Senator Bernie Sanders has taken the country by storm with a clear populist message through underestimated grassroots efforts. His speeches across the nation have attracted thousands, with a recent rally in Portland hosting over 28,000 attendees. Yet his campaign has not been completely hassle free.
The interruption of Sanders’ Seattle rally by Black Lives Matter activist Marissa Johnson on Saturday raises an important issue. It’s less so about the intentions of Johnson to derail the speech and more centered on the divide within the progressive community. Despite the left’s campaign of civil rights and equality, there are a host of individuals and communities who are driven out from the conversation, especially those subjugated to respectability politics by the more dominant voices.
The protests both on the streets and at the Presidential debates promote an idea that’s long been ignored and has boiled over to an unbearable point. And one of the most hypocritical fascinations by Americans is the witnessing of political and social revolutions in days gone by or off in foreign lands. When that revolt comes home, those in power delegitimize the minority as violent animals who fail to value the law. It is the law here, or lack thereof, that has maintained a status-quo of inbuilt systematic oppression and pushed the subdued to a point of outburst.
As more movements are pushing progressive leaders to give attention and take action, it has never been more crucial as it is now for extensive discourse on the intersectionality of these various group; those who are falling between the cracks of larger narratives.
It is no longer practical to address political issues in singularity, or to summarize a lack of civil rights under one single category. Sanders has had no issue attracting liberal voters, but has hit a stumbling block with minority groups. While Sanders’ progressive views and history as a civil rights advocate have drawn in supporters, his communication and wording on issues facing African Americans, and other groups in America, came off as over simplistic and without substance, especially during his appearance at the Netroots Nation conference in July.
Sanders had focused mainly on economic reforms and its impacts on lifting minority groups out of poverty. Protesters asked what he had done on criminal justice reform, taking his mentioning of past efforts with Martin Luther King Jr as an unacceptable answer to a valid question. Eventually Sanders “got angry and pulled the ultimate political “Get off my lawn” move by threatening to leave if the protesters didn’t “want” him there.”
It’s fair for Sanders to focus more-so on economic issues. This has been his strong point as well as the feature topic for his campaign, discussing college tuition, minimum wage, and health care costs among other concerns. And to be fair, economic inequality and systematic injustice in the world of money has been one of the root causes for such a divide between communities. Focusing on this singular point will not solve these injustices. Rather, a complex situation requires a combination of viewpoints and work that encompasses the wide variety of social, political, and economic issues complicit in the suppression and killing of black lives.
Those with privilege across the social and economic spectrum have the capacity to maneuver through mainstream structures with little need for actions deemed violent or disorganized by those in power. For there to be substantial change, grassroots activism creates the social pivot while leaders and officials take on policy reforms. This is why Bernie Sanders, a growing favorite, is crucial to future civil rights developments.
Sanders, holding a very influential position at this moment, is susceptible more than any other candidate to accepting the varying voices emanating from the Black Lives Matter movement, and those similar to it, out of an empathetic desire to empower and strengthened marginalized people. Mainstream candidates have money and powerful voices to tend to, whereas Sanders has the ability to navigate through the political field through sheer popular support while maintaining his work on liberal policies. His stance on equality and human rights sets Sanders as the best candidate to protest and communicate with. This isn’t to demean him or to derail the campaign, but an attempt to widen his view and encompass a greater number of individuals who have been shunned by mainstream groups and politicians.
It is worth noting that Sanders has recently released a comprehensive platform addressing racial justice as well as the addition of new members to his campaign staff.
There is a lack of inclusivity on the debate of civil rights in this country. Major issues like marriage equality, voting rights, and economic opportunities drive the conversation and are on the agenda of the vast majority. On the other hand, it drowns out many other problems and challenges blocking the minority of the minority from succeeding and being apart of a larger collective. Among these challenges lacking similar fanfare include, but by all means not limited to, anti discrimination laws and racial prejudice deeply embedded in society. And those caught in the middle of the LGBT and African American communities often face tremendous and undeserving levels of violence, discrimination, and oppression from systems of power and their own groups.
Progressive voices are on the same page on equality yet speak completely different languages. While many progressives profess that all lives do matter, this mindset, or rather message, ignores the importance of highlighting those silenced for far too long. The mantra of “Black Lives Matter” is not a means of exclusion or superiority over other communities. It is a message aimed at uplifting a group that for generations have felt unyielding oppression and violence through explicit and implicit actions. And out of this organization arose similar campaigns, giving life to Twitter hashtags like “TransLivesMatter” and “SayHerName.” They affectively draw attention to the silence of transgender lives lost through hate crimes, especially trans women of color who face some of the highest levels of violence in America.
For the left to become a strong and unified force, it needs to pick up on the voices going unnoticed. Open forums giving the opportunity for marginalized voices to speak out eases an environment contaminated with distrust and friction, feeding the crevice separating them even further. It is the combination of Bernie Sanders and a politically charged force in society that has the potential to generate substantial and meaningful change for all parties seeking a better and safer life. This is a force that could very well be unrivaled in its success at creating the reformed that are needed, so long that it is inclusive, open minded, and people driven.
Photo Credit: The Feminist Wire