On Saturday, Bernie Sanders came to Seattle for a fundraiser and rally. At the rally at Westlake Park to celebrate the 80th birthday of Social Security, two Black Lives Matter protesters took the stage, and the microphone, and demanded to be heard. Their disruption led to boos from the crowd and some calls for their arrest, as well as the end of the rally.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening, social media was in an uproar over the actions of these two women. Many stated that the women were just hurting the #BLM cause, others wondered why Sanders was targeted and not other candidates. Some claimed that the women were plants paid by the Clinton campaign to stir up trouble.
The reaction to these protesters shed light on the hidden Seattle that most black people know well — the Seattle that prefers politeness to true progress, the Seattle that is more offended by raised voices than by systemic oppression, the Seattle that prioritizes the comfort of middle-class white liberals over justice for people of color.
Many black people in Seattle have long felt the racial divide that the city tries so hard to ignore. Regardless of whether or not you think that the protests could have been carried out differently, the local reaction to them shows why they are so very necessary.
Why target Bernie Sanders?
There a couple of very likely reasons why Sanders is getting the most vocal protests right now. He’s the most accessible, and the candidate who claims to be listening. Even in his response to the protesters he said “on criminal-justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.” If that’s the claim that he’s making, then he should welcome the words of black people.
But this event wasn’t about Black Lives Matter.
People are dying in the streets. 1 in 3 black men born today will likely see prison. For us, everything is about Black Lives Matter.
Disruption and riots aren’t how you accomplish change.
How do you think change has been accomplished throughout history? What do you think the Boston Tea Party was? What about the Montgomery Bus Boycott? Even looking at the changes in Ferguson this past year you can see that disruption can lead to change. If saying “please” and waiting patiently led to change, we’d have seen it a long time ago.
You’re turning away people who would support your cause.
Really? Two protesters got on stage and interrupted your chance to hear a candidate speak and now you don’t believe in racial justice and ending police brutality? Sounds like you didn’t really believe in it to begin with. You don’t have to like people to believe in equality. You don’t have to approve of someone’s methods in order to support racial justice. You either believe in equality and justice or you don’t. There aren’t preconditions on this.
But Bernie is your best chance for progress. If you don’t support him, someone worse will win.
Black people have been held hostage by this threat for decades. But we have a black man in the white house right now and we still have black blood running in the streets, the school to prison pipeline is still going strong, and white people still have 13 times the wealth of black people. Staying quiet and hoping for some trickle-down progressivism to make its way down to us hasn’t worked out too well for us.
But Bernie Sanders marched with MLK.
And that is commendable, but we are talking about people who are dying right now. And we want what is happening today to be addressed by those in power. Consistently bringing that up in defense for lack of action on fighting racial inequality and police brutality as a senator just makes you sound like you’re asking for a free pass to inaction today. If you want to be in power now, you need to be addressing what is happening now.
I don’t think these were official Black Lives Matter people.
What does official Black Lives Matter look like? Black people who think that black lives matter seem pretty official to me.
How come nobody is protesting Hillary?
I don’t know what circles you are hanging out in, but I’ve seen a LOT of criticism of Hillary — along with criticisms of the reforms her husband put in place that black people are still suffering from today. But the amount of security that she has at her events makes her much less accessible.
Aren’t racist conservatives the real enemy?
The real enemy is the system of racial inequality and white supremacy. There is no political party and no politician exempt from that. Liberal politicians have been banking on our vote for decades but black people in America have fared no better with Democrats than Republicans. Conservatives don’t even pretend to care. We’ll go where we feel we can make the most impact, and if that means that some Democrats are uncomfortable while Republicans sit wallowing in racial hatred – well, that’s just how it is for now. This system isn’t held up by conservatives alone.
Aren’t these protests divisive?
The divide is already there. The divide lies in the fear, sadness and frustration that black people in America feel every day that white people will never know. The divide lies in the silence around that and the constant pressure to “wait your turn.” Shining light on that divide is the only thing that can close it.
Seattle had a chance to shed its false politeness and show solidarity with black lives. Seattle had a chance to set its comfort aside and listen to what these women had to say. Bernie Sanders had a chance to do the same. But Seattle jeered and Bernie Sanders simply stated that he was “disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands.”
Black people in America are fighting for their lives. These protests aren’t just about an election, these protests are about a voice — a voice will no longer be silenced. There will be more protests and more disruptions, and they will happen with more candidates. But this is bigger than the next four years. This is bigger than politics. It may make some people uncomfortable, it may make some people angry — and if it does, you should ask yourself, why weren’t you angry already?