EDITOR'S NOTE: CL Nicholson is an old friend of the blog. Today he makes his appearance as a contributor. Again, all apologies to him, as Spandan doesn't have him in our corral of writers yet. Even though this is under my byline, this is all his work.
Unless one has been living under a rock (or like most people, don’t follow politics on social media), you already know about Bernie vs. Black Live Matters 2: The Reckoning. For those have been vacationing under said stone, let’s recap:
1. On Saturday, August 8th, 2015, Bernie Sanders takes the stage for another large barn burner rally, in Seattle Washington.
2. Two local activists for the Black Lives Matter movement, Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford, took the stage and proceed to demand a moment of silence and for the Sanders to answer on specific tactics to address policy brutality and institutional racism.
3. As in the last speech, Sanders was all but silenced by the demonstrators; who were in turn insulted and threatened by the audience.
4. The Left, as it always does lined up on side: BLM activists and supporters were upholding the activists as heroes touting Sanders’ new stances on civil rights as proof of effectiveness while mainline progressives were shocked and appalled that once again, that young African American women would viscerally attack a renown progressive like Sanders.
As many who are on the TPV site for while may know that I was once highly involved in politics back in Nader campaign. I ran for office twice in my 20’s but left politics more or less for good in 2004. My lovely wife and my best friend here in California asked me often why I don’t go back. “You’re knowledgeable and you care, why aren’t you stepping up?”
Other than pursuing my career in technology, I point to action such as this interaction and vehemently point out, as Danny Glover did throughout ‘Lethal Weapon’ film series, “I’M TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT!” Essentially, the Black Lives Matter interaction with the Sanders campaign in the subsequent backlash is the reason why I walked away from local campaigning for good. I’m still a dye in the wool Liberal, but I’m also a pragmatist and a realist. I left politics because too many actors on the Left have no use for pragmatism. And this weekend shows many underlining flaws in the progressive movement.
The issues that I have with the interaction and the weeklong cat fight isn’t about taking sides. This post is not about whether one supports the Black Lives Matter Movement or whether one is fan of Bernie Sanders. This is to lay out issues that both sides of the argument that have been displayed that ultimately damage progressive causes, stifle movements and cause otherwise well-meaning people to walk away in a huff.
I. NO CAUSE IS SO JUST THAT A TACTIC IS ABOVE CRITICSM
Let’s start with something that is obvious – if you show up unannounced to events, halting activities and screaming about this or that cause, people are going to be angry with you, even if they may theoretically agree with you. It’s not fair, but that’s life. Ideally, non-black progressives should walk in arm step with BLM activists who simply want politicians not named Barack H. Obama, Jr. to pay attention to their issues. If people thought from a higher, more rational sense of self, one could quickly get over being inconvenienced and listen intently to the grievances of their fellow man.
But we live in the real world. The reality is that a normal gut reaction is that some rambunctious college kids yanked the microphone from a speaker you came to hear to yell and scream at you and call you names. You’re turned off to whatever these people are saying because, frankly, in that moment, their being limelight hogging jerks. I’m here to say, that’s okay - it’s called being human. So please, take a breath people. No matter the cause, nobody likes to be yelled at or their events interrupted. Sometimes it’s very necessary (I’ll get to that in a second) – but Black Lives Matters activists to be shocked or attack anyone who dare criticizes such guerrilla tactics as out of touch or ‘white-splaining’ doesn’t do the cause justice and shows political immaturity.
Too many good movements die on the vine because their leaders (or in the case of decentralized movements in the age of social media leaders of a particularly allied cell group) thought that street theatrics and ambushing was the only way to get their point across. Did the actions against O’Malley and Sanders move the needle further to the left? Yes. Did this cause people who typically don’t care about BLM or police brutality (Clinton, the GOP for a hot 30 seconds) to actually speak to the issues? Yes.
However, such tactics are not only aggravating, they have diminishing returns. For those of us who slept through college economics – diminished returns simply means you’re putting in more than you get out. In this case it’s rather simple, the more Black Lives Matter activists jump on stages and attempt to snatch microphones from public speakers or corner political candidates in vitriolic tirades, the more inoculated politicians and the media will become to the antics and will ignore eventually ignore the activists and the cause. For an example, look no further than Occupy Wall Street and Code: Pink.
In 2011, all people could talk about was Occupy Wall Street – young millennial activists who were taking to the street and protesting THE MAN. They were popping up everywhere, challenging bankers and the politicians who loved them. Income inequality was in the mainstream. Now, only four years later, no talks about OWS without snickering about dirty Neo-hippies squatting in parks. This is mostly because OWS insisted on screaming down speakers who didn’t agree with them 100% to the point where Occupy Wall Street booed John Lewis. Huh? Yes you read that right – Occupy Wall Street was too pure for John Lewis, the guy who’s been campaigning for the downtrodden for so long and so successfully, he’s practically a superhero. If there’s a man in DC who should have more street cred than Sanders among progressives it’s Lewis – he’s one of the few remaining lieutenants to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But there it is in Black and White – young activists shunning one of the great civil rights icons off the stage. Now, Occupy Wall Street is a punchline more than a belief system.
As for Code: Pink, it saddens me because I actually know some of their members. I met the founder of the movement, Medea Benjamin back in 2004. Back in that time, people were all abuzz with protesting the war and demilitarization. Medea was a serious power player on the Left. But instead of moving their strategies off the street and into the board rooms and state houses – Code: Pink became as predictable as snow in Alaska. Now, you can almost set your watch to where and when Code: Pink activists are going to show up and perform political theater of painting themselves red and pretending to be dead Syrians. And by ‘predict’ - I mean being ignored and mocked by even their allies and policy makers in general.
I bring up these two examples but I can run down a list of others – A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, Anti-globalization movement, PETA, the Earth Liberation Front. All these movements spawned from real concerns about the world – all these movements have either died out or are mostly ignored now partly because they favored theatrics over policy and long term strategy. I don’t want to see that happen to Black Lives Matter.
II. SOMETIMES, A CAUSE IS SO IMPORTANT THAT YOU HAVE TO UNWILLINGLY SACRIFICE COMFORT
As I said that breaking things and yelling and scream at allies is a politically dangerous gambit than can kill a movement. It should only be used a last resort, because it’s such a gambit. But, for people of color, IT IS THE LAST RESORT. Most of the activists yelling at these events aren't old hippies talking about esoteric nonsense like the NSA or GMO's. Its Black people, Latinos and LGBTQ - communities with bullseyes on our backs. We're being rude because our issues are literally life and death.
Right now, Black Lives Matter is forcing Americans to deal with a sickening reality for Black people - the possibility that we may be killed by people who are paid to protect us from actual criminals because of the color of our skin. When Jennicet Gutierrez interrupted the President’s speech during a Marriage Equality celebration, she wasn’t particularly aiming to aggravate partygoers. Her aim wasn’t to simply disrupt the President, it was to call issue to the massive abuse Trans women suffer in our backwards immigration policy. She spoke from a place of terrifying reality - as a Trans woman and undocumented immigrant, she could be thrown into an ICE detention center and raped. If a woman screams at politician about campus rape - I might think she's rude in the moment but I am not mad at her. Yes, we can objectively say that the #BLM protesters were being disruptive after watching the video. But, in this life or death struggle – they see no choice but to be disruptive.
III. NO CANDIDATE IS SO PERFECT THAT THEY CAN’T BE BETTER:
My main critique of the BLM’s paratrooper style campaigning is that it’s initially off-putting and over time become fodder. That said, most of my critique has to do with the members of the establishment Left whom seem hell-bent on telling these kids to shut up and sit down. My complaint is twofold. First, there is a reason why Sanders got screamed down twice by activists in the Black Lives Matter movement – he all but ignored civil rights matters up until he encountered BLM at Net Roots. Numerous reporters asked Sanders about civil rights and addressing police brutality, he danced around the issue and refocused on income inequality.
Look I care about income inequality. I have family members who can’t get out of debt because they work crummy jobs that won’t allow them to build and save. But I have a fancy college degree and never made less than 60K per year since I was 25 – that hasn’t stop cops from harassing me on the street or quell the fear in my heart when I see police sirens behind me. Some issues out trump (no pun intended) having money in my pocket.
Forget the overall moral imperative – its unfathomably stupid not to address the issues of a core constituency when the White House is up for grabs. Sanders, Clinton and O’Malley built platforms that didn’t directly address the grievances of the Democratic Party’s most consistent voting bloc. GOP primary debate dedicated more time to grade school theology than Black Lives Matter. Why? Because most Republican primary voters are Evangelical Christians. The fact that people who hope to take Obama’s place as Democratic standard-bearer all but ignored civil rights issues until a bunch of angry college kids had to berate them at press junkets is baffling, if not outright
Obama’s actions on civil rights and liberal issues in general are commendable, no question. The fact people thinking they’re going to replace this man without having his legacy is laughable.
However, even Obama, whose record on the issue of race is above reproach by any logical standard of politics, still has salty activists out there who demands he does more. If this man, who has was attacked for even recognizing that he is own Blackness and sympathizing with angry terrified young people, can be criticized for not doing enough for Black people – what makes anyone think some old white guy from Vermont, a former governor who’s actions on policing lead to Baltimore riots or a former first lady whose husband oversaw one of the largest mass incarceration increases in modern history, are above criticism?
Did none of these politicians think they didn’t have a platform to address a population subset that supports Democratic candidates over 90% and vital to any liberal victory? Good grief, what other oppressed minority did these supposedly progressive people ignore? Latinos and undocumented immigrants? Gays? Women?
None of these candidate can turn bread into wine, walk on water or raise dead people. So since I’m not praying to anyone in these politicians when I go to church on Sunday, they can be criticized and pushed. So stop with the whining.
IV. NO CANDIDATE IS PERFECT, SO STOP EXPECTING PERFECTION.
This Bernie Sanders/BLM fiasco brought the infamous circle figuring squad/political kamikaze that has become the standard on the Left. Whether it’s the so-called “Professional Left” sitting home and failing to organize for two midterm elections, Black progressives making threats to stay home in the general – there is an attitude on the Left’s many, many factions that “If I don’t get 100% - I’ll take everyone down with me”.
Again this criticism isn’t about Sanders or BLM, per se. This isn’t even about millennials or Twitter. Frankly, this is a criticism that many Obama supporters have been yelling about for over six years and people have been making about the Left never having its act together since the 1968 democratic convention in Chicago. There is a nasty habit of purity trolling on the Left. There seems to be an absolute need among progressive factions to demand everyone does what they say, follow their prescribed shibboleth and only speak their deemed leaders or else. Look no one’s going to get your particular brand of outrage right 100% of the time except you and your circle of activists. But many factions on the Left love to make purity test that are as arbitrary as they are pointless.
No one’s going to get 100% of what they want all the time – or ever. And frankly getting 70% of what you want is a lot better than not getting anything. So please stop screaming on Twitter how you’re not going to support XYZ Democrat because they’re not fully on your side about something or that there’s always someone more pure and more progressive over the hill. There isn’t. And throwing your vote away on the Magical Unicorn Party and the Crazy Cat Lady is little better than staying home. With the stakes this high, a protest vote is a wasted vote. Because anyone offering 100% of what you want is almost never in a position to give you a tenth of that.
This essay serves as no be all end all on progressive politics. Unlike many bloggers and Podcaster, I actually have a day job I enjoy for the most part and have no real interest in the cat fights and shouting matches that seem encapsulate activist culture, regardless of cause. I hope this essay lays out why many progressives sit quietly and sulk as we watch another prolonged turf battle among people who have a common enemy. But what do I know? I'm just another jerk writing a think piece