Why #BlackLivesMatter Disruption of Bernie Sanders Is Good for Black Voters

August 10, 2015  |  

The thing is, Donald Drumpf gets to pay for the kind of access that the rest of us have to fight for…

What I am talking about is how messed up it is that the Black Lives Matter protesters have to keep disrupting Bernie Sanders’ rally in order to get folks to pay attention.

According to the Seattle Times, Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford of Black Lives Matter Seattle, bum rushed the stage at a Seattle Washington campaign rally just as Sanders was about to give a speech. Sanders, who is currently polling neck to neck against Hilary Clinton, was hoping to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Social Security; however, the BLM Seattle took the mic and started talking about the anniversary of the shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown and the Ferguson unrest.

This is the second time that Sanders had his campaign rally disrupted by BLM. The first time happened just last month at the Netroots Nation convention in which Sanders walked off the stage in a huff. This time, he hung around while the protestors struggled with organizers over the mic. The audience wasn’t as calm as Sanders and booed the two women as they attempted to speak.

As reported by the Seattle Times, Johnson told the inpatient audience: “I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, filled with its progressives, but you did it for me.” She also accused the audience of “white supremacist liberalism” for ignoring police brutality and other injustices, which happen in Seattle.

In a longer statement released on the group’s Facebook page, Johnson and Willaford said in part of their protest:

“This city is filled with white progressives, which is why Bernie Sanders’ camp was obviously expecting a friendly and consenting audience for today’s campaign visit. The problem with Sanders, and with white Seattle progressives in general, is that they are utterly and totally useless (when not outright harmful) in terms of the fight for Black lives. While we are drowning in their liberal rhetoric, we have yet to see them support Black grassroots movements or take on any measure of risk and responsibility for ending the tyranny of white supremacy in our country and in our city. This willful passivity while claiming solidarity with the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement in an effort to be relevant is over. White progressive Seattle and Bernie Sanders cannot call themselves liberals while they participate in the racist system that claims Black lives. Bernie Sanders will not continue to call himself a man of the people, while ignoring the plight of Black people. Presidential candidates will not win Black votes without putting out an explicit criminal justice reform package.

It makes total sense to me. And yet, some folk got questions. In particular: why hasn’t Black Lives Matter said anything to President Obama? Or better yet, why haven’t they disrupted a Hilary Clinton rally? Likewise, when are the protests going to find their way to a Republican event? And most importantly, why are they trying to hurt the only candidate in the race, who might actually be on their side?

Those are all good questions.

Personally, I would like to see them go after Clinton. But I also imagine that we haven’t seen one of Clintons’ rallies disrupted is because Clinton, who is the former FLOTUS and secretary of state, is not as accessible as Sanders. For one, Clinton has yet to do a public rally yet. And secondly, getting an invite to one of her thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraisers might require a little more coordination and finesse than a Netroots convention (no offense). Likewise, she got mad security, y’all. And I just can’t see any of those BLM protestors getting anywhere close to her stage uninvited without being tackled, tazed and hauled off to jail before they could say “white supremacist capitalist society.”

As far as the Republicans are concerned, have you seen the type of people who attend some of their rallies? The kind of people who at the 2012 Republican convention, threw nuts at a Black CNN camerawoman and said things like, “this is how we feed animals.” We’re talking about some really hostile terrains here, folks. Personally, I wouldn’t do that unless I was armed and had a quick and easy escape route out of town.

Plus, what is there to gain strategically from disrupting a Republicans rally? Don’t get me wrong: I love a good troll as much as the next woman. And I really hope that happens. But the Republicans are not exactly the kind of party which worries too much about appealing to the Black consensus.

On the other hand, there is the left, which the Black voter has unequivocally been a supporter of for a few decades now.

It should be noted that a Black Lives Matter protest has happened at a President Obama appearance before. It was during the 50th commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma Alabama. While they weren’t able to command the stage, the website Think Progress reports, “a group of protesters wearing shirts with airbrushed portraits of those killed by police started banging on drums and chanted, “Ferguson is here. We want change!” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

Likewise, it should also be noted that the entire movement began under his watch. And it is likely that the nationwide protests and unrest has been directly responsible for putting criminal justice reform at the forefront of our political and social consciousness. Prior to the BLM, President Obama wasn’t interested in pandering to the interests of the Black community. In fact when asked to speak to issues related to the Black community, he said things like “I’m not the president of Black America. I’m the president of the United States of America.” And other things like, “We’ve got no time for excuses.”

However as the protests and unrest grew traction nationwide, the BLM message of “stop killing us” became harder and harder to ignore. Suddenly, President Obama is freeing up federal dollars to pay for police body cameras, releasing 46 non-violent drug offenders from federal prison and urging Congress to pass a sentencing reform bill, which would reduce sentencing for nonviolent offenders and end solidarity confinement in federal prisons. He even became the first sitting president in history to tour a federal prison. The BLM’s at times forceful and disruptive message helped to not only get President Obama to pay attention, but also steer him to actually take legislative steps to address the issue.

And their heavy hand is exactly why a day after the Seattle Washington disruption, the Sanders campaign released a detailed platform on combating racial inequality.And it is likely why his campaign recruited Symone Sanders, an activist, BLM supporter and Black woman, to serve as the national press secretary in his campaign for the presidency.

Just like with the Obama Administration, BLM is making Sanders responsible and accountable to our wants and needs. And this is exactly what needs to happen. Too often those on the left go into election cycles believing that all they have to do is show up at some Black people’s convention, make some symbolic racial gesture and presto, our votes are guaranteed. What I see among many of the BLM protestors is a reluctance to be taken advantage of politically by anyone anymore. Instead, they want to a seat at the table. It is one of the reason that in addition to Sanders and President Obama, the BLM protestors also has targeted some within the Black misleadership class, in particular Al Sharpton. And as this piece entitled How Black Lives Matter Forced Campaigns to Toss Their Strategies on Black Voters astutely points out:

“Candidates who might otherwise have been complacent, given their high marks on legislative report cards from the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and endorsements from an older generation of black leaders, have had to more directly confront uncomfortable questions of racial inequality and the mistreatment of blacks by the criminal justice system.”

Honestly I think many angry folks on the liberal left is looking at this all wrong. The mere fact that protestors are able to get that close and effect Sanders, speaks very highly about how grounded his campaign is, particularly amongst the people he wishes to serve (and claims to be a champion of). And knowing that there is at least an open ear willing to listen will likely inspire more Black voters in particular to see him as an real ally in the White House. Instead we have a bunch of angry, mostly white,liberals telling Black people to once again, be quiet, stand down and consider the more important other things at stake in this campaign. In many respects, their commands for our silence are no different than what happens to us the right.

I don’t think many Black voters on the left would disagree with the idea that a Sanders presidency would be a good thing for America. However these protests and disruptions by BLM as well as other activists organizations concerned about the welfare of Black lives, ensure that our issues ensures that our issues does not fall into obscurity during this election cycle. Hell, it is already being hijacked by Donald Drumpf. And he gets to pay for the privilege to do what these young protestors have to do, one disruption at a time.

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