Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter, Again

[Content Note: White supremacy]

On Saturday, a Bernie Sanders event in Seattle, the focus of which was to be Social Security and Medicare, was interrupted by #BlackLivesMatter protesters, who grabbed the mic with the intent to say a few words and request an observed silence in remembrance of Michael Brown.

Marissa Janae Johnson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Seattle, introduced herself to sustained boos, prompting her to say: "I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, filled with its progressives, but you already did it for me, thank you."

After the silence, the mic was not promptly handed back to Sanders, so the event was shut down. "When CNN asked about the protesters wanting to hear his criminal justice message, Sanders said, 'They didn't want to hear anything.'"

So, yeah. I can understand why Sanders was aggravated that his event was disrupted, and I can understand why people who had been waiting for an hour and a half to hear him speak were aggravated that his event was disrupted. But here's the thing: If you are positioning yourself as a candidate who advocates for radical change, or you are supporting a candidate on the basis that he advocates for radical change, then surely you should be able to get on board with providing space to people who are involved with a campaign that advocates radical change.

If disrupting a rally is too radical for you, I don't know how you expect to disrupt systems of institutional oppression, which will take way the hell more than an unexpected change in a campaign event schedule.

Don't pretend you're supporting revolution when you're really just supporting a change in management.

Sanders then released a "Statement on Seattle Protesters," reading in total: "I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me."

I'm going to go ahead and say: Maybe that's true! Maybe there really is no other candidate currently running for president who will fight harder for dismantling racism than Bernie Sanders! Maybe it's also true that each of the candidates currently running will take different approaches, and, because the activists involved with #BlackLivesMatter aren't a monolith, there will be disagreement on whose approach is best. And maybe, no matter how good any of the white Democratic presidential candidates are on racial issues, it won't be good enough. Maybe the inescapable fact is that white people must let black people speak on the large platforms created by and for white candidates.

By Sunday afternoon, the Sanders campaign had a new strategy:
Symone Sanders, the campaign's new public face, kicked off the event in Portland by warning the huge crowd that there might be a "disruption." Symone Sanders is a young black political activist, and told reporters Saturday night the Bernie Sanders is the candidate of Black Lives Matter.

...Sanders told the crowd to cheer "We Stand Together" over and over if a disruption came in Portland, signaling that the campaign is preparing strategies to prevent Black Lives Matter from shutting it down again.
A call for unity used to drown out voices advocating for the dismantlement of privilege. Hmm. Where have I heard that before?


A key concept of ally work is yielding the mic. Often it's said figuratively, but Bernie Sanders had the chance to do it literally. When presented that opportunity, effective ally work means being cool with yielding the mic (for as long as it's requested), not complaining you weren't allowed to speak.

Why not stand back, applaud them, ask your audience to listen, make room on the stage? Yielding privilege means making space.

I hope the other Democratic candidates will be interrupted, and I hope they will yield the mic and create that space. Or, you know, the other candidates could formally invite #BlackLivesMatter activists to participate onstage.

Sanders, and his supporters, are defending him on the basis that he is the best candidate on racial injustice. But I don't know how Sanders, or any candidate, or their supporters, can argue how much they care about black people while shouting down black activists to let the white person speak about racial injustice.

Without a trace of irony.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus