Protesting Bernie and Attaining Broader Politics

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.


  1. John Vincent August 17, 2015 7:39 pm 

    Expecting the BLM movement not to make any tactical mistakes would be unreasonable. Have they always made tactical mistakes in the past? No. Will they make some more in the future? No doubt. They, like everyone else, learns by doing and that requires making mistakes. Could BLM have done a better articulating their demands while confronting Sanders? Yes, they could have and hopefully they will learn from the experience. I agree with Michael, the right path is to help, not denigrate, and that requires some direct contact with the BLM movement.

    Is it wrong for BLM to disrupt Sanders rather than Jeb Bush or Scott Walker? Of the three presidential candidates who is most likely to give BLM a forum to express their goals and demands? Sanders would most likely be judged as the only one, and for that reason one could conclude that disrupting Sanders was the best option. But that should not exclude the possibility of disrupting Bush or Walker in the future. Perhaps it is unreasonable to assume Sanders is the only one, and, even if it were true, the results of disrupting Bush or Walker might have beneficial consequences.

    Is it undemocratic and disrespectful for BLM movement to disrupt a presidential candidate. I suppose it is, but so what? A white police officer who shoots an unarmed black youth is not being democratic and respectful, and this undemocratic and disrespectful behavior has been going on for a very long time with not a lot of vocalized outrage coming from the halls of the Senate or the Governors’ mansions. I suspect that if the BLM movement had always remained democratic and respectful they would not have gotten as far as they have. Besides, I think it is ordinary citizens who need to learn to become more vocal and start demanding that those running for political office show more respect for public opinion and democracy. Presidential candidates should be disrupted from time to time. It’s refreshing, and will get them off their prepared scripts so people can see better who they really are.

  2. Fred Bourgault-Christie August 17, 2015 5:16 pm 

    A reasonable and sober piece. BLM has done great work and I think they will continue to do so. And I think that the Sanders supporters can become more and more progressive over time.

    But I really think we on the Left have to actually think beyond just looking at consequences. Like Chomsky would say, we are responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions. And I just do not see any reasonable argument that BLM could have predicted that things went as well as they did.

    I view what BLM did as undemocratic and disrespectful. I think it opens them, and other left parties, up to others who want to hijack the podium.

  3. avatar
    Michael Albert August 17, 2015 2:03 pm 

    Haven’t seen the quote… What I would say is sure that is possible. Sure anything anyone proposes or tries can be envisioned to unfold in a barely beneficial or positively harmful manner…so?

    When something is happening, and it is large and has potential, by and large and most often the right course is either just to hope it turns out well – because one has better or more pressing things to do, or to help it turn out well. This applies to both BLM and the Sanders Campaign. I can very very easily spin out scenarios, quit plausible and even probably, for both, that end with little gained, if anything. So? Sometimes such scenarios that one can envision for a project are so overwhelmingly likely that one can quite reasonably say I hope that project disappears, or even I want to try to help it disappear and to warn everyone to stay away because there are much bette things to do which all those people can reasonably be expected to do, instead. Other times the odds of ill effects are much lower and the potential good effects offsetting, and, to boot, there is no reason at all to think all those involved are going to instead do something better.

    I would say, right now, whatever flaws they may have, both BLM and the Sanders campaign also have high potential benefits and the people giving their time are highly unlikely to be doing anything better anytime soon, instead, and so the right path is to hep, not denigrate and dismiss.

  4. avatar
    Jerry Fresia August 17, 2015 1:31 pm 

    Michael: Are you familiar with and/or agree with the critique of BLM leadership? – made by R.L. Stephens II: “Make no mistake, this Bernie Sanders hoopla is ultimately about campaign jobs and foundation funding, not emancipation for the masses. These interruptions will create career opportunities for a few activists and political operatives—the Black leadership desired by Tia and others—but, as with Ferguson, the masses of Black people will be unaffected.” http://bit.ly/1L5FYeu

    • John Goodr August 17, 2015 4:00 pm 

      Jerry, Most of us on the left are familiar with right-wing , racist thinking as well as the conspiracy theories and the nefarious ulterior motives of “those” people that is found in Stephens “critique”

      Michael has the perfect response to BLM .
      We agree with you even though you do not know that we on the left, through economic equity, are best able to bring racial equality and justice to the black community .

      The BLM people do not seem to understand this and going after Bernie Sanders first stands logic on its head.

      Personally, I was put off by their tactic of attacking someone who is a true friend of theirs .

      Bernie won’t be nominated by the wealthy whose money is USUALLY needed to run a winning nation-wide campaign and that will result in the Democrats having to go with the status quo candidate who does get their money.

      That status quo candidate is anyone of the other Repugs or Dems who will most surely ignore the BLM people once they have that nomination in hand.
      So sure, go after Bernie, the ONE friend you may have had in the White House .
      If he is a principled socialist, Bernie won’t hold BLM ‘s bad manners against them . Were he Donald Trump or Rick Perry or Christie or Cruz or Huckabee , BLM would be on the permanent fecal roster at any future White House. .

      Having participated in civil rights events back in the 70s I never thought I’d see the day when I would criticize a group working for racial justice.

      It’s not a good feeling.

      • Fred Bourgault-Christie August 17, 2015 5:15 pm 

        I would say that Michael, as a complementary holist, would certainly not view economic issues as necessarily dominant. Race should be dealt with on its own terms.

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