By Doug Porter
The Big News this morning (Hey, it’s August!) is a poll showing Senator Bernie Saunders leading by six points over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.
This news has got be some sweet irony for Sanders supporters, coming the day after the high priests of polling at FiveThirtyEight.com declared “The Bernie Sanders Surge Appears to Be Over.”
Today I’ll take a look at the Bernie Sanders candidacy, warts and all. While the campaign appears to soaring in some circles, a significant cry of “Hey, wait a minute!” has emerged. How the man and his campaign deal with #BlackLivesMatter may be the real Big News of 2015 politics.
There can be no doubt about it. The candidacy of a socialist Senator from Vermont has sparked a ‘movement’.
This term conveys more than enthusiastic support for his political program; it’s an emotional response to a landscape seemingly devoid of hope for the future. Movement means a connectedness with others bridging the gaps of alienation and solitude in modern society. The “Feel” in the hashtag/slogan is as important as the candidate.
Other candidates have tapped this reservoir of angst in the past. In my lifetime I’ve seen Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Ron Paul and Barack Obama benefit from it to some degree. It’s a larger-than-life sense that, no matter what anybody says, [fill in the blank] will find a way to do the right thing.
A story in today’s Washington Post noting that over 100,000 people have attended rallies for Sanders gives a sense of the momentum his supporters believe will power the candidacy past the naysayers and gatekeepers of the established order in the Democratic Party.
The overflow crowds showing up to hear Bernie Sanders these days are a testament not only to his current popularity and the campaign’s social-media savvy but also to the promotional abilities of an alchemy of like-minded interests: progressive activists, labor unions and even Sarah Silverman.
The comedian took to Twitter to let her nearly 6.7 million followers know she would be at a rally for the Democratic presidential hopeful here Monday. That event drew an estimated 27,500 people — about five times as large as any crowd that has turned out for Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“Bernie always seems to be on the right side of history,” Silverman told the boisterous audience at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, noting that the 73-year-old was a civil rights activist in the 1960s, supported gay rights in the 1980s and strongly opposed the Iraq war before most other Americans.
The Los Angeles Rally for Bernie
More than 27,000 people attended the Sanders for President rally on Monday in Los Angeles. Hillary Clinton’s largest event to date drew 5,500 people. I doubt that any of the other candidates from the left could draw 500.
Here’s a snip from the Los Angeles Times coverage of Monday’s rally:
They stood in a line that stretched for blocks around the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, eager for a glimpse of the star attraction: a sometimes cantankerous 73-year-old with unruly white hair and a populist message.
“Feel the Bern!” they chanted. “Bernie! Bernie!”
The object of their desire was Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate whom pundits give no chance of winning the nomination but who has touched a nerve in what has otherwise been a low-key Democratic contest.
The crowd boomed in agreement as Sanders took the stage for an hour. He talked about criminal justice reform, income inequality and immigration. He railed against Wall Street greed and laid out his plan to raise the federal minimum wage and make public universities tuition-free.
Glowing press accounts of the campaign’s energy always include the obligatory “pundits say he doesn’t have a chance” disclaimer. Maybe I missed the memo.
And, predictably–if you understand how this is a Movement–his supporters take to social media to complain about what they see is a lack of coverage.
It reminds me of the Ron Raul campaigns, both in the style of the coverage and the naivete of the fan base.
An Irresistible Force Meets…
A few weeks ago activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted the Netroots annual gathering of liberal and progressive activists in Phoenix Arizona. They took the stage during what was supposed to be a forum featuring Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, demanding answers about what the candidates would do to stop the deaths of black people at the hands of police.
Both candidates squirmed a bit, with Sanders offering to leave the stage and O’Malley falling into the rhetorical trap of saying “All Lives Matter,” a term frequently used by apologists for law enforcement misconduct.
What was more significant was the reaction of many in the the crowd: anger and disgust.
How dare ‘these people’ disrupt our program! Don’t they know we’re the only allies they have? Yadda, yadda.
The immovable object, being [mostly] black women of #BlackLivesMatter who believe they are fighting for the lives of their families, sent the irresistible force of white progressive activism into a tailspin.
Imandi Gandi, writing at the Angry Black Lady Chronicles, described it this way following the disruption of a Sanders appearance before a pro-social security rally in Seattle:
The last few weeks have exposed some real ugliness in the progressive movement, ugliness that has been simmering just below the surface for a long time, but which, due to Black women’s increasing recognition of our political power coupled with leadership in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and unapologetic commitment to dismantling white supremacy, has erupted into a fountain of White Progressive™ racism.
She goes on to elucidate on the actions of various supposedly Progressives towards Black activists in recent weeks.
Sanders’ fanatics have been viciously harassing Black people on Twitter and Facebook for weeks now—ever since the #BlackLivesMatter activists stood up during the presidential town hall at Netroots Nation and demanded that Sanders provide substantive answers about what he would do about the epidemic of police violence in the Black community.
In the wake of that protest, Sanders supporters took to Twitter to condescend, patronize, and belittle Black people, talking to us as if we are stupid and don’t know what’s best for us, and therefore should listen to our White Progressive ™ betters lest we usher in a Trump presidency or a Clinton presidency or whomever is the Boogey Man du jour.
These supporters have twisted and perverted what is a movement about the liberation of Black people and turned it into a weapon to be used against us. They threaten to withdraw their support in protesting state violence against Black people. One Twitter user frankly told me that he was sick of #BlackLivesMatter and would actually vote for people who will “put you in your place.”
Sanders Reacts Like a Grown Up
To his credit, Sanders has responded, issuing a Racial Justice Platform and including speakers from black and immigration rights groups in his Los Angeles program.
The Sanders platform starts out:
We must pursue policies that transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of its people of color. That starts with addressing the four central types of violence waged against black and brown Americans: physical, political, legal and economic.
Whether or not his supporters can catch up to the man remains in question.
Let’s return to Angry Black Lady Chronicles:
None of this would have happened if not for the #BlackLivesMatter protesters.
The #BlackLivesMatter activists are changing the political conversation. Black women are flexing our political muscles. And it is obvious that Bernie Sanders and the progressive infrastructure is listening.
The only people who continue to stalwartly refuse to listen are his fanatical supporters.
They stubbornly continue to claim that the protests are stupid and counterproductive despite clear evidence to the contrary, and they express their displeasure in rhetoric steeped in racism and misogynoir.
But…But…But… What About Hillary?
The other big candidate in this race for the Democratic nomination has her own set of baggage, mostly in the legacy of mass incarceration from the nineties.
She also has the history of actual working relationships with Black social (Deltas, etc) and civil rights groups.
But her day is here. A group of activists zeroes in on a Clinton rally in Keene, New Hampshire this week.
From the New Republic:
…the activists found the entrances closed by U.S. Secret Service who said the venue was at capacity. Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who was in contact with the five activists, later told the New Republic that the activists were eventually let into an “overflow room.” Following the event, Clinton met with the group for about 15 minutes in a private meeting that they claim turned contentious at times, and featured Clinton giving unsolicited advice for the direction of the movement.
The group’s remarks and questions varied a bit from the script they prepared, which focused on criminal justice policies Clinton had supported while her husband was president, but not in tone. “I asked specifically about her and her family’s involvement in the War on Drugs at home and abroad, and the implications that has had on communities of color and especially black people in terms of white supremacist violence,” Yancey told me in an interview after the meeting. “And I wanted to know how she felt about her involvement in those processes.”
Asked whether Clinton actually proposed policies in the meeting, Jones said, “Not that I recall, no. In fact, I know that she didn’t because she was projecting that what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do is X,Y, and Z—to which we pushed back [to say] that it is not her place to tell the Black Lives Matter movement or black people what to do, and that the real work doesn’t lie in the victim-blaming that that implies. And that was a rift in the conversation.” Jones said that the meeting concluded without any aggression, and that the meeting was “respectful.”
More to Come on Sanders, Clinton and the Rest of the Democrats
I’m sure to get emails and comments about what wasn’t covered in this column. There are policy and position differences to be discussed. And we will.
Trust me, I’ll have lots more to say.
Here’s where I stand at this moment in time…
My heart yearns for Bernie, but my head says the nominee should be Clinton. My sense of history says that its a good thing for the issues related to racism to come to the fore, especially at this point in the campaign.
Pragmatically speaking, the votes of Black women are the ones who’ve made a big difference if not THE difference in recent presidential campaigns. Any political party wanting to succeed in the 21st century is going to have to confront issues of injustice fostered by racism.
The racism of the 21st century is not embodied by gap-toothed yahoos flying the battle flags of the Confederacy; it’s about mass incarceration, economic deprivation and the lack of a way out of a world where people of color are instinctively seen as “the other.”
Like I said, I’ll have lots more to say.
On This Day: 1992 – Negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement—NAFTA—were concluded between the United States, Canada and Mexico, to take effect in January, 1994, despite protests from labor, environmental and human rights groups. 1994 – Major league baseball players went on strike rather than allow team owners to limit their salaries. The strike lasted for 232 days. As a result, the World Series was wiped out for the first time in 90 years. 2004 – The California Supreme Court voided the nearly 4,000 same-sex marriages that had been sanctioned in San Francisco earlier in the year.
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