Black lives trump “politeness”:
The disruption of a Bernie Sanders speech in Seattle
There has been a great deal of heated debate on social media and elsewhere about Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists shutting down a Bernie Sanders speech in Seattle on August 8. As attendees at this rally celebrating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we admire the courage of the two young Black women who took over the stage to demand that Sanders, and other candidates for U.S. president, address the epidemic of violence and oppression faced by black communities across the nation.
At the Seattle event Sanders made no attempt to speak with the BLM activists, have a dialogue, or address the crowd on this burning issue of our times. If he’d desired, surely one of the rally organizers could have walked a mic over to him. Instead, he stood aside and shook his head, and then walked off the stage without speaking.
Sanders’ reputation as a progressive should in no way give him a pass on racial justice issues. He voted for Bill Clinton’s Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which props up the racist prison-industrial complex. He voted to extradite Assata Shakur, an African American freedom fighter who is living in exile in Cuba. And his refusal to denounce Israel’s war against Palestinians gives tacit consent to some of the most racist repression on the planet. (See the Freedom Socialist Party statement, distributed at the Sanders rally, that critiques his run to be Democratic presidential nominee: www.socialism.com.)
Besides, politeness was in short supply when many in the largely white audience reacted to the BLM action with intense hostility. Some shouted racist and sexist invectives like “tase them,” “get these Black bitches off the stage,” and “call CPS” (Child Protective Services). It was chilling.
Members and supporters of Radical Women and Freedom Socialist Party, and some others in the crowd, began loudly chanting to support the Black Lives Matter protesters. We debated those around us. When someone said they could not understand why the BLM activists were taking over, one of our contingent shot back, “Have you had a family member arrested or killed by the police?” The answer was no, and a discussion began on why the fight for racial equality can’t wait.
We could feel the majority of the rally crowd grow tense when the BLM protestors leveled charges of white supremacist liberalism. We see a difference between liberals and those with an explicitly racist ideology. But racism is racism. At times some of the viciously hostile responses sounded like a KKK rally. That's not so surprising in a country built on the foundations of genocide and slavery, where racism, which is essential to keeping the profit system alive, permeates everyday life. But it was downright hypocritical at a social justice event.
It is imperative that we tackle head-on the racism and sexism that reared its head in Seattle’s progressive movement. And that we focus on the critical issues the BLM activists raised and Sanders skirted.
For inspiration, let us remember that the history of the civil rights movement includes courageous multi-racial organizers who were not polite. Folks of all colors risked their lives in the effort. We know that white folks committed to social change can channel their inner John Brown, a white man who collaborated with Harriet Tubman to free slaves and gave his life trying to spark an armed slave rebellion.
The “ill-mannered” disruption of the rally sparked a new national discussion about racism. It’s time for everyone to link arms with the BLM movement in the fight for radical change now.
Steve Hoffman, Seattle Freedom Socialist Party
Anne Slater, Seattle Radical Women
Freedom Socialist Party statement
Bernie Sanders’ Bid for President: What Would Eugene Debs Think?
It’s clear why fed-up voters are attracted to Bernie Sanders. He rails against the billionaires and calls for a U.S. political revolution. Who doesn’t want to end the rule of banksters and CEOs? Who doesn’t want to stop the corporate harvesting of all things profitable at the expense of people and the planet? Who doesn’t want to hear the needs of working people promoted for a change?
The Republican and Democratic parties … are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principle.
With either of these parties in power one thing is always certain and that is that the capitalist class is in the saddle and the working class under the saddle.
… The ignorant workingman who supports either of these parties forges his own fetters and is the unconscious author of his own misery.
In contrast, Sanders is running as a Democrat; he has chosen to hitch his wagon to the overlords in the saddle. He has promised to support whoever wins the Democratic primary. In Congress, he votes with the Democrats 98 percent of the time, and he consistently supports their presidential candidates.
His function in this election is the same as left-identified Democratic presidential contenders like Jesse Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, and others before him. It is to bleed off protest against the two-party chokehold over U.S. politics and to make sure that unionists and progressives once again vote — against their own interests — for a Democrat acceptable to big business.
And what about Sanders’ actual record? It’s seriously at odds with his image.
Wall Street — Sanders promises to reform Wall Street. But this can’t be done through tweaks such as taxing certain financial transactions, as Sanders proposes. Given the devastating power they wield over people’s lives, the banks need to be nationalized under workers’ control! Also, Sanders aims his anti-corporate fury almost entirely against Republicans, while giving a pass to Democratic friends of finance capital.
War — Sanders accepts the U.S. role as World Cop. In Congress, he has voted to fund nearly every imperialist military action by the U.S., from Iraq and Somalia to Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. He refuses to denounce Israel’s war on Palestinians, and endorsed the sanctions that killed over a million Iraqi civilians.
Labor — Sanders’ version of defending U.S. workers is of the jingoistic, “America First” variety. He points to immigrants and foreign workers as the source of job loss, rather than the bosses’ policies of speedup, automation, and the global “race to the bottom.” But, internationally, an injury to one truly is an injury to all! Even when it comes to U.S. workers, Sanders hasn’t stepped up to the plate when it counts. Earlier this year, he didn’t resist when the Democratic governor of Vermont, his ally, pushed through a budget that meant cutting hundreds of union jobs.
Civil rights — The Vermont senator has supported racist federal legislation, like Bill Clinton’s Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which props up the prison-industrial complex. He has not championed the Black Lives Matter movement or other groups aimed at ending police murders and the criminalization of youth of color.
In his campaign speeches, this supposed socialist generally has refused to pinpoint capitalism as the problem and socialism as the solution. While more and more voters are identifying their affiliation as “independent,” Sanders is headed in the opposite direction.
He excels at rousing populist oratory, but considers Hillary Clinton, warmonger of U.S. foreign policy, his “good friend.” Sanders is the man for the job for the beleaguered Democratic Party in these times of growing anger and dissent. Not as president, mind you, but as the latest in a series of perennial false hopes for a kinder, gentler party — and social system.
On the socialist Left, there are groups, like the Socialist Alternative of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who give Sanders direct or indirect support, ignoring or downplaying the ugly parts of his record and wishing away his longtime collusion with the Democratic Party. This is no way to build a movement for lasting fundamental change.
What would be productive is left cooperation rather than competition on the electoral battlefield. By joining forces, it would be much more possible to give people opportunities to vote for bold, honest, radical opponents of the profit system and its ravages at home and abroad.A big part of any joint anti-capitalist effort would have to be challenging the tangle of state and federal laws that keep Left and independent labor candidates off the ballot. And a possible outcome of such an effort could be the launch of a new national party to defend working people and the oppressed. The Freedom Socialist Party is for a national conference that could discuss these ideas and get something moving. And the sooner the better! U.S. voters need relief!