A cadre of young Bernie Sanders backers in Nebraska learned this week that it isn’t right to play politics with Latinos.
During last weekend’s Democratic State Convention, the Sanders group was accused of being “paternalistic” and exhibiting “white privilege” after it engineered the ouster of a longtime Latino leader in favor of a Sanders supporter as chairman of a Latino-centered caucus.
Many of those in the Sanders group were young, white and male. And many of them apologized profusely during an emotional meeting Tuesday with Latino leaders in South Omaha.
The meeting ended with the Sanders supporter stepping down as chairman and allowing the longtime leader of the Latino caucus to resume the helm.
“It was disrespectful. It really was. From the bottom of my heart, I want to apologize,” said Nate Gadrinski, 29, a Sanders supporter from Omaha. “It is clear you don’t want your allies making decisions for you.”
The controversy erupted at the convention, where the Sanders camp aggressively flexed its delegate strength to try to take over as many leadership posts within the party as it could. Sanders won Nebraska’s Democratic caucuses in March and was awarded more state delegates than Hillary Clinton, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
Among the Sanders camp’s targets: the party’s many special-interest caucuses. These caucuses or committees were formed years ago to give groups such as Latinos, women and the LGBT community — groups that often felt their voices were not being heard within the party — a structure to discuss their interests.
Several convention-goers reported seeing a group of 15 to 25 Sanders supporters darting in and out of caucus meetings at the convention, trying to exert influence.
At the Latino caucus, the Sanders group flooded the meeting just as the vote for chairman was about to take place. Marta Nieves, who’s been active in the organization for more than five years, was running for re-election. However, the Sanders supporters preferred Adrian Sanchez, head of the Nebraska Latino Commission.
In about five minutes, Sanchez was elected, the Sanders supporters left the room and Nieves could not believe what had happened.
Nieves and others argued later that those who voted for Sanchez violated the group’s bylaws. Non-Latinos are allowed to join the caucus, but only members — those who have attended before and have paid dues — are allowed to cast a vote in leadership races.
No one raised an objection that day. Nieves said she was too shocked to do so.
It didn’t take long, however, for a backlash to build within the Latino Democratic community, whose members were outraged that a mostly non-Latino group of Sanders backers had chosen their new leader. On social media, they began to fire broadsides at Sanchez and Sanders supporters.
That prompted Tuesday’s meeting. About seven or eight Sanders supporters and about 25 Latinos gathered at El Alamo restaurant in South Omaha.
Initially, the Sanders backers appeared ready to defend the vote. One said he viewed himself as an “ally” of the Latino community who was simply trying to get more involved with the caucus. And Sanchez initially refused to resign, arguing that the vote should stand.
However, as the night wore on and speaker after speaker lambasted the “dirty” trick at the convention, the Sanders supporters and Sanchez began to have a change of heart.
Nieves told the Sanders supporters that they were “alienating” people who have been working within the Democratic Party for years.
“You guys are all excited about being progressive and you knock the hell out of people who are (also) progressive and who have been around a while,” Nieves said. “You guys ran all over the place just to be in charge, and you don’t even know what that means.”
Dale Gutierrez, who identified himself as a Iraq War veteran, asked the Sanders supporters why they thought it was a good idea to try to make decisions for the Latino community.
“Do you know what it’s like to be Latino? Do any of you?” he asked.
Anna Hernandez-Valenzia told Sanchez that he would never have the support of the Latino community because of the way he won the chairman’s position.
She then told the Sanders supporters that the Latino community did not need their kind of help.
“You are the epitome of white privilege,” she said. “We do not need a political savior. We’re empowered to be our own savior.”
Near the end of a two-hour meeting, Sanchez had had enough. He announced he would resign, allowing Nieves to resume as chairwoman. He would become vice chairman.
“There was no malice behind my intent to run,” he said.
Sanchez also said he had nothing to do with the Sanders group’s tactics.
“It was bad form, and those votes were cast in bad faith,” he said, adding that he believed that he would have won with or without the Sanders supporters. “(But) I recognize that what happened was not right.”
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