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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Black Lives Matter protestors miss the point

Black Lives Matter activists have now interrupted two of Bernie Sanders’ speeches to share their demands of the senator and voice their displeasure with what they perceive as a failure to address the epidemic of police brutality and murder, mostly of black people. This is unfair to Sanders, and it’s a horrible strategy politically.

Interrupting Sanders’ speech and depriving the 15,000 progressives gathered to hear the candidate was unjustified. BLM activists interrupted Sanders, demanding he “say her name,” despite the fact that Sanders was actually the only presidential candidate to have mentioned Sandra Bland — whose suicide incited campaigns against police brutality of black women — in a speech.

Public hostility toward Sanders by BLM activists is misdirected. Recall, Sanders was marching on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 while forerunner Hillary Clinton was a Young Republican and enthusiastic volunteer for infamous Civil Rights Act opponent Barry Goldwater in 1964.

The women leading the interruptive BLM protests made a deeply cynical calculation, correctly assuming Sanders to be the only candidate who would even allow them to get anywhere near the stage, let alone the chance to be heard.

They alienated themselves from 15,000 of Seattle’s most politically involved progressives, and supporters of BLM at that, in the process. The response from the crowd towards the protesters was unreceptive and hostile, and that should have been expected given the cowardice and misdirection of their actions. Could they not have held their own rally instead of hijacking Sanders’ — an ally’s?

Had the protesters challenged a more conservative or antagonistic candidate in the same fashion, they would have been lauded, as was Bree Newsome, the woman who scaled the flagpole at the South Carolina capitol and took the Confederate flag down herself before its eventual permanent removal not long thereafter.

The protesters regained some of my and other progressives’ respect when they finally confronted Clinton only to, of course, be stopped short of the stage by security. Clinton later told them in a private meeting, “Respectfully, if [black people cannot do much to stop violence against them] is your position, then I will only talk to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems.”

“Saying her name” is easy. While its premise is valid, it’s the kind of superficial, substance-free political demand with which the “billionaire class,” as Sanders puts it, wants liberals to be preoccupied with.

To simply pander to these activists by saying a name so that they can feel as though they’ve accomplished changing the political discourse in a superficial way would likely not save a single black life. Rather, substantial reform, like Sanders’ economic program, would actually improve the lives of millions of black Americans.

Single-payer healthcare — and Sanders is the only candidate even talking about it — certainly would save thousands.

If, for instance, it could get black infant mortality rates down anywhere near Cuban levels — they’re currently nearly three times higher than Cuba — that would save the lives of thousands of black infants every year.

While Clinton showed her true colors by declining to support a $15 minimum wage despite having 63 percent support among Americans, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, Sanders has been at the forefront of the fight for $15.

The fact that so many black people work for less than the living wage that $15 represents should be a central issue to BLM.

They need to side with progressives that are leading an unprecedented, unabashedly socialist campaign for a program that Sanders accurately describes as revolutionary.

For perhaps obvious reasons, a recent Pew poll revealed that African Americans have a strongly positive view of socialism, more than any other racial or age group measured, and a negative view of capitalism. The disruption of the first serious socialist candidate for president in a century is myopic and simply out of touch with the political beliefs central to many black people.

While drastic change is needed in police use-of-force regulations and in the deeply racist mentality pervasive in many police departments, there are other things that affect black lives. Sanders is the only candidate meaningfully addressing them and deserves BLM’s enthusiastic support.

Follow Martin Forstrom on Twitter.

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