The disruption of the campaign event for left liberal Bernie Sanders by Black Lives Matter activists in Seattle is sending ripples throughout the media and across the internet. Did they do the right thing? Are they really plants for Hillary Clinton? Was it wrong to antagonize potential allies?
This writer, for one, thinks they did the right thing, and it speaks mountains that Sanders didn’t invite them to speak even before the event happened — while it was still in the planning stages, and in fact seek to involve them in the planning. However, what was said – and left unsaid – also matters. And also, where things go from here matters.
Sanders has a history of downplaying the issue of police racism and murder. And when it was forcefully brought to his attention – at the Netroots Nation conference (with all the drawbacks of that group) – he responded by implying that all that need be done about racism is fight for jobs, free education, etc. Sure, the economic issues are intimately tied in
with the issue of racism and it’s a mistake to ignore them, but Sanders’ thinking that that’s all there is to it is totally wrong. As people point out, what good did a job do Sandra Bland or any of the other victims of police violence and racism? (For a more in-depth history of the sort of approach that Sanders takes, see this article.)
The issue of the criminal (in)justice system, including police abuse and murder, is one of the most crucial if not the most crucial issues in the US today. Until recently Bernie Sanders has pretty much whiffed on this issue and the only reason he’s changed recently is that he wasn’t allowed to go on like that. And why shouldn’t somebody at the forefront of this battle have been allowed to speak at this rally in Seattle?
But once they got the stage, there were a couple of things that really needed to be said.
- First of all, if black lives matter, then so do Palestinian lives. Almost everybody is giving Sanders a free pass regarding his support for the racist State of Israel. His support for Israel is a huge issue and should be really emphasized. It’s unfortunate that the young
woman who spoke didn’t really hammer him on this issue.
- Second, this was a largely white audience, and what they need to understand is that if the police are allowed to run rampant throughout the black community, they will also be abusing and even killing white people too. Nothing gets people’s attention like self-interest, after all.
- Third, and really crucial is an explanation of the entire role of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. This is the wing that diverts and drowns every real movement for change. Even where Sanders is right on the issues, what does he propose? In effect nothing but vote in more Democrats. What’s needed is to build the movement in the streets and link that with running candidates from that movement apart from and in opposition to the Republicrats.
If they had done that, it would have been a real “learning moment” for thousands in that crowd. It would have also completely dispensed with the accusation that these young women were really a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton, as those points apply to her even more than to Sanders. Let us hope that Clinton as well as the disgusting Republican candidates get the same “welcome” as they travel around the country.
But nobody ever said it would be smooth and easy. Especially in the US, the land of pragmatism, it’s inevitable that as a movement develops mistakes will be made. But it’s still important to learn from the past. As somebody once said, “a smart person learns from their own mistakes; a truly wise person learns from the mistakes of others.”
Additional NOTE: It’s said that the two young women refused to allow Sanders to speak at all. We haven’t seen any video that shows this event until the end, so we don’t know about that, but if it’s true then we think this was mistaken. It’s one thing to insist on having one’s voice heard and it’s another to refuse to allow somebody to speak at their own event, even if that somebody is a capitalist politician. (The only exception would be racists and others who seek to stir up attacks on oppressed groups of people.)