A few nights ago, Bernie Sanders was interrupted by a group of protesters connected to a local affiliate of the Black Lives Matter movement. The shaming of the protesters, mainly by white progressives, was instant.
“Why would you protest the candidate who is most closely aligned with your issues?”
“Don’t those ignorant women know that Bernie marched with Dr. King? They need to do some homework!”
“Why don’t they protest the republican candidates?”
There were other comments of the “this is why we can’t have nice things” variety. There was knee jerk reaction to discredit one of the protestors as a “radical Christian” who supported Sarah Palin. Clearly these women were sent either by the GOP or the Clinton camp to disrupt the surging popularity of Mr. Sanders.
Fast forward a couple days and we see the observances of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson. Dozens of peaceful protesters and demonstrators have been arrested. Several teens have been shot by police. An all white, heavily armed group of “Oath Keepers” is patrolling the streets apparently giving assistance to police officers.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
Since Ferguson, the number of unarmed blacks killed has not declined. The number of wrongful arrests has not gone down. The blatant racism inherent in law enforcement has been brought to surface like never before, but there are those who circle the wagons because “blue lives matter”.
Bernie Sanders is being interrupted because, shockingly, he is viable presidential candidate. He’s being interrupted because he cares about his track record on race and has already made important shifts in his campaign based on being interrupted by protesters. Bernie is being interrupted because the silence of our friends is more painful than the rhetoric of our enemies.
My hope and prayer for Mr. Sanders is the same one I have for all self-proclaimed liberals and white allies: that he will have the grace to take a backseat. Yes, even in his own campaign. The quick move to discredit voices of color, particularly female voices of color should be embarrassing. Sanders’ camp knows better and they have been gracious thus far. That’s good. But more disruptions may come. My hope is that Bernie will move away from the typical, arrogant bluster of politicians and allow the voices of the people he is aspiring to lead to be heard. I don’t think the protestors would have found a listening ear at a Republican campaign stop. They would have reinforced the pre-conceived notions of the crowd and the candidates would have been dismissive. There are times when the best place to start is to get the attention of the folks on your own team.
The burden of ally-ship is knowing when to cede the floor to those whose cause you have made your own. That can come at inconvenient times. That can come at cost of personal dignity. It can be uncomfortable. Suck it up. It’s far less uncomfortable than police brutality, mass incarceration, and economic disparity.
I’m supporting Mr. Sanders. We keep being told that at some point midnight will strike and his campaign will turn back into a pumpkin. I hope that’s not true. I want to see him do well. Very well, actually. And I’m hopeful that he is listening to the voices that temporarily silence his so that he might bring their concerns to the forefront of the upcoming election. He may have to endure a few more uncomfortable moments on the trail. I think he can manage. It’s time for politicians to be disrupted and reminded of whose interests they’re meant to serve. I think if anyone can understand that, embody that, and live into it with dignity, it is Mr. Sanders.