Over the weekend, Mara Willaford and Marissa Johnson, co-founders of Black Lives Matter Seattle, bum rushed the stage and prevented Senator Bernie Sanders from speaking at a rally. Almost immediately, the encounter blew up on social media with many of Sanders’ overwhelmingly white supporters crying foul. Their argument? The self-proclaimed Socialist Senator is the most progressive candidate in the race, so he shouldn’t be targeted.
On Gawker, Hamilton Nolan warned Black folks not to “piss on your best friend,” and wondered why #BlackLivesMatter protestors haven’t shut down Republican rallies.
Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, who spits venom about “illegals” pouring into America to rape innocent women, could use a good Black Lives Matter protest. Almost every Republican presidential candidate, in fact—who stumble over themselves competing to build a bigger wall on the border and who unerringly back the police state in word and deed—could use a good Black Lives matter protest. As could most Republican senators, and state governors, and a host of mayors and city council members and sheriffs.
But Bernie Sanders? Bernie Sanders? Bernie Sanders, of all presidential candidates, is the one that you choose to target on the issue of America’s structural racism? Bernie Sanders is the most progressive serious presidential candidate, and the most liberal, and the most vocal and wise on the issue of America’s entrenched and widening economic inequality.
Ben Cohen of The Daily Banter called Johnson and Willaford “idiots” and accused them of ruining the movement by interrupting Sanders.
“It apparently didn’t occurred to them that hijacking political events, throwing temper tantrums, and assaulting the elderly might not be the best thing to further a cause,” Cohen wrote. “It also didn’t occur to them that picking on Sanders, a Jew who lost half his family to the Holocaust, was arrested for protesting segregation in high schools during the civil rights era, and received a 97% rating by the NAACP for his record on civil rights, might be somewhat idiotic.”
Here’s the thing: When it comes to affirming Black lives, nobody, not even Bernie Sanders, should get a pass.
While I agree #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators should turn up at political rallies across the country and demand candidates of both parties say where they stand on issues of social justice, police abuse, and race, Democrats and Progressives rely heavily on the votes of Black folks to get elected, yet often fail to offer concrete policies that addresses the challenges we face.
The knee-jerk reaction to ask why protesters aren’t shutting down Donald Trump’s incoherent rallies ignores the reality that Republican candidates aren’t even trying to court the Black vote, are often aligned with police unions who are staunchly anti-#BlackLivesMatter, and are actively trying to making the electorate older and whiter by supporting laws that result in voter suppression.
After the GOP failed to win back the White House in 2012, the Republican National Committee underwent an “autopsy” to figure out how to reach voters of color. Three years later, they’ve seemed to have given up all together in favor of anti-immigrant, anti-choice, anti-progressive rhetoric that has done little but turn people of color off.
But Black voters matter. In 2012, Black voter turnout exceeded that of whites, giving President Obama a second term in office and helping Democrats hold the Senate. In 2013, Virginia’s Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe beat the odds and was carried to victory on the backs of Black voters, who overwhelmingly supported him. And last year, Mississippi Republican Senator Thad Cochran held-off a Tea Party challenger by explicitly appealing to Black voters.
Though some may not like Willaford and Johnson’s tactics, one this is clear—they work.
Every step of the way, the fanatical Bernie Sanders supporters criticizing #BlackLivesMatter for being ineffective have been proven wrong.
— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) August 11, 2015
When Sen. Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley were confronted at Net Roots Nation by #BlackLivesMatter activists, O’Malley promised to release a detailed plan to reform the criminal justice system. He did. And while Sanders’ supporters crowed about his rally being interrupted by activists demanding he explain what he’ll do to protect Black lives, a day later the Vermont Senator unveiled a comprehensive policy platform on racial justice.
Even Hillary Clinton has been affected by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, with the former Secretary of State uttering the phrase while speaking out against mass incarceration and income inequality. She’s also been courting the “Obama Coalition” through speeches at the National Urban League, the NAACP, and near Ferguson.
Despite the hurt feelings of some white liberals, the tactics #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators are employing are working. By disrupting rallies and demanding Sanders, O’Malley, and Clinton be held accountable to the very voters they need in 2016, activists are ensuring the concerns of Black folks will remain in the forefront of the conversation.
#BlackLivesMatter isn’t your grandmother’s civil right’s movement, and the sooner progressives realize that no one is safe from being held accountable to Black voters the better off they’ll be in the long run.