Some context to this afternoon’s incident, in which #Black Lives Matters activists shut down presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders’ planned speech to a large, adoring crowd at Westlake Park. (Link warning: Seattle Times paywall. And hey, nice job, Times, running with a photo of Sanders giving a wave that looks a lot like a Nazi salute. Slimeballs.)
What most of the public doesn’t know – because it happened in a lefty media bubble – is that #BLM activists did the same thing to Sanders three weeks ago in Phoenix, at a joint appearance with fellow longshot Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Martin O’Malley at the annual Netroots Nation (NN) convention.
NN started over a decade ago as Yearly Kos and has evolved into a broader progressive media event, but it’s still largely an isolated bubble of progressive punditry. The July 18 #BLM protest touched off sharp debate, pro- and con-,within that bubble – after all, events like NN are still largely white-dominated even though the Democratic Party’s strongest base, and many of its most progressive elected leaders, are people of color, especially African-Americans. So the response circled around two themes: the propriety of this sort of protest, and the question of why Democratic elected leaders and presidential candidates are, by and large, so disengaged from #BLM issues.
That debate isn’t going to happen this time. This was a public rally – not a gig at a private event where more mainstream media outlets aren’t about to dignify NN and its media attendees with any sort of legitimacy. This will be – already is – a big deal in mainstream media, and most people watching and reading won’t have any of that context. What they’ll see is protesters shutting down a speech by the most prominent progressive politician in America because the protesters felt he wasn’t progressive enough on issues important to them – in other words, they’ll come off as disengaged, spoiled children demanding attention without having earned it. It’s a purity purge, which by definition positions #BLM as being on the fringe of mainstream political and cultural American issues, rather than central to them. The tactic serves to marginalize and delegitimize #BLM and its issues, precisely the opposite of the activists’ likely intent.
Calling the audience “white supremacist liberals” from the stage didn’t help, either. Honestly, if any of the white supremacist yahoos who showered Dylann Roof with money for his defense fund this summer actually had two brain cells to rub together, they could have spent a fraction of the money they pissed away on Roof to instead hire a few agent provocateurs to do exactly what was done today. But hey, why pay someone when there’s young, angry activists happy to unwittingly damage their own movement for free?