Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Unwarranted Criticism

It's roughly seventeen months until the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and already the childish squabbling has begun.   Although some of it is directed by supporters of Bernie Sanders, far more more targets the Vermont senator.

Much of the criticism of Sanders is thoughtless, though much is thoughtful.  In the latter category, Guardian US columnist Moira Donegan argues

Sanders, meanwhile, speaks about the struggles of the working class in reductionist and retro ways; he seems to hold an anachronistic understanding of the American worker as white and male, oppressed only by his bosses and not at the same time by the structures of racism and sexism. Sanders has made, and continues to make, tone deaf statements on race in particular. He dismissed voters who want to see themselves in their politicians as trafficking in “identity politics”, and was publicly dismissive toward Black Lives Matter activists who expressed concern over his approach to racial issues. He seems to have tolerated a gender pay gap and some truly repugnant sexual harassment in his 2016 campaign. But few scandals seem to stick to Sanders. Like Donald Trump, he has a base of hardcore supporters who will forgive him anything.

The heart of Donegan's criticism lies in Sanders' rejection of identity politics, which is partial, though seen by his Democratic critics as definitive (which is part of the problem).  I'll address that at another time.

Donegan charges the senator with being "publicly dismissive toward Black Lives Matter activists who expressed concern over his approach to racial issues." The August 2015 Vox article to which she links explains that the previous month

Black Lives Matter activists made it clear that they were dissatisfied with Sanders's approach to race during the progressive Netroots Nation conference, when Martin O'Malley and Sanders appeared at a town hall event hosted by immigration activist and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas.

Protesters interrupted O'Malley, took the stage, and gave speeches about the deaths of young black men and women in police custody — ending with a call for both O'Malley and Sanders to present "concrete actions" for racial justice, and to pay tribute by name to women killed by police or who died in custody.

Sanders was defensive and cranky: "I've spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights. If you don't want me to be here, that's okay." The protesters were unimpressed. "Your 'progressive' is not enough," Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and one of the protesters who took the stage, told the press as a message to Sanders and other presidential candidates. "We need more." The next day, at an event in Houston, Sanders mentioned Sandra Bland (who died in police custody in July) and talked at more length about the issue than he had in the past.

Perhaps "I've spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights" is what Donegan means by "retro"- a reference to a candidate's record, with which Donegan is insufficiently concerned and Black Lives Matter thoroughly oblivious.

Evidently, Black Lives Matter's primary interest was disrupting meetings or sowing discord because

At a Defend Social Security rally in Seattle on Saturday, the pattern repeated itself: Activist Marissa Johnson leaped on stage, approached the microphone, and addressed the audience and Sanders alike. After calling for four and a half minutes of silence for the one-year anniversary (which was Sunday) of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, she challenged Sanders again on his lack of a concrete policy to address racial violence — contrasting him with O'Malley, who released a relatively detailed criminal justice platform at the beginning of August.

Sanders stood by silently during Johnson's speech. Attendees weren't so quiet: They booed Johnson, and some called for her arrest. Eventually, according to MSNBC, event organizers made the decision to shut down the event, without Sanders getting a chance to deliver most of his speech.

The attendees understood what the event organizers, who penalized Sanders for being attacked, did not.

Black Lives Matter earlier in the campaign had disrupted a private fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. Understandably but regrettably, they were not ejected. Nor were they ejected when they disrupted any events held for or by Donald Trump during his primary or regular election campaign.

If you find yourself asking "what events was the group at?" you're catching on. Do a Google search of "Black Lives Matter Donald Trump events" and there will be several references to a Black Lives Matter NYC activist unexpectedly being invited to address a pro-Trump crowd in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2017, nearly eleven months after the election. 

However, prior to the vote- when it would have mattered- Black Lives Matter ignored Trump events. They may have been intimidated or determined it did not serve its purpose to disrupt a gathering to celebrate Donald Trump. Intentionally or otherwise, they served as an adjunct to the Trump campaign.

Breaking up Democratic gatherings was low-hanging fruit, with protesters confident that their condemnation would be accepted by Democratic candidates and by much of the Democratic popular base.  Notwithstanding his own overreaction, Donald Trump obviously understood that voters were not hungry for what the casual voter would perceive as weakness.

The absence of Black Lives Matter at any Trump gathering, though it disrupted a Netroots Nation conference, a Sanders event, and a Clinton fundraiser, should reveal a red flag to anyone not completely blind.

Yet, Moira Donegan spanks Bernie Sanders for allegedly being "publicly dismissive toward Black Lives Matter activists."  He was not completely dismissive, although he probably should have been.  Every Democratic candidate should be aware that the "M" in BLM might stand for not only "matter" but also "mischief."

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