‘Black Lives Matter’ activists targeting Bernie Sanders: Agitantism or Democracy at work?

Over the weekend, ‘Black Lives Matter’ activists interrupted a second Bernie Sanders event, this time not allowing him to speak. While I appreciate the anger and passion of these activists, my first reaction was disappointment. I am still side-eyeing Sanders for his reaction at the Netroots Nation conference in Arizona last month but of all the Democratic candidates, Sanders is not at the top of my list for questioning about issues affecting African-Americans. On the other hand, it is mistake to assume leftist or progressivism innately benefits African-Americans.

After the interrupted Netroots Conference, many of Sanders’ white supporters (and some nonwhites) harshly criticized African-Americans for questioning Sanders’ commitment to racial justice because of his long history on civil rights and his open socialism.

With all due respect to Sanders’ record, as a young African-American voter, it means almost nothing to me right now. Because if the Civil Rights Movement solved everything, we would not be in the situation we are in, half a century later. Second, let’s look at Bernie Sanders’ record. Everyone knows he walked with MLK Jr, was present at his ‘I have a dream speech’ and has fought for civil rights for 50 years, including his career in the US Congress. But Sanders’ believes fixing income inequality will inherently resolve racial inequality–something that racial justice advocates strongly disagree with. Sanders clashed with his fellow activists in the 1960s over race being its own separate issue, and he is clashing with the present activist generation today for the same reason.

For African-Americans and other peoples of color, racism is the disease and economic inequality is the symptom. To deny this reality is to deny the crux of American history. America is a nation that was conceived in racism–this land was stolen from the Native Americans and built on the backs of American slaves. Jim Crow continued the systemic white privilege that affects American life to this day.

Third, a socialist US president will not inherently solve racism. Being a socialist does not preclude one from being a racist. Adolf Hitler was a socialist too and we know how he felt about race. The fact that many whites on the left do not understand that racism in America must be resolved as a separate issue is telling because it shows just how far the divide is between blacks and whites across the political spectrum.

It is no secret, voters of color will be critical in this election. African-Americans are historically a Democratic stronghold. But younger black voters are rightly questioning our loyalty to a party that has not produced much to our benefit. Neither Bernie Sanders nor Hilary Clinton, or any Democratic candidate is entitled to the black vote. They must earn it, and that is the underlying message.

Until the Netroots Nation conference, Sanders’s support was confined largely to whites. If he has any shot at the Democratic nomination let alone the general election, that has to change.

Yesterday morning I woke up to news that Sanders unveiled a platform on racial justice and his campaign hired Symone Sanders (no relation) an African-American criminal justice activist as its national press secretary. Later that day, racism was the first issue addressed Sanders’ 27,000 strong event at Staples’ Center.

So while many in Sanders’ base criticize BLM’s actions, it’s produced results. Little by little, Sanders is adjusting his platform. Isn’t this how democracy republicanism is supposed to work–the people dictate what the candidates represent?

On a personal note, I’d like to see Hilary Clinton and other candidates be the target of BLM’s fervor now. But BLM’s testy relationship with Sanders reveals a divide between whites and African-Americans, even among well-meaning whites.

America must come to terms with its racial history. Electing a president with an racially conscious platform is only the first step. But fully confronting racism involves whites and other groups discussing the uncomfortable. If this happens, America democracy republicanism will be better off for it.


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