If you spent any time in the progressive blogosphere this past week, chances are that you have some feelings about activists in Seattle disrupting a rally for Bernie Sanders last weekend. To recap: On Saturday, Black Lives Matter Seattle organizers Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford climbed onstage in front of several hundred people at the city’s Westlake Plaza, demanding a platform to speak. (Notably, the Sanders rally also took place as thousands gathered in Ferguson, Missouri to commemorate the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death on August 9.)
Eventually, event organizers handed the pair a microphone that they used to discuss the issues they saw missing in Bernie’s economic populism — namely, police violence and a focus on systemic racial injustice. As they challenged Bernie and his supporters to prioritize these problems, they were boo’ed down aggressively by a mostly white crowd. Johnson, Willard and other members of the movement for black lives have continued to face slurs and insults on social media throughout the week, along with accusations of being plants from either the right wing or the Clinton campaign. Was the interruption messy? Yes. Did it warrant the vitriol from white, largely progressive audiences that followed? No.
Among many useful perspectives, Van Jones penned five lessons from the uproar for CNN this week. Nation editor Kai Wright offered another helpful rejoinder: “Successful movements have always discomfited those invested in the status quo, including progressives,” he wrote. “White people of all political stripes will be challenged, even shaken by this movement.” By interrupting Sanders, Johnson and Willaford clearly struck a nerve with Sanders’ base.
Disruption, as Wright noted, is the lifeblood of social movements. Having been arrested for coordinating a sit-in to desegregate Chicago public schools, it’s a fact Sanders understands better than most. It also means Sanders — and, perhaps more so, his supporters — should know that a history of fighting for equal rights doesn’t inoculate any candidate from a full-throated challenge by today’s movements.
Days after she took the stage, Johnson went on the radio show This Week In Blackness. She explained to host Elon James White that, “My gaze is not toward politicians in getting them to do something in particular. I think they will change what they do based off of what I do, but that’s not my center. My center is using electoral politics as a platform.” Given its adoption of “Shut It Down,” as modus operandi, supporters of the movement for black lives should welcome the fact that protesters are throwing a wrench in the presidential election circuit.
In the case of Sanders, it’s working. Within 24 hours, Bernie’s campaign released a racial justice platform articulating policy proposals to take on the multi-faceted nature of racist violence: physical, political, legal and economic, where most of Sanders’ energy has been directed thus far. The platform proclaims simply that, “We must pursue policies that transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of its people of color.” Saturday night, he also hired black criminal justice advocate Symone Sanders as press secretary, someone who has been openly critical of the campaign’s silence on racial justice. Even so, the Sanders campaign still has plenty of room for improvement; a web page and a black staffer do not equal a commitment to racial justice.
Looking forward to what may well be a disruption-filled election season and the continuation of a Sanders campaign filled with big crowds and surging poll numbers, there seem to be a few lessons that white progressives can take away from this past week. For one, be respectful of people — particularly those whose life experiences are different than yours. Most of us already do this, using a certain script of spoken and unspoken rules, bounded by what society generally deems acceptable. “I will not,” for example, “vocalize every snap judgement I make in my head.”
These rules don’t actually change that much when you start talking about politics or log on to Facebook, no matter how progressive your views. You may even be right. It still doesn’t give you license to berate anyone, let alone black organizers with whom you theoretically share a commitment to racial justice. And, if you do share that commitment, denouncing the movement for black lives because it did something that made you uncomfortable probably means you weren’t all that supportive in the first place.
At their best, movements are big, complicated hordes of activity. The movement for black lives is no different, and supporting this or any movement — especially as white organizers — means being comfortable with a certain level of discomfort and loss of control, both in terms of the tactics activists are using and the challenges they pose to their targets. For all their messiness, movements make our politics better. Sanders is already a better candidate and should be pushed to be even more accountable to the causes he claims to support. So, if you really want to see Bernie succeed, keep calm, show up, and support the movement for black lives.
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no one is voting for that old codger.
Wow, an age-shamer expects us to care what he hates.
Interruption? It was a take over. Some people drove a long way to hear Bernie. If BLM wants to organize a gathering, that’s great but to steal the stage from others is unexceptable. I wasn’t uncomfortable with the take over, I was mad. Also, blacklivesmatter name is offensive to everyone who isn’t black. Why not blacklivesmattertoo or blacklivesalsomatter?
I agree that it was more than just a” interruption” but please dont speak for me, “everyone who isnt black” im white and in no way to i find the blacklivesmatter tag to be offensive. Saying “black lives matter” under the current circumstances with the police in this country in no way actually implies that white lives dont, unless you are very thin skinned..also those women were not even affilaited with that organization such as it is
I honestly think you are smarter than this.
Bernie — and no you don’t know him very well —- has been expressing the same aligned views about institutional racism and continued problems that #BLM expresses before the disruptions were freaking born OK. I’m puzzled by those who attack in fact cannibalize others for their moment in the sun. Still pretty sore over the shutdown – why don’t they try this with Trump? If it is because Bernie has easy accessibility — that just crap. Why not attack MLK for not succeeding? It’s crazy stupid. Sorry. No dice
Maybe only the 1.1 million on his facebook, or the 100,000 that attended house planning meetings or the 70,000 that attended his rallys in a wkend
I am a proud supporter of Bernie Sanders for President, and so are quite a few of the people I know. He is the biggest breath of fresh air in national politics since Barack Obama. He is nothing like Hillary, who has spent her career learning to play the “politics s usual” game. She brings nothing new to the arena but Bernie certainly does! His vision for America is one that most Americans who aren’t blinded by party loyalty and who really want a new regime in Washington can support. Just listen to what he wants for us ordinary American citizens, and know that those are the things he has always worked for in Congress. He wants for us those things that are important to us.
Sanders didn’t release any new policies instead those which are being heralded as a change that was brought on by these protests were things he talked about for years. The fact people are applauding him for these policies now only shows thattheu didn’t hear him talk about these same things when Michael Brown was killed…
One root cause of racial inequality is economic inequality. No presidential candidate since Franklin Roosevelt has championed the disenfranchised more than Bernie. If you want to bring attention to bigotry, go disrupt a Trump or Scott Walker rally. If you want to free yourselves from indentured servitude to the Billionaire Class and Global Banksters, go to Bernie’s rally in support of his candidacy.
Giving credit to two women for what Bernie Sanders has been working on for minorities for over fifty years, shows a lack of insight to say the least. If you are educated and believe that racial inequality wasn’t a part of his platform before these two women took the stage, you are the problem!
Your article is not journalism. Its an opinion based NOT on lies. I watched it live. First, the protestors were not representatives of BLM, 2nd it was not a #Bernie rally, he was a guest at a Social Security Celebration 3rd The organizers graciously allowed them to hijack the celebration and have the 4 minutes of silence 5) they were rude and yelled uncalled for remarks to the best civil rights candidate 6) they didnt allow him to respond yelling ‘dont touch me’ 7) Bernie had published numerous policies directly addressing minority issues. 8) Their acts were like Border Patrol agents protesting D.Trump. They were a disgrace to the civil rights activists everywhere.