Which campaign event should the #BlackLivesMatter movement shut down next?
The Black protest movement has received a great deal of attention for interrupting a Netroots Nation presidential forum in Phoenix in July, in which presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were challenged by #BlackLivesMatter activists to commit to racial justice. Subsequently, Black sisters shut down a rally featuring Sanders in Seattle. But there are more opportunities and more fertile ground for the movement to make their point beyond Sanders.
Writing for the Huffington Post, H.A. Goodman suggested that #BlackLivesMatter should protest Hillary Clinton events as well and provides five reasons why. “Black Lives Matter is a noble organization that has brought much-needed attention to profound issues; however, recent protests ignore the fact that Clinton’s political career runs contrary to many of the organization’s stated objectives,” Goodman wrote, while noting the candidate’s past on racial issues has been overlooked.
For example, in 2008, Clinton used racist undertones in her primary contest strategy against Barack Obama. The same week Clinton refused to state that Obama was a Christian and never was a Muslim, she employed the infamous “It’s 3 a.m.” TV ad, which, according to Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson, exploited racial fears. “I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past,” Patterson wrote in the New York Times. “I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation,’ the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat,” Patterson added.
Further, a Black member of Congress, James Clyburn, condemned former President Bill Clinton for his “bizarre” conduct toward Obama in the 2008 election, noting that “black people are incensed over all of this.”
Goodman cited other examples, including the fact that Hillary Clinton waited three weeks to address Ferguson and the role that then-President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill played in mass incarceration and the destruction of millions of lives. Finally, the writer noted that while #BlackLivesMatter is concerned about gay rights, Hillary Clinton was opposed to marriage equality until 2013.
The #BlackLivesMatter protesters are correct to challenge the Democratic candidates on matters of racial justice, as they are keeping these candidates honest and compelling them to address Black issues. Sanders developed a racial justice platform as a result and hired a Black woman activist as his press director. And although Sanders was involved in the 1960s civil rights movement, Black activists were not trying to hear that, they were interested in what he proposed to do now. Further, while Clinton has proved a more elusive target, she has not been able to ignore the movement.
As Jamie Utt argued in the Change From Within blog, the #BlackLivesMatter protesters have exposed the white supremacy on the left:
“Because here’s the thing – what’s powerful about these interruptions from Black women is less how it has changed the tone of the Democratic campaigns and more about what they have exposed in the White left.
“I see these protests as less about the individual candidates themselves and more about how their White base refuses to center Black lives and Black issues. It’s notable that White Bernie supporters, who consider themselves the most progressive of us all, shouted down and booed Black women who dared to force Blackness into the center of White space.
“Because let’s be honest, every Bernie rally is White space.”
To make his point, Utt recalled the words that Dr. Martin Luther King had for the white moderate, who in King’s opinion represented the “great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom,” even more than the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizen’s Council. “Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will,” King said, adding that the white moderate is “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” and “constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action.’” King also said the white moderate “paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom,” “lives by the myth of time” and “constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season’.”
Although the point of view is well taken, there is much value in the #BlackLivesMatter movement targeting the Republican candidates, their events and debates and the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next year. As was reported in Hot Air, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors recently suggested as much. The first debates last week in Cleveland revealed a GOP field that, if given a choice, can pretend Black people are invisible and their concerns do not exist, until it is time to scapegoat them for political gain. Of course, there are exceptions, as some of the Republican candidates have made references to Ferguson, racism and the criminal justice system. However, as the official Republican Party hierarchy distanced itself from the Confederate flag, and Donald Trump has provided an entertaining distraction from important issues, the other candidates in the GOP clown car badly needed cover from scrutiny of their own policy platforms.
For example, the Republicans have an atrocious record on voting rights. There is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s voter ID law, which the U.S. Supreme Court blocked, that required proof of citizenship in order to vote. Studies showed that 300,000 people in Wisconsin — disproportionately people of color — lacked the necessary documentation.
In 2005, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law the nation’s first “stand your ground” self-defense law, which has been replicated across the nation and has invoked to justify the shooting deaths of Black people such as Trayvon Martin at the hands of armed white vigilantes. As CNN reported, Bush defended his law in an April speech to the NRA. “In Florida you can defend yourself anywhere you have a legal right to be,” Bush said. “You shouldn’t have to choose between being attacked and going to jail.” He added: “We were often the model … because in Florida we protected people’s rights to protect themselves.”
Further, it is clear that while he was governor of Texas, Rick Perry executed an innocent man named Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham was sent to his death for setting a fire that killed his three young children, based on arson evidence and a jailhouse snitch, except that the fire was not caused by arson, as Thom Hartmann pointed out in a commentary in Truthout last year.
There are far many more examples, providing fertile ground and much justification for the #BlackLivesMatter movement to expand its territory and take this nationwide. Bringing bipartisan discomfort over the taking of Black bodies should be the point of it all.