This week, we’ve been bombarded with images of Black Lives Matter protesters crashing a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. Had it been a Trump rally, or even a Clinton rally, supporters might not have gotten so incensed over the protest. To many, Sanders is the one candidate in this presidential race who is telling the truth and looking to reform some pretty messed up policies and systems. That’s most likely why some Sanders supporters rallied against Black Lives Matter supporters, asking, “Why Bernie? Why not Clinton, or Trump?” At worst, white liberals from the democratic party called for the arrest of the protesters, and at best tried to police the activists’ tone and tactics. Why interrupt, they might have said, or why be so aggressive/forceful with their actions and statements?
I never asked, “Why Bernie,” because to me it’s pretty clear that the activists where well within their rights. Besides, similar tactics have been used throughout civil rights movements to generate awareness and push for change. Nevertheless, people wanted answers to that question: Why Bernie? That night, I went on Reddit, and the front page was covered with racist slander against one of the women who participated in the protest. They called her a racist; they Photoshoped images of her drinking piss. They debased her. Then it dawned on me: this protest exposed much more than what the activists had intended.
If you read their statement, the activists were pretty specific about why they chose Bernie, and why they chose Seattle. If you are interested in that discussion, Vox has a pretty good article on the subject. When I saw the reactions from Sanders supporters, and to some extent the reaction of Sanders himself, I saw that the activists had exposed more than just the democratic party’s unwillingness to address the concerns of black folks in America. They had also exposed the subtle racism present in the party itself, commonly represented by white liberals.
The way the audience in Seattle and certain Sanders supporters responded tells Black Lives Matter their voices, needs, and lives are not important. If you don’t want to listen, then you don’t want to engage with and understand the perspectives of black people. As Tia Oso stated so plainly in a Think Progress article this week, “I think a lot of the critiques are absent of the fact that we are fighting for our lives.” Anyway, wouldn’t you rather see your candidate engage with activists? Instead of a rally, you’d be involved in a unique political experience, during which you might observe an ideological, intellectual exchange. Such an exchange could lead to new ideas for revolutionizing race relations and help open hearts and minds to the black struggle. But that’s not what most democratic party rally attenders wanted this week.
As if the initial response wasn’t enough, reports emerged that the activists were not aligned with BLM, but rather another “more radical” group who have co-opted the BLM platform. Other reports stated that one of the activists was a former Palin supporter. What many people don’t understand about Black Lives Matter is that it is decentralized. That means there is no core, no approving body, no person giving their blessing to protests happening under its name. So, if the activists said they were with BLM, then they were with BLM. It’s clear that these reports just surfaced as a way to discredit the actions and statements of the activists, rather than engage with the ideas they were presenting.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a second, though, just to appease any naysayers. What would it mean if the activists at this week’s Sanders rally weren’t “official?” It wouldn’t change anything. This event pointed out a major flaw in the democratic party: it has not been, nor is it now, concerned with the experiences of black people in America, particularly in regards to police brutality. Take it from BLM member Tia Oso: neither party understands the demands of BLM, and what’s more, BLM doesn’t expect them to. But the presidential race is a prime place for activists to raise awareness, and they are doing just that. If nothing else, their name is on everyone’s lips and in the headlines. Hell, even Donald Trump is talking about them in his own revolting way. If anything, the way Black Lives Matter campaign activism is portrayed and perceived should stand as a testament to the subtleties of white supremacist attitudes that permeate American culture–inside and outside of the Democratic Party and its sanctioned events.