Civil rights icon John Lewis told reporters that he never encountered Bernie Sanders when the Vermont senator was working with Lewis' Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. Because he made his remarks at a press conference announcing the Congressional Black Caucus PAC's endorsement of Sanders' opponent, Hillary Clinton, Lewis' comments can be seen as a mild dig at Sanders. (In the same breath he said he had met Bill and Hillary Clinton.)
But it's also undoubtedly true.
The Georgia congressman was a titan of the civil rights movement. A participant in the Freedom Rides organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), he went on to lead the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and still bears the scars he received at Selma. Sanders' involvement was, by comparison, brief and localized, his sacrifices limited to one arrest for protesting and a bad GPA from neglecting his studies. But Sanders was, in his own right, an active participant in the movement during his three years at the University of Chicago.
Although Sanders did attend the 1963 March on Washington, at which Lewis spoke, most of his work was in and around Hyde Park, where he became involved with the campus chapter of CORE shortly after transferring from Brooklyn College in 1961. During Sanders' first year in Chicago, a group of apartment-hunting white and black students had discovered that off-campus buildings owned by the university were refusing torent to black students, in violation of the school's policies. CORE organized a 15-day sit-in at the administration building, which Sanders helped lead. (James Farmer, who co-founded CORE and had been a Freedom Rider with Lewis, came to the University of Chicago that winter to praise the activists' work.) The protest ended when George Beadle, the university's president, agreed to form a commission to study the school's housing policies.
Sanders was one of two students from CORE appointed to the commission, which included the neighborhood's alderman and state representative, in addition to members of the administration. But not long afterward, Sanders blew up at the administration, accusing Beadle of reneging on his promise and refusing to answer questions from students on its integration plan. In an open letter in the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, Sanders vented about the double-cross:
That spring, with Sanders as its chairman, the university chapter of CORE merged with the university chapter of SNCC. Sanders announced plans to take the fight to the city of Chicago, and in the fall of 1962 he followed through, organizing picketers at a Howard Johnson in Cicero. Sanders told the Chicago Maroon, the student newspaper, that he wanted to keep the pressure on the restaurant chain afterthe arrest of 12 CORE demonstrators in North Carolina for trying to eat at a Howard Johnson there:
Sanders left his leadership role at the organization not long afterward; his grades suffered so much from his activism that a dean asked him to take some time off from school. (He didn't take much interest in his studies, anyway.) But he continued his activism with CORE and SNCC. In August of 1963, not long after returning to Chicago from the March on Washington, Sanders was charged with resisting arrest after protesting segregation at a school on the city's South Side. He was later fined $25, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the progressive icon who led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the civil rights movement, on Thursday dismissed Sen. Bernie Sanders' participation in that movement.
When a reporter asked Lewis to comment on Sanders' involvement in the movement—Sanders as a college student at the University of Chicago was active in civil rights work—the congressman brusquely interrupted him. "Well, to be very frank, I'm going to cut you off, but I never saw him, I never met him," Lewis said. "I'm a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and directed their voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."
The preeminent civil rights hero's pooh-poohing of Sanders came at a press conference where the Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. The PAC is somewhat separate from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which is a group of 46 African American members of the House. (All its members are Democratic but one.) But the PAC is chaired by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), a CBC member, and its 20-person board is made up of seven CBC members and several lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants. Some media accounts are depicting this endorsement as the action of the CBC. But Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and a CBC member, sent out an accusatory tweet shortly before the endorsement, complaining, "Cong'l Black Caucus (CBC) has NOT endorsed in presidential. Separate CBCPAC endorsed withOUT input from CBC membership, including me." Ellison is one of two House members who have officially backed Sanders.
The CBC PAC endorsement of Clinton was hosted at the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, which raises questions about the DNC's supposed impartiality in the Clinton-Sanders race. An official at the Democratic National Committee says that the party had nothing to do with the CBC PAC's event, which was held at DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill. "Members of Congress who are dues paying members of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] can reserve the space," he told Mother Jones in an email.
As Mother Jonesreported previously, Sanders was involved in the campus chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), another civil rights group:
During his junior year, Sanders, by then president of the university's CORE chapter, led a picket of a Howard Johnson's restaurant in Chicago, part of a coordinated nationwide protest against the motel and restaurant chain's racially discriminatory policies. Sanders eventually resigned his post at CORE, citing a heavy workload, and took some time off from school.
Under Sanders' leadership, the CORE group at University of Chicago joined forces with SNCC's campus chapter, held sit-ins to protest segregation in university-owned apartment buildings, and raised money for voter registration efforts focused on African Americans.
The CBC PAC endorsement comes at a key time in the Democratic primary contest, as Clinton and Sanders head toward the next primary in South Carolina on February 27. The Democratic electorate in that state has a high percentage of African Americans, and a crucial question for both campaigns is whether Sanders can find support with black voters or whether Clinton will maintain her commanding lead in the polls among this group. Political observers have pointed to South Carolina as the state where Clinton has a shot at arresting Sanders' post-New Hampshire momentum due to her standing with black voters. With the fight on for black voters, endorsements from the African American community are important for each campaign—and Lewis' comments won't help Sanders.
It's hard to get too lost on your way to Pittsburg, New Hampshire (pop. 869). You just drive north for a while. And then you keep driving north for a while longer. Pittsburg is New Hampshire's largest town by land area, covering nearly 300 square miles of North Country mountains and lakes and spanning the entire length of the state's international border with Canada. It's also one of the only corners of the nation's first primary state where candidates never go.
In a year in which Republican candidates have made the Rio Grande a mandatory stop on the presidential campaign trail, trekking to McAllen, Texas, to stare grimly into the Mexican desert, the far vaster northern border—the one terrorists have actually tried to come across—is a much different story. Of the hundreds upon hundreds of town halls and meet-and-greets in the 2016 election cycle, only one happened in Pittsburg. And it was held by Lindsey Graham.
(It's not just candidates who have a tendency to overlook Pittsburg; in the 1830s, it was excised from the United States by a vaguely written treaty, and it hummed along for three years as the independent republic of Indian Stream before the boundary was clarified.)
"[People] certainly can sneak through here, there's no doubt about it," said Laurie Urekew, braving the snow flurries on Saturday afternoon outside Young's general store, an all-purpose grocery and gas station that features a punching bag of President Barack Obama by the register. "But it's very vast here, so chances are someone from the southern area wouldn't survive too much."
Tim Murphy / Mother Jones
Urekew is a Republican ("the only good Democrat is a dead one," she joked), who was torn between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, provided the latter is ruled eligible. "I like Trump because we need somebody like him—he's strong and yet he's not afraid to be politically incorrect," she said. But she trusts Cruz more than Trump to shut down the border—the southern one.
Although Trump is popular in the North Country, his warnings about a Canadian senator usurping the American government has hit with a thud—it's just not that big of an issue. Canadian flags fly with American ones outside some houses, road signs are in French and English, and there's a Quebecois radio station. The compelling local issue up north is not the border; it's the proposed Northern Pass transmission line, which would cut through the North Country to bring hydroelectric power from Canada to the Northeast.* (The slogan that Northern Pass opponents have come up with is "Live Free or Fry," which you have to admit, is pretty good.) Trump was asked about the Northern Pass at Saturday's debate and gave it his seal of approval.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was widely mocked after briefly entertaining the idea of building a fence on the Canadian border last summer; he dropped out soon after. To the extent that Canada has played a determinative role in the New Hampshire primary, the concern has been what's leaving the United States, not what's coming in. Opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the subsequent loss of lumber jobs to Canada, helped propel Republican Pat Buchanan to victory in 1996. (Some Buchanan supporters did believe Russian tanks would invade the United States by way of Canada.)
When I asked Cal DelaHaye, who was working on a piece of funnel cake at Grampy's diner in Pittsburg, if he thought more candidates should make the trek up north, he was emphatic. "No," he said. "I'd tell them they're wasting their time."
There was one group of New Hampshire Republicans that was particularly concerned about the Canadian border threat. In 2006 and 2007, the New Hampshire branch of the Minutemen Civil Defense League made a few weekend trips to West Derby, Vermont, and Pittsburg, to draw attention to the great northern threat.
"One time we saw a guy who actually parked his car in the New Hampshire side and then backpacked, and it looked like he was hiking the Long Trail, and he headed north toward Canada, and we looked at his car later and it turned out he was from Canada," said Ron Oplinus of Exeter, New Hampshire, who lead the chapter before it disbanded a few years back. "So we don't know exactly what was going on but we didn't see him again."
Other than that, he conceded, "there wasn't much" to see.
*Correction: An earlier version of the piece erroneously stated that Northern Pass would require eminent domain. Although Trump was asked if he thought the state should use eminent domain, it is not being proposed.
New Hampshire is different—so says New Hampshire. But it's unarguably true; no state combines as high a saturation of candidate visits with such a small, tightly concentrated population. (Just try having some breakfast poutine in Manchester.) The effect is that the candidates sometimes seem as if they spend as much time talking about the voters they meet as they do talking to them. As the Republican and Democratic contenders made their final pitch over the last eight days, they used New Hampshirites they've met to make substantive points about heroin addiction, drug prices, and college tuition—or just to have some fun with their audience. (We see you, Chris Christie.) Here's a sampling:
Ohio Gov. John Kasich:
One lady was sitting way up in the bleachers, at the end of the town hall...And she's sitting way up in the stands and she raises her hand and she says, 'I have a 31-year-old daughter, she developed cancer as a young kid, and we don't know where we can put her. She's on prescription drugs because of the pain and so we have to watch that and we don't know exactly where she should be.' And I looked at her and said, 'You're all alone aren't you?' And she said, 'Yeah, I am, I'm all alone.' And I said, 'Why don't you come down here?' And she came down to where I was. I gave her a big hug, and I said, 'You know you're not alone anymore.' And we followed up…
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
In short encounters with people, they sometimes tell you the most personal things…When I was canvassing in Manchester, a young man came up to me and he said, 'I'm supporting you.' I said, 'Thank you.' I said, 'I want to know why.' He said, 'Because you've been talking about addiction.' I said, 'Did you have a personal experience?' He said, 'Yeah, I'm a student athlete, I got injured my senior year in high school. I had to have surgery and I got a lot of pain pills. A lot of opioids. And I got hooked.' He said then when they cut him off, 'I turned to heroin. It was cheap and readily available.' He said, 'I'm two and a half years sober. It's really hard. Every single day, it's really hard.' He said, 'I want a president who thinks about people like me.'
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
It's funny, when you're a US attorney or a governor and you travel out of state from New Jersey, it's amazing the things people wanna ask you. So I had a guy in New Hampshire, he said, 'I need to ask you a question about something.' I said, 'Okay, what do you want to ask me?' He said, 'I wanna ask you about Tony Soprano.' So I said, 'Oh my God…'
A couple nights ago, there's a young woman sitting in the back, we were talking about the issue of heroin and prescription drugs and all the things that we've done, 'cause there's been so many things that we've done. She finally raised her hand back there and she said, 'My daughter's been sober for 11 months,' and everybody was stunned, and there were people out there that were tearing up. And I said to the crowd, I said, 'Do you have any idea what this lady's life is like? Eleven months sober? Well, we don't know what's gonna happen in the 12th month, or the 13th month. And it's a mom that loves her daughter.' Yeah I guess I'm now gonna call this daughter and say, 'You know, mom's counting on you.' Things like that have been happening all the time and I have become convinced that all of us need to slow down.
I met a guy this morning who was talking to me about his dad, who's a truck driver. He was at a town hall this morning to ask me a question about his dad. His dad had to be out driving today. One of the things that we talked about was—I know how to drive, right? I know how to work the clutch and shift, I know how to use the steering wheel and pump gas. You don't want me driving an 18-wheeler truck. Believe me, you do not want me driving that truck. Right? It's a different skill set. You've got to have some experience and training. Especially on a day like today. It's raining out, the weather's wet, the roads are tough. You don't want somebody who doesn't know what they're doing behind the wheel of that truck. Even though I know how to drive, it doesn't mean I know how to drive an 18-wheel truck.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:
At a town hall meeting today, someone came—told a story of their father who looked like he was 85. He had, he got a bill eight years later from an operation he had. Eight years it took. They couldn't resolve the dispute and then he was told that he died. Literally, the Veterans Administration sent a death certificate to this guy and it took nine months to clarify the guy [was alive]. I met him. He's voting for me. And he is—likely to be alive.
I was just up in Manchester, I met with the police officers yesterday. Tremendous people. They love the area, they love the people, they love all the people. They want to do their job. And you're going to have abuse and you're going to have problems, and you've got to solve the problems and you have to weed out the problems. But the police in this country are absolutely amazing people.
Let there be no doubt that I want your vote...Earlier in New Hampshire, back last August, I gave a town hall meeting and a gentleman came up to me afterward, he said, 'Governor, I love everything you said, I agree with all your positions, I think you'd be a great leader for our country, and I'm not voting for you.' I said, 'You're not voting for me, what do you mean you're not voting for me?' He said, 'Well I agree with on your positions. I'm not voting for you but I wish you the best of luck.' He looked like he was in his mid '80s, and he started walking away from me. I said, 'Wait, wait, wait, come back here.' I said, 'Come on, tell me what I've got to do. That's fair.' He said, 'Alright—because you didn't ask for my vote.' He said, 'I sat here for two hours, I listened to all your positions, I loved them, I like you, but if you don't ask for my vote, you're not getting my vote. So you're not getting my vote, I'm sorry.'
I looked at him and said, 'Well can I have your vote?' He said, 'Too late.' I said, 'Too late?? It's August, man. You're not voting until February. How can it be too late!' He said, 'Alright, this is what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna come back to one of your town hall meetings later.' He said, 'I'm gonna sit in a place where you can't see me. And I'm gonna see if you remember what I told you. And if you do and you ask for my vote, then I'm gonna reconsider my position. And if you don't, I won't.' I said, 'Alright sir, thank you, I appreciate it.' And we shook hands. And he walked away, took about four or five steps away, and then he stopped and turned back and looked over his shoulder and he said, 'By the way, that's how we do things in New Hampshire, son.'
She isn't the first candidate to stop by Chez Vachon looking for a few votes and some good photos. So many candidates have stopped by the iconic French-Canadian establishment that it's made life complicated for the people who work there. Donald Trump was there on Sunday. Bill and Hillary Clinton stopped in for breakfast on Monday.
Trump's visit was a "zoo," Jenna Desmarais, the manager, told me.
"They were nice and everything—they just had a really big entourage, really big," she said. "We didn't have any notice and so all of a sudden there’s people coming in the back door of the kitchen, there were people over here, state police shut down the road, they were trying to pat down our customers. It was really uncomfortable—like I had to tell them they couldn't do that, that's not okay."
It made it nearly impossible for everyone else to have breakfast. "I eventually had to find somebody and say, 'Listen I understand you guys are doing your job, but I gotta do mine,' and we couldn't even move. Couldn't even move! So they did. He's like, 'Let them get their pictures and kick everybody out.'"
The Clintons' visit was a lower-key affair, and in Desmarais' view, they were friendlier (although Trump did tip 50 percent). "They were very relaxed because they've been here before," Desmarais sadi. "She’s like, 'I'm definitely eating.'" (They both had veggie omelets; Hillary got a side of sausage. In case you were wondering.) "They seemed more interested in actual people than in just shaking hands."
So far, the only major candidate who hasn't stopped by Chez Vachon this election cycle is her favorite. "I'm actually a fan of Bernie," she said. But she's never met him. "He's the only one who hasn't been there!"