Seattle Black Lives Matter activist refutes recasting of Bernie Sanders confrontation

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders walked away from the microphone as activists Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Johnson disrupted a rally at Westlake Center on Saturday where he was scheduled to speak about Social Security. (Photo by Alex Garland)
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders walked away from the microphone as activists Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Johnson disrupted a rally at Westlake Center last August where he was scheduled to speak about Social Security. (Photo by Alex Garland)

Marissa Johnson, one of two Black Lives Matter activists who took the mic from presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders in downtown Seattle last August, says the heated incident recently has been recast by Sanders supporters as the activists being welcomed onstage.

In the online magazine The Establishment, Johnson described the incident at a rally celebrating the anniversary of Social Security, in which she and Mara Willaford interrupted Sanders’ appearance and forced him to leave the podium without giving his speech.

Johnson and Willaford says they took over the mic and neither Sanders, his campaign nor event organizers welcomed them, Johnson says. However some Sanders supporters, including hip-hop artist Killer Mike, have since claimed that Sanders embraced the interruption and have offered the incident as proof of the candidate’s support of Black Lives Matter.

Johnson says the incident happened differently than in the retelling, as she writes:

What ensued was a highly contentious battle for control of the event between Mara and myself, the event organizers, and Bernie’s campaign that resulted in my speaking at the podium for several minutes, and Senator Sanders leaving the event when we did not allow him to speak. The crowd was outraged, chanting Senator Sanders’ name during a moment of silence for Mike Brown and calling for the police to tase us while throwing water bottles at us on stage.

Read Johnson’s entire account on The Establishment, and read Ijeoma Oluo’s analysis from last August of the reactions that Johnson and Willaford and Black Lives Matter got immediately after the Seattle incident.

Sanders remains very popular in Washington state. He’s held large rallies attended by thousands and he won the Democratic state caucus last month overwhelmingly over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Related

The Establishment: What Killer Mike Got Wrong About My Bernie Sanders Confrontation

The Seattle Globalist: Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter and the racial divide in Seattle

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks to Black Lives Matter activists Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Johnson after they disrupted a rally at Westlake Center on Saturday where he was schedule to speak about Social Security. (Photo by Alex Garland)
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks to Black Lives Matter activists Mara Jacqueline Willaford and Marissa Johnson after they disrupted a rally at Westlake Center last August. (Photo by Alex Garland)

8 Comments

  1. As a member of the media I was stood right in front of the stage for this event. While neither Sanders nor the organizers exactly ‘welcomed’ the BLM activists, they clearly understood that they should be allowed to speak and ceded the mike to them. As for the “crowd being outraged”, a very small part of the crowd disrespected the silence for Michael Brown or interrupted the BLM speaker. There were a lot of seniors there who had been standing for a long time and it was only when it became clear that Sanders would not be allowed to speak at all that more people expressed their frustration, almost entirely in the form of “Let Bernie Speak” appeals. As is so often the case, the truth (at least as I experienced it) seems to lie somewhere between the various parties’ versions of events.

  2. Great job finding an open mike and taking it from the one potential presidential prospect addressing the issues that BLM wants fixed. I do believe BLM hijacked a rally – rather than causing a simple “disruption”. Of course they knew nothing about Willis Wagons or the role played by Sen Sanders on another August day in 1963!

    In July 1963, protesters held an eight-day sit-in at the office of the school board president. The following year, they organized a boycott in which 175,000 students walked out of the CPS classrooms. Instead of real action – we just allow rudeness to substitute for revolution.

    One of the most publicized protests was held in August 1963 when activists blocked the installation of wagons in a vacant lot adjacent to the railroad tracks at 73rd Street and Lowe Avenue. That’s where Sanders was hauled off to jail. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNMFrpEnac0

    Willis wagons in Chicago were the catalyst for a full-fledged civil rights movement that addressed housing, jobs and other areas of education. Several groups grew out of the movement, including the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, which led the fight against housing discrimination.

    Before long, it drew the attention of King. In 1966, the civil rights leader brought his campaign to Chicago, leading marches and renting an apartment on the West Side to end housing discrimination.

    “When King decided he wanted to move to a northern city, he chose Chicago because there was a strong organization in place here,” said McKersie, now a professor emeritus at MIT and author of “A Decisive Decade: An Insider’s View of the Chicago Civil Rights Movement During the 1960s.”

  3. They were abusive just to be abusive. They preyed on people they knew wouldn’t fight back. I wasn’t in the audience but I would have booed if I was. Why would I give a 4 minute show of respect to a young man who died after assaulted a police officer and robbing and attacking an elderly Asian store clerk? No way. Those two and their supporters are bullies and the reason why the left is losing support. Why not give a 4 minute silence for the Tuba Man, James Paroline or Danny Vega?

  4. I was there, standing about five feet from the press area in front of the stage. I filmed part of the “disruption” and took many photos. No one asked cops to “tase” them as they claim and I did not see any water bottles thrown. These women are attention seekers who seem driven by their own ego more than anything else. Marginalizing Sanders at Westlake and elsewhere created a lot of bad press that suggested to some that Sanders– who has worked tirelessly for average Americans since the sixties– is somehow not concerned with the problem of institutional racism in the U.S. The fact of the matter is he talked about that problem more than anyone else on the campaign trail and has been involved in the civil right struggle for decades. Unfortunately, a small segment of the BLM movement thinks it’s acceptable to attack progressive candidates, as long as they’re white men. Now they will have to live with Clinton for the next four years. I will never stand with those women or any action they are part of again.

  5. They’re right, they were not “invited”. They also deliberately avoided giving Sanders or the organizers of the event any opportuniy to do so. That wasn’t what they wanted. It was pure egoistic grandstanding, they came within an inch of actually laying hands on a Senator, the police actually should have intervened, instead they stood around and laughed. Trying to force people to do a moment of silence is gross. I find it sickening to see Seattles “woke” latte sipping white liberal scene fawn over this childish nonsense, while ignoring the more serious message of Black Lives Matter. I suspect this was a hit by pro Clinton forces in Seattle.

  6. Being a liberal has lost all meaning. I used to call myself one, but this current crop of social justice warriors is quite frankly, a fucking embarrassment. You all have ruined the left. You all put Trump in office. You all will set back true left activists for decades.

    The two assholes who shut down this speech are exactly the types of people who have torn down the work of the true heroes of the Left. You should be ashamed, and I hope you never live down the despicable bullshit you all pulled on this day.

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