First things first. Because I received complaints on my "real time" post about the Netroots Nation Town Hall on Saturday, I'm embedding the full videos of Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley in this post. When I wrote and posted my Saturday post, it was in real time while the Convention Center security employees were shooing me out of the hall. I was literally uploading video and walking at the same time.
So in the interests of fully airing the hour in dispute, videos are at your fingertips. Bernie above, O'Malley below.
This was a difficult moment for the conference organizers, the candidates, and yes, the attendees. For that hour, all of us had to choose to look beyond ourselves and consider whether or not the Black Lives Matter action was appropriate, whether the candidates responded appropriately, and whether there is space to understand the urgency these activists feel.
Opinions are divided. Deeply divided. So I offer you some opinions other than mine, which might better clarify what I was trying to say.
The reaction of the candidates after the protest was varied and significant. O’Malley spent the entire day sitting with activists, publicly apologizing for his “white/all lives matter” remarks in an interview with This Week in Blackness and generally atoning for his performance. Sanders canceled all his events, including meetings with black and brown activists. At his evening speech before 11,000 in the same convention center, he did obliquely address the issue, using practiced lines he has said in the past but with a little more depth. “If any police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable,” Sanders said. On Sunday, he uttered Bland's name at a rally in Dallas. But the no-shows earlier in the day just exacerbated the problem.
The tragedy is that Sanders and the protesters probably agree on nearly every issue, but they don’t have a language to talk to each other about it. As a result, the anger builds and the communication breaks down. This is fixable, but those who want to lead a progressive movement need to understand that taking the crisis in black communities for granted won’t work with this new generation of organizers. That goes the same for Hillary Clinton, who wasn’t in attendance at Netroots Nation this year. But as the campaign progresses, activists will undoubtedly attempt to make her uncomfortable until they get the answers they seek. As Oso said, “Your agenda needs to be correct and if it’s not correct we’re going to continue to have problems.”
Chris Savage at Eclectablog:
Sitting in the middle of this maelstrom was a fascinating experience. I, like many of the others there, was initially irritated by the protestors. I was there to hear the candidates and was frustrated that they weren’t being heard. Even a bit angry, in fact. “These are your allies,” I thought. “Why on earth are you attacking them? Why are you disrupting an event where the people there are sympathetic to your cause?”
Frustration. Anger. Being silenced.
Every single one of these emotions that ran through my white privileged brain in the first few moments of the protest until I was slapped across the face with what I was being forced to confront. Every single one of these emotions are felt acutely and painfully every single day by racial minority groups in our country. But, instead of being inconvenienced by not being able to hear a politician speak, they face them in the context of being slaughtered in the streets by the police officers who are tasked to protect them, incarcerated in astonishingly disparate numbers, and blamed for not being able to escape from the prison of poverty that holds far too many of them in bondage.
After that realization, my perception of the event changed 180°. From that moment on, I saw what was happening in front of me with new eyes. The black and brown people around me were on their feet, chanting, demanding to be heard.
Even in the disagreements, the dialogue isn't happening. There is such entrenchment, an assumption that even the mildest criticism of Bernie Sanders is some kind of personal attack.
If a candidate can't acknowledge his/her weaknesses and change them, you have a weak candidate who will grow weaker over time. (Yes, he incorporated some extra language in his stump speech, and that's good. But he still didn't listen at that time.)
Whatever I may think of Martin O'Malley (and my personal jury is out on him), his response was certainly better than crossing his arms and leaving angry. He screwed up, acknowledged he screwed up, and then engaged.
As for Sanders, he had an opportunity and completely missed it. That doesn't make him a bad person or a bad candidate or a bigot or anything else. It makes him a candidate who missed a golden opportunity to close the gap with people who aren't connecting with him or his message, regardless of whether he has been an advocate for the meta-issues which affect them.
As Dayen pointed out in his article, if you want directions for how to get from Phoenix to Oakland, you look at a map and get turn-by-turn directions. You don't just tell someone to drive north. See the difference?
The idea that the interruption was rude, disrespectful, and otherwise unwarranted ignores what these communities have experienced. It ignores the people who are dead. It ignores the systemic racism inside our communities that hinder policymakers and policy, and the Black Lives Matter people are simply calling for it to stop, to be noticed, to say their names.
At one point during the call and response moments, the shout was "If I die at the hands of the police, call my mother first."
Repeat that to yourself for a minute. Think about how foreign that feels. If I die at the hands of the police, call my mother.
Hearts should be broken that anyone has to consider that part of their daily reality.
They wanted the candidates to empathize, not pontificate. Is that really so much to expect?
MoveOn issued this statement.
“The presidential candidates’ responses today to the powerful protest led by Black activists at Netroots Nation—as well as other remarks from the campaign trail in recent weeks—make clear that all Democratic candidates have work to do in understanding and addressing the movement for Black lives.
“Saying that ‘all lives matter’ or ‘white lives matter’ immediately after saying ‘Black lives matter’ minimizes and draws attention away from the specific, distinct ways in which Black lives have been devalued by our society and in which Black people have been subject to state and other violence.
“Similarly, while economic and racial justice issues certainly intersect, and reducing economic inequality will benefit people of all races, portrayals of racial injustice as merely an offshoot of economic injustice or the implication that solutions to economic inequality will take care of racism represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how race operates in our country.
“Frankly, all Democratic presidential candidates need to do better. Candidates must make clear that they stand in solidarity with the movement for Black lives and be willing to say explicitly ‘Black lives matter’—full stop, without qualifiers. Candidates should develop and convey an understanding of how racism operates independently of as well as how it intersects with economic inequality, and say what they intend to do to about it. And candidates should heed the call to say the names of Black men and women like Sandra Bland who have died in police custody, and give specific commitments to address police brutality and mass incarceration.”
It isn't enough to have an economic agenda that will help black people. It's time to say -- full stop -- Black Lives Matter.
It's time to say their names.
Charleston, South Carolina
Sharonda Coleman Singleton
Daniel Simmons Sr.
DePayne Middleton Doctor
Sandra Bland, Texas.
Tanisha Anderson, Cleveland
Tamir Rice, Cleveland
Michael Brown, Ferguson
Eric Garner, New York
Freddie Gray, Baltimore
and still more.
All of them had mothers who received those calls. The calls telling them their child was dead.
And we can't take an hour out of our own agendas to hear their concerns? Really?