An Open Letter To Bernie Sanders Supporters
Dear Bernie Sanders supporters,
Shut up and listen for once. When black women interrupt your candidate, don’t call them “thugs.” And when protesters hijack your hero’s microphone to have their story heard, it doesn’t mean they’re paid provocateurs in some elaborate plot involving George Soros and Hillary Clinton. You know who else propagates wild conspiracy theories about George Soros funding left-wing protesters? Glenn Beck and Allen West. So congratulations, white progressives – your fanaticism for Bernie has turned you into the thing you hate.
Bernie Sanders says the only thing that will guarantee his election is a “political revolution.” But when that revolution tried to speak, you suppressed it.
Unlike Occupy Wall Street, this movement wasn’t started by or largely made up of white progressives. And unlike Occupy, this movement isn’t just about a higher minimum wage or free college education or single-payer healthcare. This movement was started by people who are fed up with watching their friends and family die in their streets, their homes, and their churches, at the hands of the very people charged with protecting them, and having to watch those people walk away from countless dead bodies without facing any consequences. Black people are statistically four times more likely to die in police custody than whites. And that’s something white progressives like you and me never have to worry about. We have the privilege of being able to talk about lofty policy goals that may be achieved at some point in our lifetime, and putting “all that racial stuff” on the back burner. Everyone who isn’t white doesn’t have that privilege.
Madison, Wisconsin, one of the most liberal cities in the nation, epitomizes white progressive America. The Wisconsin Uprising brought out almost 200,000 people in early 2011 to support worker’s rights even in the middle of a Midwestern winter. They also mobilized to elect Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay U.S. Senator. Madison’s mayor, Paul Soglin, used to be an ardent antiwar activist in the 1960s.
But Madison, just like America’s white progressive movement, is just as racist as it is liberal. Madison is the same place where unarmed 19-year-old Tony Robinson, who was black, was killed by white Madison police officer Matt Kenny, who didn’t face charges. African-Americans are incarcerated at higher rates in Wisconsin (12.8 percent in 2013, second-place Oklahoma’s rate was 10 percent) than anywhere else in the country. Mayor Soglin has become a crusader for gentrifiers, proposing to buy $25,000 in bus tickets to push out the homeless population, and recently vetoing a proposal to make the homeless a protected class. Just as Seattle’s mostly-white crowd of Bernie Sanders supporters was offended at being called white supremacists, anyone protesting Scott Walker at the Wisconsin state capitol or waving a rainbow flag on State Street would be deeply offended if they were told they were complicit supporters of institutional white supremacy.
And that’s precisely the problem with white progressives.
Do you wish the protesters would’ve stayed quiet? The Seattle Police Department has been under federal consent decree for the last three years after the U.S. Department of Justice found evidence of excessive use of force and discriminatory policing. The people subjected to that excessive force don’t have any interest in staying quiet.
Are you angry that you never got to hear Bernie’s speech on Medicare and Social Security? Someone who lost their college classmate to police gunfire is even angrier, because they don’t even know if they’ll be alive by the time they’re eligible for those programs.
Are you upset that you didn’t get to hear Bernie talk about a $15 an hour minimum wage? Someone who has been economically destitute for so long because no employers will call them back for an interview due to the blackness name listed on the resume won’t get a fair chance to earn that wage.
Are you pissed off that you didn’t get to hear Bernie Sanders talk about free college education? Seattle just spent $210 million on a new juvenile prison, where 42 percent of the juvenile inmate population is black even though they only make up 8 percent of Seattle’s juvenile population. How can someone think about free college when they’re being forced through the school-to-prison pipeline?
The primary process of a presidential election is a time where acts of disruption should be encouraged, no matter the target. In a healthy democracy, protesters’ disruptions of candidates’ stump speeches would be celebrated. Almost all of this year’s presidential candidates are current or former governors, U.S. senators, or wealthy captains of industry and have the means to be able to have their voices heard at any time they like. But the people dying in the streets and living under the thumb of institutional racism don’t have that privilege. And if they have to shut down a campaign event to force candidates and the media to acknowledge their epidemic and propose solutions, they’ll do it.
As someone who has said they are the only candidate who can represent the oppressed underclass, and who has run on his record of sitting in to protest Jim Crow laws in the 1960s, Bernie Sanders deserves to be disrupted precisely for this reason. As unfair as it may seem to his supporters, it doesn’t matter to young black people losing their friends and family today that a white liberal in the 1960s did what he was expected to do – the only thing that matters is what he’s doing right now.
After getting interrupted at Netroots Nation, storming off the stage, and refusing to meet with Black Lives Matter protesters, Bernie Sanders wised up and hired Symone Sanders – a powerful, outspoken, young black woman who volunteers at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice – to be his national press secretary after she convinced him that economic inequality and racial inequality are interconnected. Bernie Sanders used to get called out by conservatives for omitting racial justice from his stump speech. But on Sunday he’s since revised his website and stump speech to address about racial injustice issues of mass incarceration, voting rights, police militarization, and how black people are disproportionately targeted. This is proof that disruption works. And we need more of it, not less.
If your issue isn’t getting talked about, and if a candidate is coming to your town for a public event, you should absolutely do everything you can to be heard. Last month, Hillary Clinton got heckled for her horrendous record on climate change. Protesters greeted Martin O’Malley at his campaign announcement in Baltimore, saying he “must atone” for propagating racially-biased policing as Baltimore’s mayor. In New Hampshire, Scott Walker was the subject of a clever photo-op protest, regarding his campaign donations from the Koch Brothers. Protest is essential to political discourse, and protest only works if you succeed in changing the conversation. Was it rude for OutsideAgitators206 to interrupt Bernie Sanders? Yes. But did they succeed in pushing Black Lives Matter to the front of the conversation? Absolutely.
Bernie’s supporters need to realize that Bernie Sanders is not the leader of this political revolution. We all are. Let the revolution unfold – Bernie is welcome to join if he’s ready.