Monday, August 10, 2015

Black Lives Matter Creates a Stir in Seattle

The hubbub in the Emerald City over the weekend was the disruption of a Bernie Sanders campaign rally at Westlake Mall by Black Lives Matter activists. I had gone to bed early Saturday evening because I had a 10K to run early the next day. I was in a deep sleep dreaming about tracking dirty slushy snow on the expensive carpets of a rich man's home when I awoke to the sound of knocking at my door. The knocking repeated itself several times. Concerned that it might be the building super with an issue having to do with the new kitchen plumbing that had just been installed in my apartment, I lumbered out of bed and opened the door.

No one was there. But then my downstairs neighbor suddenly appeared. She is a friend, a retiree, whom I have known for years. She and my next-door neighbors were either on their way to or returning from Sanders' appearance at the University of Washington. She handed me a book -- Bernie Sanders' The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (2011). I was disoriented with drool on my chin. I apologized for my state and thanked her for the book. She apologized for waking me. Then she was off, and I went back to bed.

The next morning I left the apartment early, 6:30 AM, to run that race. Stuck on my front door was this post card from my neighbor:

So she had been to the Westlake event and was upset by the Black Lives Matter activists commandeering the microphone and hijacking Sanders' appearance. I understand that. My first reaction was that it was a provocation or dirty trick orchestrated by the Clinton campaign. What better way to guarantee that Sanders cannot broaden his appeal to blacks and Latinos than by driving a wedge between the white liberals and progressives that are flocking by the thousands to see Sanders as he tours the country?

But the important thing to do here is not to react. Read the statement that was posted to Black Lives Matter Seattle:
PRESS RELEASE: Black Lives Matter Seattle ‪#‎BowDownBernie‬ Action 
MEDIA CONTACTS: Marissa Johnson (360) 840-6234 
Black Lives Matter Seattle organizers and supporters take over Bernie Sanders’ rally at Westlake on Saturday, August 8, 2015. 
Today BLM Seattle, with the support of other Black organizers and non-Black allies and accomplices, held Bernie Sanders publicly accountable for his lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and his blatantly silencing response to the ‪#‎SayHerName‬ ‪#‎IfIDieInPoliceCustody‬ action that took place at Netroots this year. 
Bernie’s arrival in Seattle is largely significant in the context of the state of emergency Black lives are in locally as well as across America. The Seattle Police Department has been under federal consent decree for the last three years and has been continually plagued by use-of-force violations and racist scandals amongst their rank and file. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has refused to push any reform measures for police accountability, not even the numerous recommendations of his self-appointed Community Police Commission. The Seattle School District suspends Black students at a rate six times higher than their white counterparts, feeding Black children into the school-to-prison pipeline. King County has fought hard to push through a plan to build a $210 million new youth jail to imprison these children, amid intense community criticism and dissent. The Central District, a historically Black neighborhood in Seattle, has undergone rapid gentrification over the past few decades, with Black people being displaced from the only neighborhood that we could legally live in until just years ago. While white men profit off of the legalization of marijuana, our prisons are still filled with Black people who are over-incarcerated for drug offenses. 
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. As was said at the Netroots action, presidential candidates should expect to be shut down and confronted every step along the way of this presidential campaign. Black people are in a state of emergency. Lines have been drawn in the sand. You are either fighting continuously and measurably to protect Black life in America, or you are a part of the white supremacist system that we will tear down in the liberation of our people. 
On this, nearly the one year anniversary of the ruthless murder of Mike Brown, we honor Black lives lost by doing the unthinkable, the unapologetic, and the unrespectable. Out of radical love for our Black brothers and sisters, we put our lives and our bodies on the line to testify to their persecution and resilience. We join together in Black love to #SayHerName and declare that #BlackLivesMatter, understanding that our love will disrupt the complicity and corruption of our anti-Black society; GOP, Democrat, and otherwise. 
There is no business as usual while Black lives are lost. We will ensure this by any means necessary. 
With the strength of our ancestors and for the future of our children, 
Black Lives Matter Seattle Co-Founders 
Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford
What they say is true. Now my hope is that they would continue their confrontations by going after other campaigns, such as Hillary's. If all they do is hector Bernie Sanders, then clearly the end result is a provocation that benefits other candidacies. Eric Garner's daughter, Erica, speaking yesterday at the anniversary of Mike Brown's killing, justified the shutdown of the Sanders event:
Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, applauded the activists who climbed on stage with the Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and demanded an opportunity to talk about police killings during an event in Seattle on Saturday. Mr. Sanders left the event without addressing the crowd. 
“We got to hold our elected officials accountable,” Ms. Garner said. “If he’s not going to talk about our issues, he shouldn’t talk at all.”
But Sanders can't be the only elected official targeted; if so, then Black Lives Matter is just doing the dirty work of the mainstream frontrunners.

When I was active in the Nader-era Green Party, we were criticized all the time for not being a viable progressive movement because we had no black support. Somehow -- and this is the absurdity -- the Democratic Party was more progressive because it had the overwhelming allegiance of blacks. This is poppycock. But the same skewed logic is being applied to the Sanders campaign. This is from an otherwise complimentary piece by Adam Nagourney, "Similarities Aside, Bernie Sanders Isn’t Rerunning Howard Dean’s 2004 Race":
And while there are similarities in the crowds both men draw — overwhelmingly white, for the most part liberal activists — this is not the Democratic Party Mr. Dean was seeking to lead in 2004. The party is younger and more ethnically diverse now, in a way that Mr. Sanders’s crowds are not. The liberal wing of the party, or what Mr. Dean liked to call the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” has undergone its own maturation over the years, its ambitions readjusted after it watched Mr. Dean lose and President Obama turn out to be something short of an unfaltering ideological ally. 
“Sanders gives me a sense of déjà vu, not just the level of excitement that he generates among people who desperately want an alternative to the establishment status quo, but also the irrational cherry-picking of news to convince themselves that victory is just around the corner,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the liberal blog Daily Kos and the organizer of the first Netroots Nation convention, as it came to be known. 
“I was knee-deep in the Dean movement, so I remember those big exciting crowds, but I also remember ignoring the fact that they were almost exclusively made up of young, white, fairly affluent and educated people,” Mr. Moulitsas said. “And Sanders’s are no different, ill reflecting a modern Democratic Party that is at least 40 percent minority and overwhelmingly female.” 
In Seattle on Saturday, Mr. Sanders was confronted by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement who climbed onstage and demanded an opportunity to talk about police brutality and to note the anniversary of the fatal shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson, Mo. Mr. Sanders stepped aside and finally left the event without addressing the crowd. 
Yet Mr. Sanders’s appeal shows no sign of fading. And in a sign of self-confidence — and a tribute to Mr. Dean’s signature argument, when he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, that the party had to compete in all 50 states — Mr. Sanders is campaigning in such unlikely Democratic states as Louisiana and Texas. It appears to be working: He walked out to a rally in Arizona to find 11,000 people waiting to hear him on a Saturday night.
The important takeaway here is that Sanders, for all his lily whiteness and his passive militarism, is not going to go away. His crowds are the most substantial of any presidential candidate. Sanders, as his book The Speech makes clear, is addressing the most salient political issue of our times and that is the complete capture of the government by a destructive oligarchic elite.

But Black Lives Matter is not going anywhere either. Let's hope an accommodation is reached between the two.

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