Bernie, interrupted

A little over a month ago, I wrote about Jennicet Gutiérrez’ disruption of a White House Pride event, relating it to a few seemingly isolated events happening at the same time in our ongoing culture wars — namely, a California Superior Court decision that preemptively struck down a ballot initiative inciting violence against queer people, and the growing movement to remove the Confederate Flag from public places across the South. I wasn’t quite explicit, but the overarching theme I meant to reflect on was how, for many Americans, this is still a culture of death, and active resistance is both vital and necessary.

Marriage equality may now be a reality, but our most “liberal” state very nearly voted on whether to execute all gay people. Fifty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, voting rights are under a sustained attack as a symbol of unrepentant hate flies over public lands. (Not to even mention the ever-rising body count of unaccountable, out-of-control police). As our President celebrated a victory for gay rights, LGBT asylees — and trans* refugees in particular — languish in federal detention centers, many in solitary confinement.

I was glad to see Jennicet Gutiérrez call him out on it, even as a person who has sympathetic — if not mixed — feelings about President Obama.

What really stood out for me about that incident, however, was the way a well-employed, well-positioned group of DC insiders hissed and booed at a grassroots activist taking direct action in their midst. I feel extraordinarily — ew — watching people take selfies with Obama and chanting his name, silencing Ms. Gutiérrez as the President says to her: “Shame on you.”

Not a good look for a Pride celebration, in this writer’s far from humble opinion.

So, that said, it was like a flashback watching the video of and reading some of the responses to Bernie Sanders being interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters in Seattle this Saturday.

I found two different videos of the disruption: one, as it happened, the other, once the activists were allowed to speak. The very beginning of each provides an interesting contrast. Where Bernie begins by saying “thank you Seattle for being one of the most progressive cities in the United States of America,” Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford begin by reminding everyone that they are on stolen Indian land.

They go on to talk about police brutality in Seattle specifically, the school-to-prison pipeline, gentrification, and the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death: topics unlikely to be found among Senator Sanders’ talking points.

Even as a tentative Bernie supporter, I have to say that I support the protesters in this instance. Ever since the disruption at Bernie’s Netroots Nation appearance last month, the Sanders campaign’s most adamant “supporters” have aggressively berated Black activists online about his civil rights record and history of organizing with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The phenomenon became so endemic that some Twitter users responded with the hashtag #BernieSoBlack, mocking — again — his supporters for the most part, and not necessarily the candidate himself. Just run a Twitter search for “Bernie supporters” or any variant. The comments are, by and large, very negative.

Black Lives Matter protestors in Seattle, screenshot via YouTube

Black Lives Matter protestors in Seattle, screenshot via YouTube

In keeping with that image of Bernie supporters, the crowd’s response to the disruption was at times quite ugly. And, looking at the press release issued by Black Lives Matter Seattle, it is clear that the intended audience of this action was Sanders’ audience: “while we are drowning in their liberal rhetoric, we have yet to see them support 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.” They called for Sanders to release a criminal justice reform platform, which he promptly did the day after the incident.

All things considered, that sounds like a successful action. Even if Sanders had been planning on releasing that segment of his platform later, they kept the pressure on him to take a stand in the here and now, and he listened.

The question is really whether his supporters will listen. I began this post by recapping just some of the ways that this society is still openly hostile to many of those who are not straight, white, able-bodied, and/or cis-gendered. It can be hard to reconcile that fact with truth that this President has been largely successful in implementing aspects of the broader liberal agenda. Or that fact with the reality this is also the same country where Donald Trump is ahead in the Republican primaries.

Our atavistic devotion to presidential politics is not very helpful in that regard.

The funny thing is — aside from Jill Stein, who is far more serious than any of the Republicans — Bernie is the one candidate who’s talking about the need for a mass social movement to create what he often calls a “political revolution” in this country. Which is to say, this campaign isn’t about him; it’s about the people who elect him building a coalition to maintain pressure on the political class to enact their desired reforms. A lot of presidential candidates have said that, though. Bernie is solid on the issues but he needs to open up his campaign to the movements, not just by meeting with them either but by amplifying their voices and more.

Over the weekend I read an interesting essay on the Black Lives Matter movement one year out, written by a person whose parents were in the Black Panthers when she was a young girl. This particular argument really stood out for me:

From the 1970s ‘culture of poverty’ theories to the mass criminalisation of black communities in the 1980s and 1990s, black people have long been the subjects or objects of debate. This moment of direct action, however, rejects the forcible control of black racial identity, political power and economic position through biased and brutal policing. Instead, it casts black people as the leading protagonists in a story about race, power and resistance where we are both character and author.

Alternatively, Feminista Jones, a writer and social worker from New York City, put it this way:


James Neimeister is a freelance writer from Ohio. His interests include: Russia, Ukraine, education, technology, and "cyberspace."

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  • It wasn’t the “f” word that the automatic filter didn’t like, it was the “n” word. Certain words trigger the filtering software on the site.

  • hauksdottir

    It is posted now. Thank you.

    Those of us who marched, sat-in, rallied against the Vietnam war-for-profit loathe these outside agitators. Four students at Kent State, four kids my age, were murdered when one of these cowards called “fire!” and scuttled. Agitators have disrupted too many movements, too many causes, from war to civil rights to the environment.

    True believers may be even more frightening than paid operatives. However, the only way to deal with either kind of vermin is to find their nest.

  • Moderator3

    I can honestly say I don’t know.

  • hauksdottir

    Into moderation again? WHY?

  • 2karmanot

    Got it! :-)

  • I completely concur. When you slap someone in the face and call them names it doesn’t make them want to help you. In fact it may generate hostility towards the very issues you want solved.

  • Butch1

    He happens to be the only one running who isn’t an Oligarch or supported by one. I find that refreshing. That gives the people hope.

    The last time I checked there are more 99% er’s than Oligarch 1% er’s. That would logically mean that they he DOES have a chance. All money does is pay for more advertising; I would hope it doesn’t buy elections.

  • Butch1

    These two turned out to be agent provocateurs. The loud mouth at the microphone was a Sarah Palin sympathizer and hates progressives as it turns out. She used the “Black Lives Matter” movement as a conduit to be able to push her real agenda which was to stop Sanders from speaking. She went on to try and lecture the crowd on why she thinks Seattle is too progressive a town. That didn’t go over well at all and the crowd was yelling “Let Bernie Sanders speak!” She then called them “White Supremacist Pigs” or something on that order. I went to her site to check her out and that was how I found out about her background. A day later more was found out from the BLM that those two AREN’T even members of their organization and they told them they should apologize the Sanders for their rudeness.

  • Baal

    “Self-Determination is the most powerful tool Black people have. Please
    stop trying to take that away from us with your benevolence.”

    Seriously. W. T. F.

  • Well said !

  • Let me put it bluntly.

    1. Bernie Sanders will never be President .
    2. The American’s uncanny ability to shoot the one guy in the leaking boat who has the cork is breathtaking
    3. Whatever the motive of the protesters , they are managing to derail a campaign by a Social Democrat who if anyone has ever read his history , has been on the side of the little guy much much more than anyone else running even wants to think about.
    4. He frightens the people who own the country
    5. Therefore , Bernie Sanders will never be President.

  • Left_Brains

    James, you almost had me until the very middle of this entry. I’m at a loss for why these responses keep surfacing on media sites and blogs, but ok, it’s your take. It’s like an awkward attempt to placate a small portion of disruptive, frentetic radicals, because what, somehow the lowest common denominator of all angry protesters always has to set the tone for the entire movement? Of course a measure of anger can be helpful; it’s not like white America are the ones having to experience latent, institutionalized racism, sometimes from the police. But if the goal is to shed better light on how we’re somehow forever missing the mark on continued police brutality, to enable “multiple sets of tactics, working in tandem” for “truth-telling” as a Huff Post writer put it, then why do these have to be uncannily disruptive? Divisive? If so, WHY, out of the legions of events for wealthy aristocrats, war hawks, big pharma lobbyists and obstructionist politicians who make all our lives harder everyday, does Bernie Sanders need to be the one to shout at, scream at and literally steal a hard-worked speaking event from? These women have every right to be angry, and I cannot speak to the experiences they’ve had leading up to feeling the need to scream at a bunch of unsuspecting, mostly white people, just to call them liberal white supremacists. If they honestly feel that way, fine. Good luck starting an honest conversation with America at large by calling them names. They at least got their chance to speak. Great. But they didn’t stop there. And it’s not as if he would have never gotten the memo to further embrace BLM or racial justice reform without their taking hostage of his event (supporting benefits for the elderly, btw). If this movement really is as big as all of us, then why are writers appeasing a small group of negativists who essentially just drove a segregating sword through a crowd that wanted to support BLM? Why are we moping on and on with these opinion pieces in which folks literally praise disruption of any form? Ok. But disruption of whom? Bernie marched-on-Washington Sanders? This is not how minds are changed. I certainly hope media outlets stop fearing reality and learn that their grievances may be mostly warranted, but their tactics were definitely not. And no, everyone, this isn’t about my white-privilege sensibilities or somehow stifling the voices of those affected. Just ask many of the black movers and shakers of the movement for racial justice.

    p.s- There are plenty of ways to combat egregious violence-inciting law proposals, LGBT inequality, symbols of historic hate in our public govt spaces, and call better attention to racial blind spots in politics other than storming stages to spite your allies.

  • Left_Brains

    James, you almost had me until the very middle of this entry. I’m at a loss for why these responses keep surfacing on media sites and blogs, but ok, it’s your take. It’s like an awkward attempt to placate a small portion of disruptive, frentetic radicals, because what, somehow the lowest common denominator of all angry protesters always has to set the tone for the entire movement? Of course a measure of anger can be helpful; it’s not like white America are the ones having to experience latent, institutionalized racism, sometimes from the police. But if the goal is to shed better light on how we’re somehow forever missing the mark on continued police brutality, to enable “multiple sets of tactics, working in tandem” for “truth-telling” as a Huff Post writer put it, then why do these have to be uncannily disruptive? Divisive? If so, WHY, out of the legions of events for wealthy aristocrats, war hawks, big pharma lobbyists and obstructionist politicians who make all our lives harder everyday, does Bernie Sanders need to be the one to shout at, scream at and literally steal a hard-worked speaking event from? These women have every right to be angry, and I cannot speak to the experiences they’ve had leading up to feeling the need to scream at a bunch of unsuspecting, mostly white people, just to call them liberal white supremacists. If they honestly feel that way, fine. Good luck starting an honest conversation with America at large by calling them names. They at least got their chance to speak. Great. But they didn’t stop there. And it’s not as if he would have never gotten the memo to further embrace BLM or racial justice reform without their taking hostage of his event (supporting benefits for the elderly, btw). If this movement really is as big as all of us, then why are writers appeasing a small group of negativists who essentially just drove a segregating sword through a crowd that wanted to support BLM? Why are we moping on and on with these opinion pieces in which folks literally praise disruption of any form? Ok. But disruption of whom? Bernie marched-on-Washington Sanders? This is not how minds are changed. I certainly hope media outlets stop fearing reality and learn that their grievances may be mostly warranted, but their tactics were definitely not. And no, everyone, this isn’t about my white-privilege sensibilities. Just ask many of the black movers and shakers of the movement for racial justice.

    p.s- There are plenty of ways to combat egregious violence-inciting law proposals, LGBT inequality, symbols of historic hate in our public govt spaces, and call better attention to racial blind spots in politics other than storming stages to spite your allies.

  • nicho

    Huge difference between ACT UP and these Outside Agitator 206 nuts. ACT UP was necessary because most Americans either didn’t know — or care — anything about the epidemic. There is a tremendous amount of concern about police violence on blacks. There is temendous support from the various comunities. The ACT UP style tactics aren’t necessary. What’s needed is a way to bring together people who are concerned to reach a solution — not a program to antagonize them and drive them away. That’s exactly what the Outside Agitator 206 operatives did, operating under the false flag of BLM.

  • mtiffany

    “lax environmental law enforcement puts people of color at greater risk” And the poor and people of color are disproportionately more likely to live in areas with high levels of pollution. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/10452037/ns/us_news-environment/t/minorities-suffer-most-industrial-pollution/#.VcpTyPn8t8E
    And that could be fixed by letting the EPA enforce its regulations, but that won’t result in a book deal or TV appearances for those nice ladies that interrupted Sanders in Seattle so they won’t be agitating for that…

  • mtiffany

    “They go on to talk about police brutality in Seattle specifically, the school-to-prison pipeline, gentrification, and the anniversary of Mike Brown’s death: topics unlikely to be found among Senator Sanders’ talking points.”

    Sanders did address the death of Mike Brown, and the school-to-prison pipeline, and the militarization of the police. And he did it last fucking year: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/citing-crisis-in-ferguson-sanders-to-propose-youth-jobs-bill

    Do facts not matter to you?

  • Indigo

    That’s what happened and that’s unfortunate.

  • Indigo

    All politicians get interrupted eventually, that’s fine. I’m more concerned about shopping-list analysis than I am about interruptions. Looking for candidate A with p, d, q, and x on the issues list is a self-negating exercise. If p, d, q, and x are must-haves on the platform, go ahead and start campaigning. There’s no sense waiting for somebody else to come up with that list.

  • Rational
  • nicho

    Black Lives Matter is a cynical cover for a completely different agenda. They have hijacked concern over violence against blacks and are using it for a completely different program.

    And when did the leaders of BLM apologize? The last I read, the woman who claims to be the national leader said she supported the assault on Bernie and told critics to “cut the shit,” or words to that effect.

    All I know is that this old, white liberal, who marched for racial justice 50 years ago, wouldn’t go within a mile of a BLM rally. There’s something fishy about that group.

  • Rational

    What would happen if a group of environmental activists showed up to protest and disrupt a politicians rally that was dedicated to the BLM movement?
    Equal justification lax environmental law enforcement puts people of color at greater risk, it is an unaddressed issue and it is costing poor communities theie health and the future of the children.
    Now lets ensure that the person leading that “protest” had a quote on their facebook page stating how someone had known them since they had a “Drill, Baby, Drill” button and complaining about how the Koch Brothers did not hire and groom them .
    People would be outraged at the cynical manipulation of an important issue to torpedo a rally addressing BLM.
    So why is it that the speaker who hijacked a Sanders rally who talks of wearing a Palin button, complaining that the R’s didn’t hire them and is a nutcase christianist dominants ( but I am being redundant) is not being held to account.
    Kudos to the true leaders of BLM who apolagized to Sanders and asked that this mole step up and does the same.

  • James led off this post expressing support for Jennicet Gutierrez’s protest for trans and immigrant rights. I think it’s safe to say Black Lives Matter isn’t the only one.

  • 2karmanot

    This brouhaha is still simmering at full throttle on the Internets. I totally agree with BLM’s ACT UP tactics and the stick poking at arm chair Cabernet liberals. What I find outrageous is the lack of political acumen in the actions of Marissa Johnson and Mara Willafor, who are demonstrability incapable of tactical maturity or solid leadership. The idea of attacking Sanders, who is the ONLY true leftist advocating for a wide range of humanist changes in our currently roiling oligarchy, is bad news. These young activists could have chosen any number of Republicans or even the sainted Hills, but no, they went where our major ally stands for us and interrupted with their sophomoric acting out, thus proving that Black Lives Irritate. Good work girls. Now get the F’ off my lawn. #ACT UP emeritus.

  • andyou

    Thousands of people were there to hear Bernie Sanders speak about Social Security. What other causes would you be okay with being disruptive? Or is Black Lives Matter the only one? Do you have a list?

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