For all of Bernie Sanders’s rhetoric about the ills of income inequality and class warfare, in Los Angeles his message was most popular in gentrifying precincts. Dissecting the spacial aspects of why his presidential campaign failed offers important lessons as the movement he inspired looks to the future.
The Los Angeles Times published a fascinating and telling interactive map displaying how each of LA’s precincts voted during the Democratic Primary on June 7th. My first impression of the map was that of shock—Hillary Clinton absolutely dominated Bernie Sanders throughout the Los Angeles County. The map basically depicts a sea of blue swamping little boroughs of pinko insurgency.
Aside from the degree of Clinton’s victory in Los Angeles, a close look of the precinct results offers progressives a few important lessons as they plan for the future.
Progressives Still Need to Engage Racial Injustice
If you want to make a Sanders supporter bristle, just talk about the fact that the core of his support tends to be comfortable, highly educated, and white. While Sanders made several important (albeit uncomfortable) overtures towards racial injustice and won the support of high-profile African-American intellectuals and activists like Killer Mike and Ta-Nehisi Coates, black and brown folks still voted largely for Clinton. This holds true in LA, where Clinton did very well South Central cities like Compton, Carson, Inglewood, and West Adams.
White Sanders supporters have been struggling for months to understand why their message of economic and social justice is not resonating in non-white communities. While I have a few theories, I certainly don’t claim to have the answers to this problem; however, I am certain that Bernie and the vast majority of his supporters failed to engage racial problems in a way that convince minorities that they saw their issues (poverty, discrimination, segregation, crime, mass incarceration) as more than abstract political issues. White liberals are adept at talking about racial justice, but they’re not very good at engaging racial injustice.
This map can help us explore this issue from the perspective of racial spaces, and how the old adage “Pay attention to what white folks do, not what they say” might help nurture a truly biracial progressive movement in the future.
Sanders Won the Gentrification Vote
The second thing about this map was the fact that Sander’s core of support roughly mapped out the gentrified/gentrifying areas of Los Angeles. This is important to understand because—despite what well-meaning realtors, developers, independent book shop owners, and young urban professional sincerely believes—gentrification is economic and racial violence.
Sadly, where we see concentrations of Sanders supporters on this map, we also see areas of intensifying economic and geographic displacement on the ground. For example, check out the South Beach area:
Lakewood and Long Beach (located southern of Signal Hill on the map) serve as somewhat affordable bedroom communities for white middle class entertainment, tech, and corporate professionals working north in Downtown and West LA. With this population comes good public services and commercial development. On June 7th, these communities were either evenly contested, with the trendier parts of town going for Sanders.
To the north and east are the communities of Carson and Compton, where precincts went solidly for Clinton. The fact that they are also largely African-American, poor, and neglected is a result of decades of urban redlining, economic predation, and systematic racism. In the past Long Beach and Lakewood worked endlessly to keep surrounding blacks out of their suburbs, but today the area is losing African-American residents due to poor economic opportunities, rising costs, crime, and persistent neglect. In their place are thousands of house flippers, land developers, and white middle class “settlers.”
The browns and blacks who remain face an increasingly precarious housing market, low paying service jobs, and heavy policing. Sure, they have a Trader Joe’s now, but their overall quality of life is stagnating. Considering these facts, it should come as no surprise that poor non-whites did not embrace the enthusiasm for Sanders displayed by their well-meaning but ultimately aloof white neighbors.
The South Beach phenomenon can be seen elsewhere in Los Angeles. For example, Sanders had a lot of support along the I-10 corridor in West LA, where a growing tech sector in “Silcon Beach” (Venice Beach) and the extension of the Metro Expo Line from Downtown to Santa Monica have fueled the displacement of poor Hispanics and blacks in the area:
Then there’s ground-zero of LA gentrification—Silver Lake, Echo Park, Highland Park, and Eagle Rock are all hotly developing boroughs with large white populations that voted for Sanders. In fact, one of the most notorious instances of racial displacement occurred in Elysian Park when Chavez Ravine (a Hispanic community) was forcefully emptied and bulldozed to make way for Dodger Stadium:
Long story short, if we’re going to talk about why Sanders did poorly among racial minorities, we need to discuss the failings of white liberalism. We should first begin by dispelling the ideal that all forms of racism—be it segregation, discrimination, neglect, or gentrification—are implicitly motivated by racial malevolence. We need to acknowledge the fact that good “woke” people who espouse even the most inclusive notions of racial justice can also unthinkingly sustain a system of racial inequality. Doing so might alleviate the burden of whiteness felt by white Sanders supporters, and hasten the arrival of a more inclusive and productive progressive movement.
Parting Shot—Clinton Won the Rich and Older People Vote
As a true blue leftist with significant disdain for the outsized influence of wealthy people in the Democratic politics, I should also point out that Clinton won overwhelmingly in the enclaves of ca$h money in LA. Brentwood. Beverly Hills. Pacific Palisades. Westwood. Pasadena. All went for Clinton. Clinton also did well among older Democrats in the ‘burbs: Covina, Beverlywood, Studio City, Encino and the Valley more generally. On the other hand, Sanders did well in Hollywood, where he gummed up traffic and wooed the starry-eyed youths living along Sunset Strip.