I haven’t been this depressed about writing a post since the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Even as my fingers move across my keyboard I can feel my willpower just oozing right out of me. And it’s not that the issues here aren’t worth talking about- they absolutely are. It’s just that the whole affair has been so…
Let me just hit you with the hard facts before we jump into this morass of stupidity and futility.
This Saturday in Seattle Democratic-Socialist and presidential-hopeful Bernie Sanders was holding a political rally for his campaign. Shortly after beginning, a pair of protestors from Black Lives Matter (a nation-wide movement speaking out against police violence towards African Americans) climbed up on stage. The two protestors, for some twenty minutes, recounted grievances of the local black community and scolded Sanders for not having been vocal enough about police violence towards minorities. “…Join us now in holding Bernie Sanders accountable…” stated Marissa Johnson, one of the protestors.
The rally closed shortly after. Sanders never got a chance to speak and stood silently on stage for the duration of the protestors’ speech.
In the following 24 hours the event has been plastered all over the news and social media, where the details have been picked at and dissected to the last miserable word.
I don’t want to talk about that.
I mean, I don’t want to talk about any of this. Like I said, it’s ****ing depressing, but it’s not so much the actual event that’s the problem for me- it’s the reaction to it.
Once again, let me break it down here:
Black Lives Matters Wasn’t Without Their Points
And that might come as a surprise to plenty of folks. The vast, vast majority of comments and images I’ve seen of the event have largely been centered on slamming the two women as “racists”, “smug”, “stupid”, and I’m just sticking to the least offensive terms here. The slightly (and only slightly) more thought-out criticisms have focused on the fact that Bernie Sanders was himself a deeply engaged member of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, a member of both CORE and SNCC, and arrested in 1962 for protesting segregation.
But then again, that was true of plenty of folks.
Many (and I mean many) members of the so-called “radical” 60s and 70s have since long-abandoned their activist roots in favor of moderate or even out-rightly repressive policies (see Christopher Hitchens). It doesn’t matter how radical you were 40 years ago or even 4 years ago- now is what matters and no-one, Sanders included, should be exempt from scrutiny.
Sanders Seems To Have Been Pointlessly Targeted
It’s not like Sanders has had a history as an apologist for the system either. The man’s pretty frequently condemned mass incarceration, the so-called “war on drugs”, and even the recent death of Sandra Bland. We’re not looking at some push for all present (or even just Democrat) candidates to include the halt of police brutality- it just looks like it’s Sanders here. And there have been those who’ve made the argument “Hey- he was picked because he’s the most likely to actually listen”.
That right there is a legitimate argument- but is it a very convincing one?
If the Sanders rally was consciously chosen for the purpose of getting the message out to this audience, aren’t there better ways of doing it than by commandeering the guy’s mic? Let me ask:
Was This Really The Best Option?
And I’m not trying to sound patronizing- I’m legitimately interested. Was this the best and most expedient way of getting the message out there?
As nasty as the criticism of the protestors has been over the past 24 hours, people are talking about what happened. It’s probably not the civil-yet-brutally-honest discussion that we need, but there is publicity, and that’s a hell of a lot more than what most causes get.
In an interview with MSNBC Melina Abdullah (a Professor of Pan-African studies and BLM activist) argued that “…It’s really important that we take space whenever we can… it’s a matter of life and death…”
It’s hard to argue with that. Protest, as yours truly has argued before, is not supposed to be convenient for folks. Protest is supposed to be fundamentally disruptive- it’s where its power comes from.
That said, I don’t get up in the middle of a movie theater or a restaurant and start preaching to folks about the sins Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Nike are guilty of. I’m not saying they’re not culpable. I’m not saying these things shouldn’t be talked about. But my goal- in this case, anyways- is to win folks over. I don’t mind when a protest is harsh, I hate when they’re ineffective.
And we’re not just looking at ineffective here- we could be looking at something downright counterproductive.
This Is Just Getting Used By The Opposition
Like I said earlier, these protests have elicited a pretty big response from folks- most of it negative, some of it even openly racist and misogynistic. “Ghetto” was one of the words I kept seeing pop up- for the sake of decency and my own sanity, we won’t go into the others.
Point is, from a purely PR perspective this whole thing has been a nightmare for the protestors, and while their actions don’t seem to have been either condemned or commended by the greater BLM movement (I couldn’t find anything about it on their website or blog), they’re certainly going to encounter some backlash from this.
And the ****ed up thing is that it’s not even from the Sanders campaign. Bernie- love ‘im or hate ‘im- has seemed to be a pretty decent sport about all this. It’s from everywhere else in the political spectrum that the revulsion seems to be pouring in. People are trying to use this to discredit the movement as a whole, so swiftly forgetting the whole reason they even came together in the first place. Yeah, you might be getting some dirtbags to show their true colors, but again I gotta ask-
How Is This Helping?
Look, I’m a pretty piss-poor activist. For all my self-righteous indignation, each and every one of my attempts at activism has been a total failure. I know I’m not exactly in any position to dispense advice, but I’d be lying if I said any of this sat well with me.
Let’s say that Sanders is weak on the issue of police brutality and the plight of people of color in America. I am 100% open to that possibility- let’s not make false-idols of anyone, politicians especially. If that’s the reality, then why not establish a really strong case against ‘im? Something systematic. Maybe reach out to the Sanders campaign, and, if they reject ya (or try to buy time), slam him on that substantive accusation. Why not do a quick run-through of high-profile cases of police brutality in Sander’s home state of Vermont and see if he, as an elected official, spoke out or legislated against ’em?
Maybe that did happen. I just don’t know. And without that knowledge- without that presentation of this protest as a targeted and precise action- the whole thing seems just poorly-planned and poorly-executed.
That’s what seems- to me anyways- the biggest offense here. Not that protestors shut down a rally. Not that people are, in turn, labeling them with insults and slurs. Just that the whole thing was such a stupid mess.
Is this really the best we can do?
I hope not.