By Angus Maguire (August 9, 2015)
I have a good number of friends going to see Bernie Sanders today in Portland. To those folks, especially #mywhitepeople, you might give some thought ahead of time about how you will act if #blacklivesmatter activists interrupt the event. I have no knowledge of plans to do so, but it seems like a pretty good bet.
I understand the impulse to frustration at the interruptions. When you have hope for justice, and basic change in this country, and you see a presidential candidate breaking out of the two-party narrative, talking about inequality and justice, it feels like a precious thing. It feels like something that should be upheld, and protected, and that everyone who has your kind of hope should learn to put aside differences, and work together for a better tomorrow. I feel that.
But I think we have to ask ourselves what we are afraid of. What are we afraid of losing in these interruptions? If you want Bernie to run, to make a difference, even to win, how do these interruptions take away from that? Who do you imagine will suddenly NOT vote for Bernie, because he’s been publicly called out on taking action on racism? Is there some demographic that is going to say “hey, Bernie’s not talking about race, let’s vote for Hillary” or “let’s vote for Jeb”? No. What this comes down to is this question: are black communities, and all those who have been shouting Black Lives Matter for the last year, going to get behind Bernie? The main response I see from white liberals to these interventions boils down to “Bernie is all you’ve got, he’s on the right side, so get in line.”
If you want unity, if you want a united left speaking out for justice and equality, then those who fashion themselves leaders are REQUIRED to be the bridge builders, are REQUIRED to do the work to show all the constituencies who are daily crushed under the heel of capitalism and racism that they are committed to each of these fights. #blacklivesmatter activists are not the problem here. Would-be leaders who assume the support of communities without addressing their issues are the problem. I don’t want to hear “Bernie marched for Civil Rights”. That literally doesn’t matter. The question is, “what is Bernie doing RIGHT NOW for racial justice?”. If he’s so great on racial justice, the answer shouldn’t be hard. And if the answer is hard, then why should I support him? This process, of calling Bernie out, of intervening in his appearances, is a process of accountability. If, as so many are quick to argue, Bernie is the voice of those fighting racism, then #blacklivesmatter activists are a constituency he has a duty to heed.
You might get the chance to make a choice today, to decide which side you are on. And the choice is not between Bernie and Black activists. The choice, today, is between two Bernies: the one that systemic racism and white supremacy wants in the conversation because he erases black lives and ignores structural racism, and the one that makes racial justice a priority, for ALL our sakes, because he’s been moved by the constituencies he claims to represent.
If you favor the latter, I hope you’ll act accordingly.