“Liberal” ≠ Get-Out-of-Everything-Free-Card

Radical liberal movements getting defensive about people of color’s specific concerns? It’s more common than you think. On the more recent end, it happened with Occupy Wall Street, and it happened with Slutwalk. And here we are. It is happening again, right before our eyes, with Bernie Sanders. 

I remember how it went down before, with Occupy Wall Street. People supporting it to the point where they wouldn’t hear of any problems with the movement. People who didn’t care to hear native people on the problematic nature of the very name. People who accused the women sharing their accounts of sexual assault during various iterations of Occupy of trying to discredit the cause as a whole. To them, if Occupy Wall Street is anti-classist, then it falls under the banner of “liberal” and could not possibly have fallen short of liberal ideals by definition. Why not go after the real problem, they asked, which is snooty 1% Republicans?

I remember how it went down before, with Slutwalk. People supporting it to the point where they wouldn’t hear of any problems with the movement. People who didn’t care to hear women of color in their long-repeated and loud cries against self-proclaimed slut-herder Hugo Schwyzer. People who accused any critics, even internal ones, of being “sex-negative” for not wholeheartedly and unequivocally supporting Slutwalk. To them, if Slutwalk is sex-positive, then it falls under the banner of “liberal” and could not possibly have fallen short of liberal ideals by definition. Why not go after the real problem, they asked, which is right-wing war-against-women-waging Republicans?

And here we find ourselves, in 2015, with Bernie Sanders’s candidacy. People supporting him to the point where they won’t hear of any problems with anything to do with him. People who answered “What about racial justice?” with “He marched with Dr. King”, as if participation in a political action from over fifty years ago automatically means not only anything in particular, but everything.

People who painstakingly dredged up and made viral the fact that the black woman hired by the Sanders campaign used to be a Republican, as if all of us were perfectly politically calibrated by our late teens. Does the irony of using something someone believed as a teenager as a shield to defend the lack of racial platform on the part of a grown man with a robust political career strike them even a little?

People who nitpicked every detail of the accounts being shared and the criticisms being made, missing the forest for the trees. As if the grander-scale point being made about the lack of attention (and actual denialism) endemic among anti-classist activists regarding issues that are indeed specific to race were rendered invalid because the reported timeline was off. As if nitty-gritty fact-checking were more important than the fact that the actions taken over the past few weeks clearly had some kind of net positive effect.

People who insisted on asking “Why aren’t they targeting Hillary or the even-worse Republicans for their silencing attacks?” As if protest (yes, even to the point of shutdown) were anything akin to cutting out someone’s tongue rather an esteemed American institution.

As if protest is limited to only the worst of the worst, and we are not allowed to speak up and out where it would be most effective. As if it’s a problem that we focus on speaking up and out with people open to our ideas rather than completely unwilling to hear us, rather than good strategy for progress. As if Dear Muslima were a well-reasoned argument instead of an informal fallacy. As if Republicans consider changing your perspective based on new-to-you data to be anything but suspicious slipperiness. As if the actions taken were ineffective.

“Liberal” is not a get-out-of-everything-free card. If anything, it should mean you are, by definition, more open to changing your standpoints in light of new information, engaging in the so-called “flip-flopping” so reviled by conservatives.

“Ally” is a call to action, not an enlightened state of being where everything you do is perfect and no one is allowed to say anything to you about anything you do.  If anything, it should mean you are, by definition, more open to changing your stances in light of call-ins and call-outs from the people whom you claim to support.

And to those white allies I have witnessed discussing this issue this past weekend, to those of you who helped do the exhausting work of educating people and those of you who desperately needed that work done and those in between, to all of you: I don’t always say everything that I’m thinking and feeling, or even anything at all, but know that I see you.

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“Liberal” ≠ Get-Out-of-Everything-Free-Card

56 thoughts on ““Liberal” ≠ Get-Out-of-Everything-Free-Card

  1. 1

    Yes. This. This is why I get so upset with white liberals talking about the BLM activists “biting the hand that feeds.” Because the fact that they espouse liberal values which lead to a passive oppression of people of color while conservatives are all about that active oppression somehow means we should all just be good and stop trying to get a seat at the table where maybe we won’t be needing white liberal hands to feed us. As if asking for equal treatment as opposed to less-bad treatment is such an insult.

    1. 1.1

      Exactly. It reminds me of men whose reply to feminist concerns in the US is “100 years ago, things were worse” or “Saudi Arabia” (i.e. Dear Muslima). It feels like a threat to me: “Shut the fuck up or we’re going to [go back to the old ways / change things so that they’re as bad as they are elsewhere].”

      1. Yeah, the idea that we’re under liberal protection out of the kindness of their hearts, and if we try to assert our own agency they’re totally cool with racist conservative tactics. Like they’re owed our vote and our cooperation and our organizing and advocacy work. Just because it’s not Jim Crow and marital rape us illegal, we should all sit quietly in the back of the bus and not complain.

  2. 2

    I agree on most of it, especially the liberal get out of jail free card.

    But there is a sense of alienation when progressives demand every progressive comment on every issue all the time. It’s very difficult and extremely exhausting to advocate strongly for every single progressive cause around. It’s hard enough being an advocate for ONE progressive issue, much less economics, much less race, much less feminism. It’s hard to throw it all together and give a voice to all of it, even if you believe in it.

    From P.R. point of view for instance, talking about every problem in the occupy movement, would have detracted from the movement it self, which alot of people already did not understand the message of occupy. If the discussion around it started talking about feminism and sexual abuse as much as they talked about wallstreet, people would simply think it’s just a gathering of progressives, more than a call to clean up wall street corruption.

    However, should we ignore the sexual assault that happened at Occupy? Of course not. But then, how would we go about that? What platform would that be best to talk about it, without the occupy movement derailing a discussion on walstreet? If the spokespeople of Wall street made a statement about it, and then the media simply just focusing on the sexual casualty, and simply ignore the occupy movements message on walstreet.

    They already portrayed the occupy movement as confused and ‘dangerous’.

    Slut walk for instance, was about slut shaming. Suddenly talking about people of color in the movement, would again, make the demonstration and discussion a confused.

    If a group of white people had sabotaged Bernie Sanders, White progressives for Palestine or black lives matters, people would still be upset with the protesters because he already expressed support for the movements they care about.

    If I was going to make a speech about Slut shaming, the time i could devote to race issues would have to be minimal without changing the topic of the speech. People can’t be upset with me for not focusing on that issue.

    Maybe you could request a separate speech and discussion talking about the issue of Hugo and herding.

    I could ramble on and on. My point is, there is only so much attention that can be given to multiple issues before things get really incoherent.

    FOR LIMITED PERIODS OF TIME, some issues have to ‘wait for a turn’ before they can be talked about. Otherwise, every progressive discussion will be a list of “complaints and grievances in no particular order”

    1. 2.1

      You’re ignoring intersectionality and the default positioning inherent in what you’re claiming. Occupy calling itself that word automatically excluded groups whose lands we do indeed occupy. Slutwalk has the exact same problem. There’s nothing “sudden” or “derailing” about addressing the inherent and ingrained lack of inclusivity in white-spearheaded liberal movements. Female Occupiers cannot separate and compartmentalize sexual assault from economic issues when they are being raped on Occupied groups. I am categorically opposed with using women’s bodies to fight political battles in any way. Women of color cannot separate and compartmentalize white women’s racism from gender issues when they are being dealt that same racism by Slutwalk. Black women in particular have been used as props by white feminists for decades if not centuries now. Their backs need to stop being used as bridges.

      And do you honestly think marginalized people don’t have their separate movements and discussions about specific issues? We do, but they get ignored by the white-as-default (and male-as-default and straight-as-default and so on) movements. When we try to bring these matters to their attention, we’re told we’re derailing as an excuse for ignoring us, same as they ever had. We have been “waiting our turn” forever.

      When is the appropriate time to say “Yo, your movement’s name is racist” or “Hey, so sorry, but we’re getting raped by your star activists”?

          1. Ok, I mean, that’s kind of different from what you wrote before. Though now I don’t get what it is about the word “occupy” that you are now calling “completely insensitive”. None of your links (nor ones I myself have previously looked up on google) make any sense of this. Also I don’t see anything in the link you have in your blog post (“native people on the problematic nature of the very name”) that actually says anything like that about the name, maybe you posted the wrong link.

          2. How is it different? “People who didn’t care to hear native people on the problematic nature of the very name.” vs. “We live on occupied lands stolen from native peoples. It’s completely thoughtless and insensitive to call your movement “Occupy” when that is the case.” The second is an elaboration on the first.

            I’ll replace the link in the OP with the one I linked you to, but if you can’t see why the term “Occupy” is problematic even after those links and my further elaboration, I honestly don’t know if you can. People who aren’t Native Americans, including me, are already occupying lands stolen from native peoples. Calling an allegedly progressive movement “Occupy” alienates people whose history is tragic because of our occupation.

          3. It’s word salad as best I can tell :/ that’s one issue.

            I’m now guessing (I have to guess because you haven’t answered very directly) that maybe the answer to my first question is “it automatically made some people not want to join or partake”.

            And I guess maybe the answer to my second question is “because some people saw offenses against their people described with the word ‘occupy’ so now that word just makes them uncomfortable”.

            Is that about right?

      1. Let me give my “but my friend is black” saying for what it’s worth: My grandparents on my mother’s side could not marry legally because of the miscegenation laws. One was Cherokee. One was “white”. This is a personal issue to me that affected people I love in my family.

        Responding to:

        Occupy calling itself that word automatically excluded groups whose lands we do indeed occupy.

        That’s not true. My white ancestors did take by force and genocide the land of my Cherokee ancestors (and other native Americans). Today, I did not take by force nor genocide the land from any native American. I do not inherit the crimes of my ancestors. I am not morally responsible for crimes long past. For the most part, the native people who owned the land are long dead. There is no occupation.

        Further, this rests on another assumption that I think is dead wrong. It rests on the assumption that the descendents of native Americans are somehow legally entitled to the land of their ancestors. Sorry. No dice. I am not a libertarian fool, and I do not subscribe to the theory of absolute inheritance rights. In fact, I think that absolute inheritance rights are unjust, morally indefensible, and lead to a great many of the problems with society today.

        Am I excusing the past genocide of my ancestors? No. Should we forget about it? No. I want it taught to everyone to help to prevent it from happening again. Does that mean that white people today who are the descendents of the criminals owe reparations to the native Americans today who are the descendants of those wronged? Hell no.

        Finally, another issue is the systematic discrimination and marginalization of native American people today. This is true no matter what the history may be, and it should be righted, which will come at some cost to white people today and their privilege.

        However, this notion that America today is currently occupying the land of the native people is IMHO horrifyingly wrong. Yet that’s exactly what you said:

        Occupy calling itself that word automatically excluded groups whose lands we do indeed occupy.

        I notice this from the end of the thread:

        I never said that they permanently own it. I said that the US was formed and expanded via occupation.

        I think you did pretty strongly imply just that. Perhaps you misspoke.

        1. Where did I imply that exactly?

          What I was saying is this: We are here as a result of occupation. Only people who are occupiers can occupy. People whose lands are already occupied cannot occupy those same lands by definition.

    2. 2.2

      Sheena:

      But there is a sense of alienation when progressives demand every progressive comment on every issue all the time.

      You know what? I’ve spent most of this day off and on arguing with people who take issue with the actions of Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford. It’s been tiresome. I’m emotionally exhausted. But reading your comment has brought a new emotion to the fore.

      I’m sad. In fact, I’m sad to the point that I want to fucking cry.

      Why?

      Because I’m black. And I don’t have a car. I live close to a convenience store, so I frequently walk to the store for essentials. I try to avoid going at night bc I live in the Southern U.S. Florida to be exact. That’s not exactly an area of the country where black folks are welcome. Plus I’m gay and an atheist.

      Since Michael Brown, Jr. died last year, my consciousness has been raised. Where 2 years ago, I knew nothing about the issues facing black USAmericans, today I know a lot of those issues. Where once I was ignorant of the names of the people who have been killed by police officers, now I know a great many. Where once I couldn’t tell you a thing about the Black Lives Matter movement, now I can tell you a lot about them.

      All of that is to say that I’ve changed, and grown. I’ve been forced to. Because the actions of police officers, which are backed by the entire criminal justice system scare me. I avoid walking at night bc there’s a part of me that worried that a cop is going to see a black man walking at night and find some reason to detain, harass, beat, arrest, or kill me. As we’ve seen in the last year alone, cops don’t need much reason to act on their racial biases.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting in the corner afraid to leave the house. I’m not looking over my shoulder constantly worried. I can’t live like that. But at the same time, that worry is there. It’s always in the back of my mind. Hell, today it was at the front of my mind. I was walking-during the daytime-back from the UPS store around 2 pm. I was walking through a parking lot very close to a highly trafficked street. I heard a vehicle pull up close behind me, and when I looked over my shoulder, I saw a Sheriff’s Patrol vehicle. One of those SUV’s with the battering ram on the front. For a second I was worried they were after me, even though I’d done nothing. I have no criminal record. I was walking during the daytime, in a tee shirt and short. I had my cellphone in my hand and a hat on my head. I wasn’t doing anything suspicious, and yet for a that second and a few more if I’m to be honest, I worried that I was doing something that could be construed as suspicious.

      The cops probably weren’t following me. They probably pulled into the parking lot for some other reason. I never interacted with them. I just kept walking. But in the back of my mind, I was worried-bc so many black people have been minding their own business only to be brutalized or killed by cops.

      I want to well up in tears right now bc your comments read as so clinical. So cold. So unempathetic. It’s like you’re not aware that the Black Lives Matter movement seeks to address the systemic racism that is causing black people to be disproportionately imprisoned, kicked into the school-to-prison pipeline at an early age, treated as thugs over everything, demonized as drug users, and harassed, beaten, bullied, tormented, detained, imprisoned, and killed by cops. It’s like you don’t realize that black people have been enduring harsher courtroom verdicts than white people for the same offenses. It’s like you don’t see that black people are the victims of labor and housing discrimination.

      It’s like you’re blind to all that, bc you don’t acknowledge the severity of the issue. Your words make it seem like this is just another issue. It’s not.

      It’s life and fucking death. It has been life and fucking death for a long fucking time. And for a long fucking time, no one in power has been listening and working to address these problems. For too fucking long, we’ve had politicians who-by and large-are indifferent at best and apathetic at worst to the plight of African-Americans. And now we have a candidate who is progressive on so many issues. We have a candidate who looks like he can be reached on the subject of systemic racism. We have a candidate that has room to improve, and on so many other metrics, he’s doing so well. We have hope with this candidate.

      And you’re telling me and other black folks-in the face of black people dying every single day-to sit down and wait our turn.

      So yeah, I’m ready to cry. Thanks a fucking lot.

  3. 3

    People who painstakingly dredged up and made viral the fact that the black woman hired by the Sanders campaign used to be a Republican,

    Marissa Jenae Johnson is one of the BLM leaders who interrupted Sanders’ appearance. The woman he’s hired is called Symone Sanders.

      1. Not in your link. Your own link confirms what Jadehawk said.

        That’s why it’s unclear what you mean.

        Jadehawk is right, as your own link shows: the Republican background was exposed not for Symone Sanders (whom Bernie Sanders had hired already, before this incident) but Marissa Johnson (the protester).

        Additionally, it should be admitted that Johnson’s operation does look like a one off creation for this one incident (as even measured observers admit); she has no prior documented affiliation with BlackLivesMatter activism. Unlike Symone Sanders, BTW. Whose story of how she influenced Bernie Sanders to take more interest in that issue looks much more practical (and more successful: links below for backstory).

        It is also a fact that Symone Sanders was working for the Clinton campaign when Johnson was supporting Palin. Sanders was also already on his campaign team, and actually spoke for Sanders at the rally that was protested (and had some rather relevant things to say).

        That doesn’t mean Johnson hasn’t done a 180 in the last eight years. She is still saying strange and disturbing things that sound like Christian fundamentalism, but that’s not incompatible with black activist liberalism.

        But I’m not aware of any evidence Symone Sanders was ever a Republican. Maybe your statement is confusingly worded, and you meant the protester’s (Johnson’s) past Republican affiliation was being dredged up, and not Sanders’? But then, what connection does that have to the Sanders campaign team?

        So your statement in the post is at best confusing as to what you are saying.

  4. 4

    Symone Sanders is from the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. It’s a smart hire – juvenile justice is a fancy word for “locking up kids.” They have been able to make some strides against the mountain that is the criminal justice system. Moving towards more evidence based work as opposed to simple incarceration punishments has been getting some play, nationally. If you agree that the single most threatening entity facing people of color is the criminal justice system, I’m glad Sanders hired someone with some chops there, even though juvenile justice is just a small part of criminal justice overall.

  5. 5

    Symone Sanders was researched and hired by the Bernie Sanders campaign with experience in both politics and social justice in both paid and volunteer positions. She was supposed to speak the event and she did.

    The member of Palin’s Official Moose Patrol who jumped the stage Kanye-style is Marissa Jenae Johnson. If her Palin support didn’t upset you then her anti-choice Christian fundamentalism should have (it didn’t end with the political and beauty pageant career of Ms. Anchorage and continued until at least June 2015).

    Her co-star in this Wedding Crashers remake is remembered by Seattle liberals as being the fake Palestinian that tried her hand at making an anti-Israel activist group. However the state of Washington is only big enough for one activist at a time faking their race and Rachel Dolezal was there first.

    Their chapter of Black Lives Matter existed for 72 hours before the Sanders event and seems a bit like the group outsideagitators206.org has simply taken the “Black Lives Matter” title while it is hot considering the members, mission statement, and press releases of the two groups are exactly the same.

    They are not to be confused with netroots conference crasher Tia Oso whose previous job experience included embezzling money from another non-profit.
    http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/tia-oso-protester-who-interrupted-martin-omalley-is-convicted-embezzler-7505469

    Do you remember when John Lewis visited Occupy Atlanta and was told to wait behind the woman with armor made from cat food tins and the homeless guy screaming about immigrants infiltrating the food supply? There are different ways to organize a rally but “free-for-all” is not one of them. Sanders event speakers have came from different races, backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and cultures and the campaign has a vetting process for those speakers that is a lot better than “whoever wants to rush the stage”. There is no one impressed by people continuing to act confused about why people would want to see the person they came to see.

  6. 7

    It seems pretty obvious that Sanders supporters (if not Sanders himself) want POC votes without having to address the needs of POC voters. There’s an inherent racism in telling black and brown people that you know better than they do about what’s good for them, who their allies are, etc. The truth is, many white progressives want a certain amount of progress, just not enough to put non-white folks on the same level as them.

  7. 8

    Thank you for saying this Heina! I’ve been bothered by the way people were reacting to the criticisms of Sanders campaign but couldn’t articulate it. Definitely sharing this with my Seattle friends.

  8. 9

    Just as the marching with MLK doesn’t prove that Sanders has no room for improvement, you also shouldn’t dismiss what it says about his character out right as many supporters of these actions have said. People are making his response to the BLM actions as a major gaffe instead of merely unsatisfactory.
    Now why the butthurt? Sure race is a factor (I saw several Bernie supporters were using code language like thugs). But I think the bigger culprit is that just before these actions the mainstream media was using the lack of black people in Vermont and low name recognition with black voters as a reason he’ll not get the nomination. So it’s scary and frustrating when one of the most progressive members of congress is disproportionately exposed on a front that seems to enforce the bogus media narrative.

  9. 10

    Saying that Sanders “lacks a racial platform” is simply untrue.

    He gave a 40-minute speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on July 25. In it, he discussed racial inequality within the framework of economic inequality, but he also said, “Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice. … Each of them died unarmed at the hands of police officers or in police custody. … Violence and brutality of any kind, particularly at the hands of law enforcement sworn to protect and serve our communities, is unacceptable and must not be tolerated. We must reform our criminal justice system. Black lives do matter. And we must value black lives.”

    He went on to discuss body cameras, parole reform, and an end to the War on Drugs and for-profit prisons. It was a good speech, and he definitely addressed the Black Lives Matter movement more directly than any other presidential candidate.

    Full text here: https://berniesanders.com/remarks-senator-sanders-southern-christian-leadership-conference/

    1. 10.1

      He lacked racial justice on the official platform he was running on until very very recently. That he said “Black Lives Matter” at a Black-centric event doesn’t mean anything if he didn’t do so at more general events.

  10. 11

    This…so much of this. It would not have been difficult, nor controversial, to align himself with BLM far before NetRoots. The fact that it took two incidents to provoke action serves as a sobering warning to anyone (myself included) who thinks Bernie will do as he promises. Don’t get me wrong, I still think he’s by far the best choice and I still think he’ll come good (and I still wish it could be a POC or at least not another dude, but that’s apparently not happening). Here’s hoping this isn’t his Howard Dean-style moment.

  11. 12

    When people say that you “derail” a movement by bringing up those valid concerns, what they’re actually saying is that this is not your movement, but you’re still expected to contribute to it so maybe you’ll get a more benevolent tyrant who feeds you scraps instead of making you fight for them with the dogs.
    Or as I like to call it “lie back and think of the revolution.”
    Dismissing black women’s concerns about slutwalk says “shut up, this is about white women only, but be call it “women” as if we were a homogenous group”.
    Dismissing women’s concerns about Occupy says “shut up, this is about men, but we say “people” because that’s the long standing definition.”

  12. 13

    […] As if protest is limited to only the worst of the worst, and we are not allowed to speak up and out where it would be most effective. As if it’s a problem that we focus on speaking up and out with people open to our ideas rather than completely unwilling to hear us, rather than good strategy for progress. As if Dear Muslima were a well-reasoned argument instead of an informal fallacy. As if Republicans consider changing your perspective based on new-to-you data to be anything but suspicious slipperiness. As if the actions taken were ineffective. […]

  13. 14

    I don’t understand what the objection is against Bernie Sanders. Having just watched an unedited video of the parade. What I saw:

    Activists: “You have to listen to us!”
    Bernie: *moves away from the mic for them*
    Organizer: “We’re gonna give you the mic”
    Activists: “LET US SPEAK!”
    Organizer: “we just…”
    Activists: “NOW!”

    They are yelling and swearing and protesting even while being given the platform to speak. I think everyone here is at least sympathetic to the anger and the hurt but they were complaining about not being heard WHILE being given the stage to speak. They were complaining about Bernie Sanders not listening WHILE he’s moving aside for them.

    The organizer is trying to calm down the audience with the two women yelling all around him. And it becomes ridiculous.

    Organizer: As we in the Bernie Sanders campaign are all supporters of the Black Lives Matter Movement…
    Activists: AWW FUCK YOU!
    Organizer: …therefore we are gonna give you time to speak…

    I saw an unedited 13 minute video. All Marissa Janae Johnson does while on stage is say that Seattle is full of shit, say that everyone in the audience is a white supremacist, give a history lesson on how the city’s territory was stolen from the native americans and fail miserably to call for a moment of silence for Michael Brown.

    I didn’t catch any questions towards Bernie Sanders. The entire thing was long and rambling. I went and listened to a piece of her interview with TWiB and I still got nothing.

    It’s almost as if some of these activists don’t really give a fuck about the results. Like “I don’t give a fuck if this will advance my cause, what really matters are my feelings ” which is fine, I guess. I’m not one to tell people what they must care about. I just don’t understand why get behind this particular example.

      1. How? She said in the interview “I wanted to start a conversation” and the only conversation she managed to begin was the same old “Black people are angry and unreasonable and nothing is good enough for them so why bother” bullshit. Or the conversation of “Hmm, Bernie Sanders should totally amp up the security at his rallies”. Or “See, they ARE reverse-racists, if you are white they will compare you to the KKK even if you support them”. What was gained? Other than undermining the only candidate that isn’t bought by corporate money?

        1. So, the fact that people are racist assholes who already think that black people are angry is her fault? Okay, then?

          How was he undermined? His rallies haven’t lost participation because of it. Even racist people who think that black Americans should shut up and wait their turn after hundreds of years of continuing persecution are speaking favorably of Bernie Sanders’s reaction to the actions taken.

          1. L: “What was gained? Other than undermining the only candidate that isn’t bought by corporate money?”

            H: “How was he undermined?”

            I concur.

            There isn’t any evidence his campaign has been negatively affected by this event. And to see how he would react to it was kind of the point of it.

            For everyone else it was either “So what?” or “Good point. What say you?” To which he answered this. And let his BLM campaign adviser say this:

            “Do I think everyone in the movement agrees with the way the protesters commanded the stage today? No. Am I going to condemn the protesters for standing up and expressing themselves? No. Because their voices matter.”

      2. The protest didn’t actually work in any measurable way. (Nor did it actually hurt in any measurable way.) Except insofar as it got Sanders fans noticing the issue who might have been ignoring it.

        But all the progress on this issue is due to Symone Sanders, not these protesters. Symone Sanders was already hired and already composing the Sanders race justice platform with the Bernie Sanders team before this protest (not after).

        As much as we can sympathize with the need for disruptive protest to get attention and action, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that what actually worked in this case was old fashioned diplomacy and persuasion.

        Bernie Sanders was already shifted on board with what the protesters wanted him to do from Symone Sander’s lobbying. That is what actually worked.

        We should not promote a false correlation fallacy and think this protest did the trick. It didn’t. It didn’t have any measurable effect (positive or negative) on the Sanders’ campaign uplift on this issue. Whereas Symone Sanders should not be denied credit for it. She deserves all the credit, in fact.

        We should not let her accomplishments be eclipsed. And historically, we should not use this as another anecdote that “only” disruptive protest works, when the historical facts show it wasn’t even a factor, when in fact traditional politicking is what worked. Contrary to the repeated narrative that it doesn’t.

        Even so, the converse should not be argued either. Plenty of disruptive protests before now have had a cumulative and positive effect on getting attention to this issue. So there is a place for both. But due to the historical happenstance of what actually happened within the Sanders campaign machine, this particular incident doesn’t support anyone’s narrative.

        1. Richard:

          But all the progress on this issue is due to Symone Sanders, not these protesters. Symone Sanders was already hired and already composing the Sanders race justice platform with the Bernie Sanders team before this protest (not after).

          She was hired *after* the *first* protest though. That protest was about the same problems the second protest was about: the lack of sufficient care given by Bernie with regard to the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. Yes, he hired Symone Sanders. Yes, he took her words to heart. But that was after he was criticized for not doing enough for the BLM. She rightly should get credit, but so should other BLM activists.

  14. 15

    Here’s some of the things that Bernie Sanders has done with this life, outside of walking with MLK:
    * Bernie Sanders endorsed Jesse Jackson for President twice
    * He spoke out and voted against DoMA
    * He openly protested school segregation in Chicago, and was arrested for doing so
    * And just for fun, he’s in favor of much stronger gun controls, which will save lots of black lives (A disproportionate number of gun deaths happen to black people in states where this is measured: http://kff.org/other/state-indicator/firearms-death-rate-by-raceethnicity/ )
    * And just for fun, he let those two have their turn as his rally

    Frankly, these two have done nothing but bring about measured amount of negative press to their very important cause.

  15. 16

    For those who cannot understand why Black Lives Matter activists have set their sites on Bernie, please read the following in its entirety:
    http://www.vox.com/2015/8/11/9127653/bernie-sanders-black-lives-matter

    Here’s an excerpt:

    The activists don’t feel that Sanders — and, just as importantly, his supporters — are keeping racial justice front and center. Sanders has become a progressive hero for his economic populism, but at the beginning of his campaign he talked about racial inequality, if at all, as a symptom of economic inequality.

    To Black Lives Matter activists and sympathizers, who’ve spent the last year or more calling attention to the deaths of young black men and women (many at the hands of police), Sanders’s attitude toward race was all too familiar: Generations of white progressives have kept economic issues at the center of progressivism and issues that affect mostly nonwhites at the margins. They’ve challenged Sanders to make racism and mass incarceration as important to his campaign as Social Security.

    Sanders’s campaign has clashed with activists over their tactics, but it’s been receptive to their demands: Sanders is working to show that he’s the candidate of all progressives, not just some of them. Yet many of his supporters are tremendously pissed off at the activists for targeting Sanders,who they see as a natural ally of the movement, rather than going after Hillary Clinton or Republicans.

    This is really just the latest mutation of an ongoing conflict. Right now, the two sides are Black Lives Matter activists and Bernie Sanders supporters. But white economic progressives and left-leaning activists of color have been struggling over what it means to be a progressive for decades.

    Over the past 20 years, both within the Democratic Party and outside of politics, the vision of progressivism that’s attracted the most energy and organizing strength has been a progressivism of identity: recognizing the different ways that various groups are marginalized, and working to reduce those disparities both in policy and in everyday interactions. But many progressives in the Democratic Party are inheritors of a labor-liberal progressive tradition that is primarily worried about economic inequality, and are most excited by economic populists like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

    Sanders supporters see it as obvious that their candidate’s platform would be better for people of color than any other candidate’s, and they don’t understand what else supporters would want. But for the activists challenging Bernie Sanders and his supporters, it’s not enough for progressives or Democrats to call for policies that they think would help people of color — they need to be listening to and incorporating the agendas of people of color themselves.

    A little more:

    Sanders was defensive and cranky: “I’ve spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights. If you don’t want me to be here, that’s okay.” The protesters were unimpressed. “Your ‘progressive’ is not enough,” Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and one of the protesters who took the stage, told the press as a message to Sanders and other presidential candidates. “We need more.” The next day, at an event in Houston, Sanders mentioned Sandra Bland (who died in police custody in July) and talked at more length about the issue than he had in the past.

    Need more?

    This conflict is playing out on two different levels, and the people who are most upset about what happened in Seattle over the weekend, or what happened at Netroots Nation last month, tend to focus on only one of them.

    On one level: Activists are targeting Democratic presidential candidates to ensure that their platforms and campaigns incorporate issues of race and criminal justice. When they’ve targeted candidates, like at Netroots and in Seattle, they’ve done so to make particular demands for policy platforms. At Netroots, Cullors demanded, “I want to hear concrete actions. I want to hear an action plan.” And in Seattle, Johnson reiterated that request: “Bernie, you were confronted at Netroots by black women […] you have yet to put out a criminal justice reform package like O’Malley did.”

    SANDERS’S CAMPAIGN HAS BEEN RESPONSIVE TO PROTESTERS; MANY OF SANDERS’S SUPPORTERS HAVE NOT
    Their tactics may be unorthodox, but the dynamic is pretty typical of the relationship between “outsider” activist groups and candidates during primary elections. Activists aren’t exactly challenging candidates to earn their votes; they’re saying that in the year 2016 it should be a requirement for any Democratic candidate to discuss issues of race and criminal justice, and challenging candidates to meet that minimum.

    And on that level, things are going pretty smoothly. Since the confrontation last month at Netroots, Sanders and his campaign have clearly been working hard to meet activists’ demands. At a rally in Houston the day after Netroots, Sanders addressed the death of Sandra Bland in police custody. On Sunday night, after the Seattle event, Sanders’s campaign released a draft platform for racial justice, which addressed mass incarceration, policing, and voting rights as well as economic issues.

    Activists are also targeting Sanders as a way to target Sanders supporters
    Bernie Sanders’s campaign has, for the most part, been responsive to protesters and critics. Many of Bernie Sanders’s supporters — especially on social media — have not. As Roderick Morrow, a podcaster and Twitter personality who started a joke #BernieSoBlack hashtag on Twitter after the Netroots confrontation, explained to me in July:

    Please read the whole thing, and then if you’re still dismissive of the efforts of BLM activists, then just imagine my response as a string of invectives, bc at the end of the day this is about pressuring a candidate to more fully support black people…versus taking a microphone away from said candidate and interrupting a rally.
    Black Lives Mattering > a mike and hurt fee fees

    1. 16.1

      One huge problem with the entire concept of presidential candidates putting racial justice first and center on their platform is that federalism exists. In practice, I think it is stupid, and has become and excuse for shitty states to be shitty, but it still exists.

      There is basically somewhere between little and nothing that Bernie Sanders could ever do as president about state cops being racist assholes. You’ll note that his criminal justice platform Symone Sanders look still doesn’t actually do anything about that, and the obvious reason is because he can’t. Black Live Matter could theoretically be more productive targeting govenors (in practice, probably not, because, for example, texas, is never going to elect a democrat, and republicans are never going to care about police murdering black people, but theoretically).

      So yes, it might very well be a problem to tell a candidate for president to stop talking about the things he might be able to do, and instead focus on the things he absolutely can’t do anything about. It is probably better for publicizing the issue, which is helpful in addressing it, but there is a very real reason that Bernie Sanders is not going to be able to accomplish much to address these problems even if elected.

    2. 16.2

      I am not attacking the act of protest itself. I’m not saying they jumped Bernie and took away the mic, it took me like an hour to find the unedited video, it’s clear that he gave it to them.

      What I’m seeing is that most of the heat goes to Bernie Sanders for “not saying enough”, while Hillary Clinton gets away with not saying anything at all. While Richard Carrier does raise a valid question of just wether or not any damage was done, the entire thing does seem suspiciously targeted at him.

      Put forward his previous activism and his voting record that gave him a 97 from the NAACP: #BernieSoBlack. Hillary is being backed by the GEO Group, that profits from the incarceration of black men, and she gets a 60% approval from the black community.

      She doesn’t even let BLM in her forum on substance abuse, which she promoted and is the main excuse for black incarceration, they call her “a brilliant woman” for giving them the privilege of 15 minutes, no cameras. Bernie Sanders gets a #BowDownBernie “shut the fuck up and let me speak” protest.

      I understand the skepticism, I get the anger, the scrutiny, the challenging of candidates on what they are going to do. I don’t get why be more lenient on the one that doesn’t even bother to show up than on the one who’s trying.

      “They can’t crash her events, security is too tight” says the Vox article that Tony shared, but she’s still not getting the same level of criticism, not even on-line.

      And I go back, not to the disruptive nature of protest (which I understand) or the supposed disrespect to Bernie I don’t really give to shits about, but to the content of what was said in Seattle. “This city has problems too”,”If you boo me, you’re racist”, and then literally nothing for 5 minutes. No policy questions, no challenge, no nothing.

      Couldn’t they have made the question “Hey, senator Sanders,what policies do you have in mind to help combat the racial issues that black people are currently enduring?”. Shit. They could even word it like “Hey shithead, your bullshit economic inequality is fucking worthless to me, what are you doing about the fucking pigs killing our children?!” and it would still be a valid question.

  16. 17

    [Symone Sanders] was hired *after* the *first* protest though. […] But that was after he was criticized for not doing enough for the BLM. She rightly should get credit, but so should other BLM activists.

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc. I noted over at Pharyngula, and as you conceded, that that hiring and and the racial equality aspect of his platform had been in the works for weeks. Those other two on the other hand had an arrangement to share the mic which they broke, they insulted the crowd in an unproductive manner and risked setting back their own movement in the eyes of many. It remains that those two noisy ones were simply unhelpful loose cannons by comparison to Symone.

  17. 18

    kaelik says

    August 11, 2015 at 9:08 PM

    One huge problem with the entire concept of presidential candidates putting racial justice first and center on their platform is that federalism exists. In practice, I think it is stupid, and has become and excuse for shitty states to be shitty, but it still exists.

    There is basically somewhere between little and nothing that Bernie Sanders could ever do as president about state cops being racist assholes. You’ll note that his criminal justice platform Symone Sanders look still doesn’t actually do anything about that, and the obvious reason is because he can’t. Black Live Matter could theoretically be more productive targeting govenors (in practice, probably not, because, for example, texas, is never going to elect a democrat, and republicans are never going to care about police murdering black people, but theoretically).

    So yes, it might very well be a problem to tell a candidate for president to stop talking about the things he might be able to do, and instead focus on the things he absolutely can’t do anything about. It is probably better for publicizing the issue, which is helpful in addressing it, but there is a very real reason that Bernie Sanders is not going to be able to accomplish much to address these problems even if elected.

    If Sanders was only ever allowed to speak on one topic, then you’d have something resembling a point. But his campaign has numerous speaking engagements, and a website, and a press office. These provide ample opportunities to address many issues, building a progressive tapestry that comprehends and works towards an intersectional solution.

    Furthermore, the dominance of federalism is, in part, dependent upon the tolerance of it by 9 people in black robes. Guess who appoints those people? The President. A Court with even a few good appointees could be more important than a half-dozen presidential administrations in terms of policies enacted. If the BLM movement can be persuaded that Bernie will be considering a judge’s prior positions on, say, abuse-of-police-power cases, then they will have more cause to support him for the job.

    It’s not enough to just overturn Citizens United; we need to get rid of a host of other 5-4 rulings on police power and discretion. That’s what I’m looking for in 2016, far more than basic policy statements.

    1. 18.1

      Furthermore, the dominance of federalism is, in part, dependent upon the tolerance of it by 9 people in black robes. Guess who appoints those people? The President.

      This is a frightening lack of respect for the rule of law. If you don’t like the constitution, then the general wise thing to do is to get an amendment. Don’t destroy the rule of law.

  18. 19

    “If Sanders was only ever allowed to speak on one topic, then you’d have something resembling a point. But his campaign has numerous speaking engagements, and a website, and a press office. These provide ample opportunities to address many issues, building a progressive tapestry that comprehends and works towards an intersectional solution.”

    I would say that he very much has, but posters in this thread are saying that when he did talk about black issues at a black organization it didn’t count, and that the problem is that he is not “keeping racial justice front and center.” Which is what my point was addressed at. By all rights, things he as no ability to do don’t belong front and center when compared to the things he can do. He does have a criminal justice platform, and surprise, a guy who no one thought would even be in the running two months ago hadn’t hired an expert on criminal justice reform two months ago, but he had hired one 3 weeks ago, and by all accounts she is pretty good.

    “Furthermore, the dominance of federalism is, in part, dependent upon the tolerance of it by 9 people in black robes. Guess who appoints those people? The President. A Court with even a few good appointees could be more important than a half-dozen presidential administrations in terms of policies enacted. If the BLM movement can be persuaded that Bernie will be considering a judge’s prior positions on, say, abuse-of-police-power cases, then they will have more cause to support him for the job.”

    You know what, that is actually a really good point, I would love to see a candidate actually address this when talking about Supreme Court nominees, because to my opinion, police power cases are the one area where the Court has been systematically getting nearly every decision wrong for the last 15-20 years. Which leads me to:

    “It’s not enough to just overturn Citizens United; we need to get rid of a host of other 5-4 rulings on police power and discretion. That’s what I’m looking for in 2016, far more than basic policy statements.”

    Actually, what we need to overturn is a host of 5-4, 6-3, 7-2, 8-1, and 9-0 decisions on police power and discretion. If you haven’t been following the supreme court, let me assure you, there aren’t 5 justices with terrible judgments on what constitutes police power, there are at least 7 (Kagan and Sotomayor I am not comfortable judging yet, and or where I have seen them, they seem to be generally okay.) I’ve seen plenty of terrible decisions signed on to by Ginsberg and Breyer, although at least in Ginsburg’s case it might be because she is just not as knowledgable/doesn’t care as much, and didn’t feel like writing a meaningless dissent when she didn’t think she was up to the task.

    1. 19.1

      Example:
      Here’s one of my favorite 9-0 cases that was decided the wrong way.
      PEARSON, ET AL. v. CALLAHAN
      It gives the police broad immunity to lawsuits when they break the law. It’s part of the abominable chain of cases that give qualified immunity to the police.

      It is often said that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Well, that’s true, unless you’re a cop.

  19. 20

    Oh, I’m sure there’s more than just the 5-4 cases, but those by the nature of the beast tend to be the worst ones. The weird thing is that SCOTUS appointments is something that no presidential candidate is even allowed to discuss, like it’s utterly unrelated to the job they’re applying for. So you have to try to wheedle it out of their comments. A pro-life candidate, for instance, is going to be more inclined to appoint judges who, broadly speaking, support the right of states to be laboratories of oppression. One who takes a swing at police injustice, OTOH, is less likely to want a justice who thinks that the federalism model is ultrasuperawesomekeen.

    And yes, Sanders has begun addressing the issue at last, and he should be given credit for that. But this is literally a year-old topic, even in the general media (obviously, it’s much, much older than that for people of color in this country). For Bernie to have waited this long before issuing any solid statements on the subject was frustrating, and angering, and he needed to encounter a little of that anger, because he needs to remember that without the black vote, a Democrat cannot win the election.

  20. 21

    You know, if you don’t want BLM activists or other activists crash your speeches, invite them beforehand. Work with them. Build a broad movement. Drop your lonly hero saviour narrative, you should have noticed with Obama that it doesn’t work. You moved heaven and earth, created a big fat voting club and after the presidential election everybody went home for lunch and didn’t show up agin until the next presidential campaign. If you want change, you need to keep up the pressure. Those movements, the unions, the environmentalists, they are the people who are experienced in those things because they work day after day after day. Show every godsdamn democratic candidate that they can have a broad support if they offer a good platform. Because even a president Bernie Sanders will be able to do shit if your houses are blocked by the Republicans.

    1. 21.1

      You know, if you don’t want BLM activists or other activists crash your speeches, invite them beforehand. Work with them. Build a broad movement.

      Which is exactly what he had been doing for a few weeks prior.

  21. 22

    I can see both sides of this thing, but on balance I think I’ll have to come down on the side of the protesters. I can see where people are coming from: they’re scared. They know what a long shot Sanders’ candidacy is, and how much power is arrayed against him. They don’t want to risk the first chance since (at least) the 1970’s for a serious candidate liberals can get behind. And yes, sometimes, you do have to pick your battles, and save some for another time.

    But. How long have African Americans been hearing “wait, let’s fix other things first and later we’ll get to you”? Since the 1940’s at least, probably ever since Reconstruction. And when did they first get real gains? When they stopped waiting and demanded their rights! And the problem of police brutality toward black Americans is a symptom of the bigger problem that police are bullies, not protectors, of the people (and I suspect they always have been, especially to blacks, and only now is it becoming obvious to everyone). That harms all people, not just those who aren’t white (not that that realization should even be necessary, doing what’s right ought to be enough, but…). And that brings to my mind another thing that worries me-the tendency for even liberal whites to sometimes think of black Americans as “them” instead of “us”. That needs to be resisted.

  22. 23

    We live on occupied lands stolen from native peoples

    OK, when did the “native people” own the now occupied lands? When they were born on it? When they migrated (supposedly) from modern day Russia to Alaska and downwards? When their ancestors were first on some portion of the continent, and their descendants therefore inherited all of it? When they spread far enough that all land that was not “occupied” between settlements was still theirs because….
    I am not sure that there is such a simplistic way to establish permanent ownership with simple native-ness.

  23. 24

    OMG this comments section is so many levels of fucking infuriating.

    First, how many of you have actually listened to Marissa Janae Johnson?

    Here… listen to the 32-minute interview This Week in Blackness (probably the best radio show/podcast out there) conducted with her:

    And while you’re at it, maybe start listening to This Week in Blackness? They have an audio live-stream here, Monday – Thursday, around 6:30 pm EST (usually).

    Richard Carrier, you’re hawking some of the conspiracy theories idiots like David Pakman (yes, I called David Pakman an idiot) are hawking. Perhaps listen to the episode of TWiB from the day after that interview with Marissa where Elon James White reads a feedback email he got from Marissa before Seattle BLM had even planned the action at the Bernie Sanders rally expressing her love for TWiBNation.

    And have none of you ever heard Black Liberation Theology? MLK was NOT a closet atheist or anti-theist. He was a proud (and some might say radical) Christian.

    Also, ALL of the founders of Nation BLM have taken to Facebook and Twitter to express their support for the action in Seattle and to deny having any role in the petition demanding that Seattle BLM apologize for their actions. I’ve shared some of their public Facebook posts on my own wall.

    And finally, in point of fact, Bernie Sanders did not have plans to hire Symone Sanders or include a racial justice portion of his platform until after the Netroots action. In fact, it was Bernie working through what happened at Netroots that led him to Symone:

    Symone Sanders got into the Bernie Sanders campaign the same way: Refusing to paper over the candidate’s issues. She was one of the activists Sanders sought out after Netroots as he analyzed why the Netroots forum had gone so awry. In a weekend interview with Buzzfeed’s Evan McMorris-Santoro, Symone Sanders said she told the candidate that he had to make a contemporary pitch, and “not just, ‘Oh, I fought for civil rights and I protested and I sat at the lunch counters.’”

    So we all have Netroots to thank for this new turn in Bernie’s campaign. In short: it worked. Bernie (unlike, apparently, a good chunk of his fans), listened, and it appears he’s still listening.

    I’m curious… do you actually want black people to stop begging for their lives, or are you okay with it as long as they do so quietly and apologetically? You know… so it’s easier to ignore…

    Black people are dying. They are in a State of Emergency

    To paraphrase a friend: if you value tone over the lives of black people then you are the problem.

  24. 25

    I have another comment in moderation. I wanted to add this, though…

    TWiB is talking to one of the other leaders of Seattle BLM, Mara Willow, right now, and she is explaining that that other group they belong to was only active last winter, and they left it for Black Lives Matter at the end of last winter. So they didn’t set up Seattle BLM a few days ago just to protest Bernie.

    TWiB is like the biggest space debunking the BS conspiracy theories (both Mara and Marissa have been like “we haven’t gotten any checks from Clinton, but if we’re supposed to get checks, then #BBHMM”) and nobody’s listening to them…

    Hm…

    I…

    I wonder why?

    Hm…

    As the great philosopher Robert Plant once said, “it really makes me wonder”…

  25. 26

    There has been precious little engagement with the substance of what Marissa Johnson and Mara Williams actually said at their protest on the part of white liberal who disapprove of the protest.

    I’d give their “concerns” about tactics the time of day, IF they weren’t so transparent about utterly ignoring what they actually said.

    Case in point:

    I saw an unedited 13 minute video. All Marissa Janae Johnson does while on stage is say that Seattle is full of shit, say that everyone in the audience is a white supremacist, give a history lesson on how the city’s territory was stolen from the native americans and fail miserably to call for a moment of silence for Michael Brown.

    Johnson said a lot more than just that Seattle is full of shit, and her remark about the audience being white supremacist was completely unplanned and delivered through tears. In the interview that Nate linked to, she further clarified: anyone who sees that protest, a protest by Black people defending the right of Black people to simply live, without being killed, or at least to get justice when they are killed, and whose first reaction is to make it all about their own hurt feelings, is acting as a white supremacist in that moment.

    And a lot of the audience that day were reacting as white supremacists.

    I think that’s a reasonable criterion for white supremacy. If you disagree, then you should explain why, and explain what you think reasonable criteria for identifying white supremacy are, and THEN you may have the latitude to dismiss Johnson’s characterization. But not before.

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