Black lives and white lies

march1Even though it now seems like a long time ago, I freely admit the Bernie blow-up at Netroots Nation has made me a little crazy. Today I finally watched a video of the entire episode and I have to say the media reports severely distorted what actually took place. The story was of some huge confrontation between Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists. Sanders was said to be tone deaf to the urgency of racist police misconduct.

In the video, there is some very limited disruption of Sanders’ speech near the beginning and scattered, intermittent yelling afterwards. Mostly he was able to talk over them and get his message out, and mostly they let him. He could have handled it better by being more forthcoming in responding to the protest, but he did respond. I doubt anything he could have said would have made them all stop. (Martin O’Malley got much of the worst of the protests and was at least as clumsy in responding as Sanders.)

There has been more vitriol in the aftermath than at the event itself between often white Bernie supporters and often black supporters of the #BLM movement. Criticism of the anti-Bernie initiative is in my experience falsely interpreted as attacks on the intelligence of everyone in the movement, if not all black people. (I say anti-Bernie initiative because there has been no parallel criticism of Hillary Clinton, much less any intervention at her campaign events.)

At my family dinner table, growing up, “You’re nuts” (usually from my father) was never fighting words, much less grounds for lasting animosity. It was a normal part of argument. To me, criticism does not imply any lack of intelligence or sophistication on the part of anyone I criticize. If I want to insult you, you will know it. Indeed, any intense political activity is likely to be rife with criticism, flying in every direction. Why should #BlackLivesMatter be any different? The alternative is a movement of zombies.

I’ve participated in disruptions of speakers in the (distant) past, and with less justification than #BLM. My issue here is practical, not moral. What is the political fall-out from dumping on Bernie?

The good fall-out is that he has revised his platform to explicitly grapple with issues pertaining specifically to racist police misconduct. This was overdue. From this standpoint, he deserved a bonking. At the same time, some of the ‘demands’ of some in #BLM are ambitious to the point of fantasy. (My basis for this is the remarks made by protesters during and after the speeches.) How exactly is a candidate supposed to explain in five minutes how he or she is going to “end structural racism”? Does anybody really want a dissertation on how to perfect all the laws barring discrimination in employment, housing, and the like? It’s the kind of question that is not designed to elicit an answer.

The bad fall-out is the false impression that Hillary Clinton has some advantage on these issues. This is complete hogwash. If you examine her statements, you will find the actual policies aimed at racist police misconduct to be very thin. Body- and dash-cameras. Or course, we are finding out about police atrocities precisely from these cameras.

Hillary is good at providing anti-racist mood music but abstains from endorsing much in the way of specific remedies. She has the best PR that money can buy, and she has a lot of money. Hillary’s record includes support for hubby’s boost to mass incarceration and malignant “welfare reform,” among other dubious achievements. Bernie’s record is uninterrupted support for African-American interests, for fifty years. To date, there has been no parallel #BlackLivesMatter intervention in a Hillary event. Why not? Shouldn’t there be?

Who were the #BLM activists at Netroots Nation? My Facebook friend Bruce Dixon, a Black Panther back in the day, rips them up and down, asserting attendees at this conference are only interested in getting jobs and grants from liberals and Democratic Party apparatchiks. I think this is a little strong. First of all, there is often no way to know who is on the make and who is sincere since none of us are mind-readers. Second, it’s no sin to hope to advance the cause by working for Democrats. It may be a debatable political premise, but that’s a different matter, not a question of bad faith.

The real story here is not what happened at the conference, but post-conference commentary that invents contradictions between Bernie’s social-democratic politics and African-American interests. Such concoctions are deeply antithetical to any prospects for relief from racist police abuse, much less the entire menu of progressive concerns. There is a case for preferring Hillary to Bernie, on the grounds that she seems to have a better chance of beating any Republican (or did, until recently). There is no case that she provides more support for #BLM concerns.

Currently the Democratic primary is between two people. There is no getting around that. You ding one, you help the other.






Black lives and white lies — 10 Comments

  1. Bernie’s revision of his stump speeches to include the concerns of BLM shows that he is responsive to grassroots pressure. But he still needs massive outreach to minority communities, to be effective against Hillary. Your last point is why I hope Biden does jump in. He’ll take a lot more votes from Hillary than from Bernie.

  2. Right, Bernie has a lot of work to do. I also agree Biden will eat into HRC’s votes.

  3. On the “you’re nuts” thing, for me and I would guess many,, that is insulting and not a show of respect. You obviously don’t mean it that way, but it sounds like the sort of language the mainstream uses to marginalize people to its left, so if you don’t want misunderstandings, don’t say it unless you really do want to insult someone. People have different family backgrounds.

    Otoh,some people on the far left really are nuts–on my own pet issue these days (I’ll refrain from mentioning it), the slightest deviation from the “correct”stance and some people come down on you like a ton of bricks. I’ve done it myself in nuttier moments and have also been the one under the bricks.

  4. Well in the BLM exchanges, I haven’t said that to anybody. I’ve been as civil as possible, but some people just can’t take criticism.

  5. If it’s not okay to “ding” Bernie because it would help Hillary (and I assume many Hillary supporters would say the same thing in reverse), how are BLM activists supposed to effectively pressure candidates to pay attention to their issues? More, for lack of a better term, respectable, access to candidates is difficult to gain and often doesn’t get you anywhere unless the candidate already considers you a priority. You noticed yourself that there was good fallout from this.

    I’m not sure I’ve heard any BLM activist claiming that Hillary is better on policing/criminal justice issues. Just that they expect ALL candidates to earn their votes and not take them for granted. I’ve not seen any BLM expressions of fondness for Hillary. I think it would be great if there were a similar disruptive protest at a Hillary event, but unfortunately, she wasn’t at the Netroots Nation candidates’ panel, and I’m guessing that she has tougher security at most of her stuff. She’s just harder to disrupt effectively from a protest-logistics perspective, which is unfortunate for the public, BLM, and the other candidates.

    Bernie’s subpar handling of the situation, and his not going further than he has in addressing policing and racial justice issues subsequently, are both unfortunate and his own fault. On the plus side, he’s done something to address those issues in his campaign, more than he had before – improvement is always good – and I noticed that his Twitter account is also following a few BLM and similarly-aligned people on Twitter now (including the woman who organized the Netroots Nation protest), so I am hoping that he and the campaign will learn useful things from listening to them.

    The mainstream media is full of blather and nonsense, as it often is. What I’ve seen that bothers me more – as a white person who is active with both the Sanders campaign and BLM – is the bizarre Internet legion of white Bernie supporters that have reacted to all this in ridiculous ways (to be clear, I’m not referring to you here, I wouldn’t bother replying to your post if you were being ridiculous in this way). They were trying to get Elon James White, a black progressive journalist, fired from Netroots Nation because he said supportive things about the protest and they believed, incorrectly, that he had organized it! I had one arguing with me for way too long yesterday who asserted that BLM just wants to shut down “nonblack” progressive spaces like Netroots Nation, claimed that they would not ask the same questions of a black candidate, and didn’t believe me that Martin O’Malley had released a platform plank about policing and criminal justice reform despite this being findable with five seconds of Googling (and she made sure to bring friends, many of whom seem to have Bernie Sanders’ name in their Twitter handle or profile, into our argument). This phenomenon of hostile and sometimes racist Sanders supporters picking fights, on what they think is Sanders’ behalf, is alarming and discouraging to me. I have progressive friends of color who are now wary at best toward Bernie’s campaign because they associate it with obnoxious white people who will jump on them if they say anything critical about Bernie and race.

    At any rate, I hope Bernie keeps learning and improving and shows himself conclusively to be the best candidate on policing and criminal justice reform, and on other issues important to specific communities of color (like immigration), as well as he does on other issues. It shouldn’t be be that hard – his competition is Hillary and a guy who, for all that he has an ambitious platform now, helped enable Baltimore policing to become the horrible mess that it is.

  6. Hi Lirael. Thanks for visiting. My position is ding both candidates, not lay off of Bernie. As far as access goes, Bernie was set to meet with BLM people at the conference until they disrupted his talk. They had access and they blew it. He should have met with them anyway.

    Hillary has plenty of events. It would be easy to stage something at them. Exactly how disruptive it would be is beside the point, IMO. If at first you don’t succeed, etc.

    Bernie has made some changes in his standard platform in re: BLM. If you think more is warranted, I’d be interested to know what myself.

    I don’t doubt there have been objectionable reactions and other behavior from Bernie supporters. I think that’s unavoidable with any kind of mass participation. All you can do is try to stay on the high road. In my limited Twitter forays on this, African-Americans have been quick to take personal offense at any political criticism.

    We have to get together. Apart we are nothing. Both sides have work to do.

  7. “He should have met with them anyway.”

    Yes. Aside from the morality of their cause, he’s running for president, he can’t afford to spurn potential major components of a coalition because they disrupted a panel.

    “If you think more is warranted, I’d be interested to know what myself.”

    Well, for instance, the On The Issues page of his campaign website doesn’t list anything related to racial justice, policing, or criminal justice reform (for that matter, thinking of an issue that matters to some other communities of color, it doesn’t list anything related to immigration reform, not even something about protecting immigrant workers from exploitation, which is something he has a good record on). This makes it look like he doesn’t really care about these issues (which I think he does, but he needs to show it). His incorporation of these issues into more recent speeches is good, but most speeches by most candidates are about platitudes, and he needs details here to convince people of color that he’s serious about these issues.

    Contrast this with O’Malley, who wrote a very detailed platform plank about criminal justice reform. Now, I don’t exactly trust O’Malley on these issues. Not only was he partially responsible for enabling the horror that is modern Baltimore policing, and fail to do much useful about the horrific blight and neglect of black neighborhoods there – I should note here that I acted as a street medic in Baltimore in May, largely providing care to people who were being released from jail, since it was after the initial wave of protests – but he’s trying to have it both ways. He wants to win based on his record as a mayor and governor, and also position himself as a leader on these issues, while not apologizing for his poor record on these issues as a mayor and governor. So I’m not suggesting that I think he’d actually be better than Bernie on these issues. I’m saying that Bernie needs to demonstrate that he’s better by putting together something detailed that’s as good as or better than O’Malley’s plan, while at the same time highlighting the superiority of his recent record.

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  9. Nothing could be more important than BLM to those who endure the dangers and inequities of criminal policing in this country. Similarly, the fight for LGBT rights can’t be delayed until there’s a convenient time to address discrimination. Now women who, as a class, have been fighting for equality since the 19th century, are seeing their hard-won gains under fresh attack.

    And yet…and yet… I can’t help thinking that when we insist that candidates put our social justice campaigns front and center, we are falling into the same trap that catches the rightwing teabaggers who consistently vote against their own interests.

    The Republican base can be relied on to rise to the religious, nativist culture-war bait every time. Any candidate who waves the right flag (Confederate battle-flag, that is), is fine with them, even if that candidate is planning to screw them royally on behalf of the Kochs.

    But who are we to criticize? How many people on the left are prepared to vote for Hillary because she makes the right noises about our pet social-justice causes? Yet she refuses to tell us where she stands on TPP/TISA or Keystone-XL. Every statement she’s made regarding economic matters is constructed around hedges and generalities.

    I can’t help but think that we on the left have been manipulated, like the right, to vote against our own deepest interests. The ruling elites toss us culture war/social justice bones. It costs them little.

    Gay marriage? Who cares? Creationism and prayer in schools? Who cares?

    Just as long as none of us, left or right, get to questioning who runs things.
    –Or who gets all the profits for all that productivity.
    –Or why the factories have to shut down and the jobs get shipped to hell-and-gone.
    –Or why we can’t have health care or free college or roads and bridges that aren’t crumbling.
    –Or why we need to fight wars without end for decades.

    Most of all, we can’t question why we’re doing nothing when the planet is burning up. We can’t question why the 0.01% don’t seem worried or why they have private armies and homes all over the globe (mostly in northern latitudes). We can’t question why they seem hellbent to ride the carbon tiger until the last drop of fossil fuel is squeezed from the earth, cashed in and burned.

    Why aren’t we demanding answers for these existential questions? Instead, we’re bickering over whether or not the only candidate who is actually addressing these matters tugged his forelock (difficult, since he’s balding) and made the proper respectful sounds when someone thought they were being dissed.

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