July 18, 2015

As I write, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley are confronting the harsh realities of today's political landscape, particularly with regard to race.

The candidates' forum here at Netroots was interrupted during O'Malley's dialogue by the Black Lives Matter movement, who took over the stage for about 15 minutes calling for candidates to "say the names" of dead black people who have died at the hands of law enforcement. Emotions here are very raw following the death of Sandra Bland in Texas this week, and these men and women were there to be heard.

Martin O'Malley was specifically confronted with the question of what he will do about the issues with police departments and police brutality. His answer was adequate. He said he supported citizens commissions and transparent police oversight.

However, O'Malley blew it when, instead of simply acknowledging that Black Lives Matter, he said "All Lives Matter" and then specifically that "White Lives Matter," proving that he doesn't understand at all what the Black Lives Matter movement is about.

Senator Sanders then took the stage and was more forceful with the protesters. When they interrupted him, he threatened to simply leave the stage and let them have it. That quieted the protests for a few minutes, but restively.

Rather than tell you all the things Bernie said (you can read it on the live stream) I'll give you my impression of his answer to them.

His answers were structurally correct, but he was talking past them. Sanders spoke of economic issues, which are unquestionably at the core of how to lift up black lives. He spoke of criminal justice but in general terms.

Bernie Sanders' economic justice message is a good one. But Sanders isn't connecting. Until he acknowledges the specific pain in those specific communities and listens to them, he won't connect. Today he didn't listen to them. He talked past them.

I don't know how this will play in the press. It's likely conservatives will spin it as rebellion. It wasn't. It was speech. The kind that doesn't cost billions.


Martin O'Malley, to his credit, realized his error just about as soon as the words left his mouth and headed over to the TWIB (This Week in Blackness) stage for an interview and clarification.

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