Black Volunteers in Mississippi Told Us Why They’re Still Working for Bernie

“Mississippi has to matter at some point,” said James Hemphill, who wore a red “Medicare for Y’all” shirt as he walked from door to door. “We're not giving up on Mississippi.”

by Dexter Thomas
Mar 12 2020, 12:06am


JACKSON, Mississippi — It was Monday, and volunteers for the Bernie Sanders campaign in Mississippi already knew things weren’t looking good.

One week prior, on Super Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden had surged ahead of Sanders, establishing a solid lead of over 70 or more delegates. Perhaps the biggest coup was his capturing of the majority of the black vote in the Southern states.

Sanders ended up canceling an event on racial justice in Mississippi on Friday, instead traveling to campaign in Michigan, a state where he was projected to pick up more delegates.

The decision left many of his Mississippi staffers disappointed, but it was a strategic one. In South Carolina, a state similar in demographics to Mississippi, Biden put up embarrassing numbers over Sanders among black voters. According to an NBC News exit poll, even Tom Steyer beat out Sanders among black voters over 45.

READ: Young voter did show up for Bernie — But a Lot of Gen X-ers and Boomers voted too

While Biden threw an impromptu rally in Jackson on Sunday, a small group of Sanders volunteers gathered at a high school to launch a final door knocking push.

“Mississippi has to matter at some point,” said James Hemphill, who wore a red “Medicare for Y’all” shirt as he walked from door to door, passing out flyers and patiently listening to voters’ concerns, in the hope that he might sway a potential supporter.

“We’re not giving up on Mississippi.”

In an interview on Monday with VICE News, Phillip Agnew, who was announced as a senior advisor for the Sanders campaign less than a week ago, insisted that in a general election, Sanders would stand a better chance to beat Donald Trump. But he said that the campaign had not yet successfully made that case to older black voters who saw Biden as a better bet in that fight.

READ: Bernie Sanders says he's fighting on

“There was an illusion that this was going to be the foregone conclusion, because all the people who were running have now assembled like Voltron, Decepticon, behind Joe Biden. And I think that appealed to some people,” said Agnew.

“And we weren't able to talk about our message in the way that we should have. And we've got to engage with that.”

As votes are counted today, Sanders is projected to receive one delegate from Mississippi, while Biden scoops up 35.

VICE News went to Mississippi as Sanders volunteers and staffers did their last minute canvassing, hoping to at least make a good showing in a state that they didn’t expect to win.

Cover: VICE News Tonight/VICE TV.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Bernie Sanders
2020 election