The Black Lives Matter (BLM) disruptions of Sander’s talks may conceivably have been unnecessary as many Sanders supporters think – that is, maybe Sanders would have elevated focus on race relations per se, not simply by way of economics, without the disruptions. But maybe not. And now he has, and the BLM will certainly and not unreasonably see that as a very positive result. The issue of police violence, and all the race dynamics behind it, is now prominent in the election campaigns, and well it should be. Black people are literally being shot down in the streets, regularly. It is not a noose being used, but the effects are similar on the direct victim, on the community, and also on those engaged and sitting by silently. If you watch and read the accounts – and are not outraged and seeking to find a way to act – how different is that than some white person donning Sunday finery and standing around a tree and celebrating a lynching?
But Sanders handled the dissent reasonably well, and no one is the worse for wear unless silly Sanders supporters hold a silly grudge counter to their campaign interests, good sense, and good ethics – or unless BLM members steal defeat from the jaws of victory by unnecessarily alienating allies, as was arguably initially done in Seattle, albeit reversibly.
Okay, BLM told Sanders, in essence, it is not enough to just have good economic policies. Ethically, politically, socially, and strategically you must also have good race policies especially dealing with crises of the moment. And BLM is right about that. And it doesn’t apply only to now, only to politicians. Any movement with any primary focus – class, gender, ecology, war – both to have and to retain its humanity and to appeal widely enough to win its own aims much less broader ones, needs to respect and support movements focusing on race. And any such movement should receive ideas and proposals from movements with a racial focus respectfully and thankfully, and, if there is disagreement, be open to debate and discussion. Movements focusing on economics and class, gender, ecology, and of war and peace, should, as well, avoid at all costs alienating Black and Latino audiences, which means being careful to take into account what those audiences are feeling and thinking, trying however imperfectly to walk in their shoes when communicating with them – which ought to be as much as possible.
The above is not debatable. It is true. In a calm, quiet, moment my guess is that everyone on the left would sincerely agree (which was not true a few decades back of a great many leftists, but that is then, and this is now). On the other hand, in an emotional, raucous moment, many would let defensive feelings and ill thought through commitments interfere with reason lashing out, feeling affronted, and so on. We have seen it all.
But now comes a little wrinkle. The reverse is true as well.
A movement that is primarily focused on race issues similarly needs to not only have good race politics, but also it ethically, politically, socially, and strategically needs to have good economic (gender, ecology, international) policies especially dealing with crises of the moment both to have and retain its humanity and to have any chance of winning and sustaining victories into more victories. Just as BLM raised a valid concern that the Sanders campaign should deal with, shouldn’t BLM likewise deal with being supportive of groups who are firstly focused on main priorities other than race?
There is another symmetry of a sort. BLM said to Sanders, and I assume they would and will say it to all campaigns, all projects, it isn’t enough, in fact it is barely anything, ultimately, to just say, oh, yes, I agree that Black Lives Matter. They say, instead, you have to have real policies, real programs, which demonstrate that commitment. And they are right about that, too.
But, in reverse, I don’t think BLM, which is ultimately a much more focused project than an electoral campaign, has to offer its own policies around everything one might bring up. It can simply support others where appropriate. But what about regarding the focus of its attention, the grotesque violence visited upon its community and the underlying causes of that violence – a kind of colonial status and a lack of community based power, as well as economic injustices. Doesn’t BLM need to have a set of policies it is demanding bearing on those relations? If it doesn’t, what makes it compelling, as time wears on, and how does it win, more to the point, if it isn’t clear what it is seeking to win?
My guess is such BLM policies/demands will be rooted in issues of community power and, in particular community control of police. They may also go further into the logic and practices not just of policing, but also of adjudication and punishment as well, where abuses are easily as rampant. Then Sanders, and all progressive movements, would have something very specific and compelling to seriously support, not with lip service – but with real demonstrations of militant support.
The main point in all this, at least that I can see, is to win – why else do we do any of this. And to win, we need movements that are truly powerful, informed, and mutually supportive. If that priority and an associated practice aimed at it can emerge from the BLM/Sanders Campaign interactions, then BLM’s effort will have had an incredibly valuable effect.
To make their maximal contributions both BLM and the Sanders campaign need to support not only each other but the full gamut of priorities that people of good will pursue. Each also needs to generate lasting, insightful, and steadfast democratic or better yet self managing organization. And each needs to have clear aims that remain in place and sought until they are won – then leading on to seeking even more aims, of course. These accomplishments will be a measure of achievement. Their absence would be disastrous for both projects.