Writers express their opinions on whether Black Lives Matter protesters should have disrupted the rally at Westlake Park on Saturday that ended with Sen. Bernie Sanders leaving without speaking.
Protesters with Seattle’s Black Lives Matter movement took the stage and refused to let Sen. Bernie Sanders speak Saturday at a rally celebrating the 80th birthday of Social Security at Westlake Park.
The crowd booed the protesters, who demanded 4½ minutes of silence to remember the killing of Michael Brown a year ago in Ferguson, Mo. Activist Marissa Johnson accused the audience at the rally of “white supremacist liberalism.”
The contentious rally has spurred discussion of the activists’ tactics and motivations. Here are some notable opinions:
• University of Washington communications professor David Domke described conflicting feelings about the protest on his Facebook page:
“From an everyday perspective as a Seattle resident, a progressive in good standing, a professor who supports and advocates civil discourse, a parent who seeks to model effective, empathic communication, and a believer in the beloved community, I do not support the #BlackLivesMatter approach to shutting down Bernie Sanders yesterday. It is not the approach I would advocate.
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But from the perspective of a professor who studies and is deeply committed to racial and social justice, a white man who benefits from the society that BLM is attempting to disrupt, and from my understanding of how American politics works, I think that BLM’s methodology has significant logic.”
Domke argues a successful social movement “needs a range of activists, some who are moderate and some who are far more radical.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, he writes, is pushing Sanders and the Democratic party toward a platform with racial injustice at its center.
“They put forward a message we all need to hear,” writes Domke.
• In the Seattle Globalist, writer Ijeoma Oluo argues that angry social-media reaction to the protests reveals “the hidden Seattle that most black people know well — the Seattle that prefers politeness to true progress, the Seattle that is more offended by raised voices than by systemic oppression, the Seattle that prioritizes the comfort of middle-class white liberals over justice for people of color.”
She argues that riots and disruption propel change and progress.
“If saying please and waiting patiently led to change, we’d have seen it a long time ago.”
Was Sanders the right target for that disruption?
“He’s the most accessible, and the candidate who claims to be listening. Even in his response to the protesters he said, ‘On criminal-justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.’ If that’s the claim that he’s making, then he should welcome the words of black people.”
• In a blog published by The Stranger, State Senator Pramila Jayapal writes that “watching what unfolded” with the Black Lives Matter protest made her “heartbroken.” She said the disappointed “crowd (mostly white) turned ugly.” Important issues like Social Security and Medicare were “eclipsed by what happened.”
Jayapal, who spoke before Sanders was to deliver his remarks, expressed understanding of the activists, however. She said they were responding to “centuries of racism.”
“As a country, we still have not recognized or acknowledged what we have wrought and continue to inflict on black people,” Jayapal writes.
She said the anger displayed by the protesters is “a symptom of the disease of unacknowledged and un-acted upon racism.”
Jayapal argues that everyone has a role in social change. She writes:
“If we want to win for ALL of us on racial, economic, and social justice issues, we need multiple sets of tactics, working together. Some are disruptive tactics. Some are loving tactics. Some are truth-telling tactics. Some can only be taken on by white people. Some can only be taken on by people of color.”
• Connor Friedersdorf, who writes for The Atlantic, argues interrupting the senator was “a self-inflicted blow to Black Lives Matter” movement.
Friedersdorf writes that many of Sanders’ views align closer to the movement than Sanders’ challenger Hillary Clinton. A less alienating approach, where the activists sought Sanders as an ally, could have worked:
“It seems likely that, with carrots rather than sticks, Sanders could’ve been persuaded to embrace the vast majority of the stated Black Lives Matter agenda.”
Clinton, meanwhile, is unlikely to adopt some pieces of the Black Lives Matter agenda, like ending gentrification and ending the military industrial complex, writes Friedersdorf.
• Many national voices on Twitter weighed in on the subject. DeRay Mckesson, perhaps the most well-known Black Lives Matter protester in the U.S., tweeted about the outcry against the rally’s disruption. Many on Twitter said he was reportedly arrested during protests in Ferguson, Mo., Monday along with influential protester Johnetta Elzie, and 58 others, the Associated Press reports.
• The outspoken blogger Ferrari Sheppard tweeted about the tension between black activists and white allies. Sheppard has more than 57,000 followers on Twitter.
• On the widely-viewed link-sharing website Reddit, a hugely popular post titled ‘hate’ juxtaposed a picture of Bernie Sanders at the Westlake Rally with a famous photo of Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock 9 being pursued by a mob and yelled at by a white woman as she walked into school. Eckford was one of the first students to attend an integrated school after the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. A number of other posts critical of the interruption were popular on the site during the weekend.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.