I consider it an honor and privilege to have witnessed, over the past year, the activism now known under the aegis of #BlackLivesMatter (the hashtag created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi following the killing of Trayvon Martin). The accomplishments of these activists — many of them young Black queer women — and their communities continue to be extraordinary: a national treasure fully as much as the savage and racist dehumanizing that they protest remains one of our nation’s oldest and deepest shames.
Following last month’s confrontation of Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, this past weekend organizers from BLM Seattle targeted a rally for Bernie Sanders being held in Washington state. Sanders, who chose to leave the rally without speaking for more than a minute, later expressed his “disappointment” with the activists’ actions in a public statement that read in part: “[on] the need to fight racism there is no other candidate who will fight harder than me.”
Okay, Bernie. I get it. You came to discuss Social Security and Medicare — and were instead interrupted by members of a dependably Democratic voting bloc rudely demanding to know how you plan to stop the slaughter of Black people occurring at an alarming rate in America, often by agents of the State. [Actually, what they asked for — on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death — was 4½ minutes of silence, to commemorate the 4½ hours Brown’s body was left lying out on the street in Ferguson.]
I get your frustration.
Do you get theirs?
The BLM strategy^ behind targeting campaign events held by Sanders and others appears both sound and effective. It is not enough for Sanders to simply claim he will be a better anti-racist than all the other pols. It is not enough to argue that his economic policies are central to the concerns of “everyone” and then to leave minority communities the work of connecting the dots — or filling in the gaps — to retool his message sufficiently to envision that it meets their own needs.
Nor is it an adequate defense of his heretofore lacking racial analysis to complain about protesters’ “rudeness” or to ask “why Bernie’s events, when all the candidates have the same problem?” In the words of my friend J-L:
“because Sanders is pushing Dems further to the left in every other issue it makes a great deal of strategic sense to push him the most — where he goes Hillary will follow. That’s what it’s going to take to make this an important issue.”
And the strategy appears to be paying off, as Sanders has begun displaying far more appropriate language than his tone-deaf response during last month’s Netroots Nation event protest by movement members. He has also added a racial justice platform to his website and is making critically diverse additions to his staff.
I am not interested in how 22yo Sanders marched with MLK in 1963†; I want to see how he supports the civil rights movements of THIS time. To borrow the words of Bree Newsome, the activist who faces up to three years in prison for scaling a flag post at the South Carolina State House to take down the Confederate flag:
“I am struck by the way society can commemorate the movement of the past while condemning the movement of the present. Or how it can continually celebrate social progress in the most abstract of ways while ignoring the realities of what is required for social progress to occur. Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act happened only because there were black Americans refusing to comply with oppression, creating disruption and posing direct challenges to the United States’ racial caste system.”
No one with power and a platform voluntarily yields that power to another’s cause until someone forces his hand. If Sanders is as concerned about Black lives as his supporters would have us believe, then I look forward to seeing him rise to the occasion — and seize the opportunity — these activists are presenting to him. I look to forward to seeing this from all the candidates.
As Seattle-base writer Ijeoma Oluo explains:
“Black people in America are fighting for their lives. These protests aren’t just about an election, these protests are about a voice — a voice will no longer be silenced. There will be more protests and more disruptions, and they will happen with more candidates. But this is bigger than the next four years. This is bigger than politics. It may make some people uncomfortable, it may make some people angry — and if it does, you should ask yourself, why weren’t you angry already?”
^ YES, such actions constitute a strategy — not an “invasion” — no matter what writers for The Guardian would have us believe. [smdh. — Ed.]
† Nor was I particularly disturbed by the grotesque rape fantasies 31yo Sanders published in 1972, either. I do, however, have more than a few thoughts about how the present-day politician dismissed feminist concerns by calling the whole thing no more than “dumb…satire” — and claimed that people who were disturbed by the essay’s image of a man masturbating while he imagines abusing women or its invocation of the gang-rape of a 12yo girl (to cite just 2 examples) wanted to derail focus from the “real issues” that matter. Sorry, Bernie, but I DO consider the way a presidential candidate views and talks about VAW to be a “real” issue. Do better on this in the future, too.