first time, however, that Sanders found himself sitting next to Killer Mike. In November, the rapper spent five hours with Sanders in Atlanta, where the pair met for a wide-ranging discussion at Killer Mike’s barbershop followed by lunch at Busy Bee Cafe, a popular soul food restaurant.
Bernie Sanders and rapper Killer Mike at Busy Bee in Atlanta. pic.twitter.com/jqOiLlMgrQ
— John Wagner (@WPJohnWagner)
Brought this guy to Busy Bee on MLK in ATL. pic.twitter.com/K93EUniUZE
— Killer Mike (@KillerMike)
“Make sure that wherever you go, you take the name, the ideas, the philosophy and the ideology of Bernie Sanders there,” the rapper said while introducing the candidate at an Atlanta rally. “And you make sure when you leave, they are on fire because they have ‘felt the Bern!’”
Whatever the case, Sanders needs more supporters like Killer Mike — and his campaign knows it.
A poll of likely Democratic voters in South Carolina conducted last fall found an overwhelming 80 percent of African-Americans support Hillary Clinton, while just 8 percent supported Sanders.
“We recognize that Secretary Clinton and President Clinton, too, have a long relationship with the African-American community that goes back decades,” Tad Devine, a strategist for the Sanders campaign, told the Wall Street Journal in December. “People respect that. We believe Bernie can succeed with the African-American community for a lot of reasons. It’s his story — a powerful story about someone who has a lifetime commitment to civil rights.”