by Derek Scarlino/Love and Rage
From the perspective of an activist, neither black, nor Democrat, nor capitalist, it is not ambiguous at all what’s going on between #BlackLivesMatter, Bernie Sanders and white liberals. It’s a love triangle caught in the myopic assuage of white liberals who feel that blacks should just “get” them. Because they’re white liberals. Of course they’re not racist. All of their best friends are black!
The Black Lives Matter movement are putting the screws to Sanders and that’s okay. I’m incessantly PR-conscious within my own groups, and when I was involved with the Occupy movement a few years back, I was bullheaded and ungracious within my enclave over public perception. Public actions matter big time and should be very carefully crafted when approached. The cardinal sin of activism is acting on behalf of the whole without consensus, which is what I’m hearing those young women did in Seattle.
But, there’s an assumption among white liberal-types that their views demand recognition without having to do anything for it. If someone called me a racist and my retort was, “I vote Democrat!”… I mean, that’s a great line for a movie intended to point out the obvious sentiment that it’s not enough.
What BLM is doing to Sanders, by forcing him to address and evolve on the campaign trail, is actually brilliant and should be adopted by anybody who is sick of always having to listen to politicians tell you what they’re going to do for you without actually engaging you to see if it does anything for you. I’ve been a proponent of this for years after watching the 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles — presidential and mid-term.
The targeting of Sanders makes sense. I have to assume it’s related to him being the one major candidate with their ear to the ground. And maybe when you round up the other candidates from these two big parties, the emotion around the fact that nobody has really improved anything for blacks in the US is now a palpable tension, ready to “explode”, if I may make what I think is a sly reference to Langston Hughes. Perhaps that’s why it seems so intense at times.
I don’t think BLM sees Sanders as the enemy. I think they see him as someone from the same establishment that has overlooked black issues for over a century. They perhaps see a moment to point out some “stuff” that those whose faith in America has proven to be worth something simply lack the experience of dealing with to understand.
It seems that the BLM approach to Sanders is that there’s no free lunch and now there’s a very prominent, very active black entity that’s been missing since the FBI’s COINTELPRO-based decimation of the Black Panther Party which is ready to play the “Oh, really?”-card. The meme is side-eye. The adagé: actions speak louder than words.
While there are issues that Sanders has brought up before and during his campaign which do address fundamental challenges faced by many black folks, anyone with an awareness of the past between social movements and the Democratic Party, with which Sanders votes with 98 percent of the time, knows that minding your manners and relying on good vibes to get the Democrats to follow through is a waste of time.
Education, unions, health care, LGBTQ rights, antiwar movements and feminism are areas from which Democrats traditionally draw a lot of support. The views between Democrat voters and the Democrat establishment in Washington are much farther apart than either wants to admit. Deep down, Hillary’s feminist supporters know that the emperor has no clothes. She’s the pro-war Democrat, and her views on abortion and LGBTQ rights only evolve under the scrutiny that lights the stage of populism and rhetoric. For Christ’s sake, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize while expanding the war on terror and the war on whistleblowers. There’s very much an illusion of substance that, while much more pronounced with Republicans and their field of utter clowns, is little more than a thin veil over the black hole that is the Democrat Party and popular movements.
Whether the Black Lives Matter movement realizes that on the whole matters little. They’re actually vetting the candidate that white liberals so adamantly assure them of as their “best friend” (which might explain the focus on Sanders to begin with, hello…). You either wait for a candidate to come along, who has a platform that appeals to you, or you pursue ends which force that candidate to not only talk about and acknowledge your issues, but to adopt and promote them, too.
Both the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement have had their moments of being caught with their pants down. From Netroots to Seattle, it’s been a well-documented lesson for both teams. For the Sanders camp, his accessibility has left him exposed to compromising situations simply because he’s not big on security, is willing to hear people out and hasn’t had developed answers when checked. How this isn’t refreshing to a nation wherein the political atmosphere is a joke and democracy nothing more than an excuse to bomb the shit out of a new country is surprising. This is a true democratic process at work: a direct democratic process. Imagine if economics could be this participatory. When we stop pledging needless fealty to hierarchy, we might finally get somewhere beyond doing the same thing and expecting different results.
For the movement, the stunt in Seattle was a sobering reminder of the vulnerabilities of decentralized movements (more on that later). For the hardliners on the Sanders bandwagon, it’s an inexcusable affront to the “only” candidate who gets them. Because apparently Bernie Sanders, a white man vying for the presidency, has some lessons to teach the black man currently sitting in the White House. If this movement erupted out of pure need during the era of the first black president, what is Bernie Sanders going to do? Is it so awful that the message is actually getting to the podium via direct means?
And while Bernie’s campaign may stumble or be slow on the uptake, at least there is actual uptake. If there weren’t, if the ball of fire candidate isn’t about you or your issues, then your recourse is to take your focus elsewhere and commit to building the society you want as opposed to voting for the lesser of two evils and merely getting less jingoism with the standard amount of war crimes.
While Black Lives Matter, like Occupy, are decentralized movements, people are way too quick to discredit these things because they don’t look and act how people think movements should look and act. Carrying the banner for an unequivocally righteous cause with flawless, inspiring leaders. That’s not the way it works. You always have contradictions, you always have aspects to movements that you just “feel” and can not always elaborate clearly on. You have the constant distractions, detractors, the impulsive teenagers that don’t seek consent… and a public that really doesn’t know what to make of things with “things” get real.
The flip side, without Occupy, we’re not having this discussion. Decentralization has its benefits. Less people for the establishment to target in specific: think Abbie Hoffman, Assata Shakur. Jane Fonda and Malcolm X. Decentralization has deep roots in anarchism, which had influence in and on protest movements until about the 1970s. The beauty is, nobody is in charge and these things largely pursue their stated goals. Having a leader creates unnecessary hierarchy and there are very prefigurative elements with Occupy and BLM who are doing rather than waiting. A movement with a leader is also weighted heavily on the moral and ethical highs and lows of that individual — how many idolizers of George Washington want to be told that they must support the “Town Destroyer’s” Native American genocide?
Decentralization is the key. It makes these movements fluid and adaptive. There’s a worrying bubble among the public in which the function and form, the vibrancy and need, of social consciousness to become something tangible is not well-understood. A lack of understanding that the morals of civilization change and concepts of “good old days” are no more a constant in time than the blink of an eye. Social upheaval is a signal that the legitimacy of existing order is waning.
It’s a signal that it doesn’t work. That it hasn’t been working. In the staunch defense of Bernie Sanders, the man, the blip on the radar, the expense has been the realization that it’s just a defense of that which hasn’t worked so far.