This past Saturday, Bernie Sanders drew in 15,000 people to a rally to hear him speak — his biggest crowd yet. The rally was interrupted when Black Lives Matter protesters took the stage and demanded to speak or else they would shut down the event. Many audience members were not pleased.

In fact, many booed Marissa Johnson (one of the protesters) when she spoke of how Seattle was not as progressive as it’s said to be. Many people cheered “Let Bernie speak” over her and booed when she implied that they were racist. However, they also booed when Johnson told the crowd to take a moment of silence to remember the shooting of Michael Brown on the day before the one-year anniversary of his death.

Several people are puzzled as to why Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted Bernie Sanders, who is a favorite candidate of many black citizens. The protesters have since been criticized, many claiming that Bernie was not the candidate to go after, for he has not done anything against black citizens. However, Bernie is not a victim here. Even though Sanders has mentioned race issues, he had not addressed them well enough before Saturday’s rally. When his campaign site first launched several months ago, race issues were not a main focus despite rising racial tensions in our country. He had not provided any true structural plans as to how he would dismantle the mass incarceration of black citizens, police brutality against black men and women, nor any other forms of racial inequality.

I understand why Bernie avoided talking about race in America. Despite being a candidate for progressives, there are still many progressives who do not support the Black Lives Matter movement, which is apparent from the negative reactions from audience members during Saturday’s rally. If they were fully committed to the Black Lives Matter movement, then perhaps they would have been more inclined to listen to Johnson and to respectfully take a moment of silence to remember Michael Brown.

Bernie must please this crowd for votes while also pleasing black voters. Therefore, like many other candidates, he has given occasional emotional statements about the race-driven tragedies that litter the news. However, before Saturday he had not yet provided us with hard promises as to how he planned to address racial inequalities as president.

Bernie’s Issued Statement 

Since the rally, Bernie has issued a statement.

I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.”

In his statement, he yet again says that he is the best candidate to fight racism. Yet despite pressure from Black Lives Matter activists last month during a Netroots Nation event, he had not formally come out with a plan to fight institutionalized racism. This is odd because Martin O’Malley, his fellow Democratic presidential candidate, formally issued a plan for criminal justice reform after being confronted by Black Lives Matter protestors at the Netroots Nation event last month in Phoenix.

We Need To Stop Preaching Respectability Politics

The Black Lives Matter protesters should not be condemned for standing up and stating the facts about racial inequality that are often overlooked. We should not preach respectability politics, even if we support Sanders, because respectability politics will not bring us justice. Sometimes you need to disrupt order in order to be heard and that is exactly what these protesters did. They took the opportunity — Bernie’s biggest rally yet – to bring to light the important issues that Bernie has not addressed well enough.

Even though “disrupting the peace” is typically frowned upon, it brings forth change. On Sunday, Bernie updated his campaign site to include a “Racial Justice” page that includes facts on racial inequality and basic steps that our government needs to take in order to close this gap. We need to hold Bernie accountable for his actions and make sure that he stays true to his word. If he says he is the best candidate to fight racism, he needs to continue to earn our trust and prove it by making it a bigger part of his campaign.



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