Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Saunders and #BlackLivesMatter

By request, The Omnivore will look at the recent disruptions in Bernie Sander's campaign caused by #BlackLivesMatter activists. Is it a Clinton-Dirty-Tricks plot? A Trump Plan? A handful of rogue actors?? What's going on?

What Is #BlackLivesMatter?

#BlackLivesMatter is a hashtag activist initiative--meaning that it is organized on social media (with a large component on Twitter) with aims at tackling the problem of police killing black people (men), often who are completely unarmed. It grew out of the Michael Brown killings and has gained steam with each additional killing--which seems to be coming in at a rather frightening rate, really.

As a #hashtag initiative in the mode of #OccupyWallStreet or #GamerGate, there is no formal command structure, no rules for entry, and no way of verifying someone as a 'voice' of the movement. There are thought-leaders--in this case a handful of people who travel around to the various protest sites and help with actual on-the-ground organizing.

What Happened To Bernie Sanders?

The Root has a great write up on the origins of the problem. Read the whole thing here. In a nutshell:

  1. On July 18 in Phoenix AZ at the Netroots Nation gathering, both Sanders and O'Malley were scheduled to give speeches to the left-wing activists.
  2. Hillary declined to attend (as she has every year since 2007 where she ignited a storm of negative controversy by not taking a pledge against taking money from lobbyists.
  3. During O'Malley's speech, he was heckled by #BlackLivesMatter activists and replied that Black Lives Matter, White Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter. This was totally the wrong thing to say (see below) and he was run off stage.
  4. Sanders followed him up--but was heckled as well and wanted to talk about his specific non-race-related policies first. He clashed with the protesters and got booed off stage. He canceled some meetings with black activists and went dark.
  5. O'Malley issued the requisite apology for saying All Lives Matter--and came out with some racial planks in his platform.
  6. Sanders touted his racial bonafides (he marched with King), got heckled on Twitter, came out with a lengthy and complicated racial policy proposal--but got run offstage again, two days ago at another speech by #BlackLivesMatter activists.

Why AllLivesMatter Was Wrong

The #BlackLivesMatter position is that American society does not treat black lives like they matter--when clearly they ought to. This is because when a black person is killed by the authority of the state (white police) usually nothing happens no matter the circumstances (and the circumstances range from contested to caught-on-video murder).

So while yeah, all lives matter, the problem is that some aren't being treated that way. The AllLivesMatter rejoinder is a way that conservative speakers have tried to shut down the conversation (O'Malley presumably didn't know this--after all, he and Sandres are ancient white guys who probably aren't on Twitter--how could they be expected to? Oh, yeah--running for president as Democrats . . . )

Put another way:
  1. No one was saying "All Lives Matter" until people started saying BlackLivesMatter--and then they were saying it (in general) as a counter-argument.
  2. The people saying "Save the Rain Forests" are not saying "And fuck all those other forests." It's okay to call out something under a specific kind of threat.
  3. Sanders (and white Democrats across the board--to an extent) are more comfortable treating race and class as the same thing (Sanders touted his education programs for lower-income people--the hecklers shouted that free college wouldn't stop them from being killed by police)

So What's Going On?

A cursory, outside, and most probably white analysis of the situation looks like this: Why the fuck are they going after Sanders? O'Malley had a for-real zero-tolerance policing standard in Baltimore which for-real impacted black men (and got them killed). O'Malley also said AllLivesMatter--not Sanders--which is the actual counter-point to #BlackLivesMatter.

Sanders did march with Dr. King--and while that might not be as big a deal as he made it out to be, Hillary was kinda a Republican at the time and didn't even bother to attend the progressive meeting.

In other words, of everyone out there, why keep picking on Sanders? He's like the best of the lot?

This leads to the conspiracy theory that Sanders, rather than O'Malley is surging against Clinton--and that the crown-jewels that Clinton still holds is approval in the black demographic. If she could keep Sanders out of that area he couldn't challenge her for the nomination. Ergo Ipso Hocus Pocus: It Must Be Hillary (note: the guy who wrote me didn't say any of this--it comes from various online sources).

On the other hand, it's just totally not true. Why?

This is the national polling of Clinton vs. Sanders:

That gulf of like 30 points means never having to engage in dirty tricks. Yes: Sanders could win Iowa and New Hampshire--that is possible--but he doesn't have the constituency to win anywhere else. For Hillary to engage operatives against her would be insanity--huge risk--no real reward.

Worse, the conditions under which the plan "worked" were essentially a pair of unforced errors on the part of the candidates at Netroots--and the follow up heckling of Sanders doesn't seem to have added much. It's not like Sanders is crashing in the polls now, anyway.

What Happened?

The answer, of course, is Always Attack Allies. When someone makes themselves vulnerable by taking a position that either looks for--or requires--the support of Social Justice Activists they become uniquely vulnerable to criticism and are then almost without exception, criticized deeply for any mistake. 

The path to forgiveness is clear: an apology (some would say a 'groveling' apology) and a ton of corrective action--usually done in a self-effacing way. 

Part of this is for legitimate reasons--you can decide for yourself what you think they are--but part of this dynamic--the emotional driver for it--is that when someone with privilege (Sanders) enters into the contract with Social Justice (which he did by appearing on that stage) he cedes some of his power.

The people who are on the low privilege side of the power-grid (in general society) now have what is, in effect, for the purposes of that specific context, a higher position of privilege--and they are also, usually, pissed off. They exercise it in a way that is, yes, usually meant to further their aims--but is also done in the mirror image of the way they have been treated by the society the high-privilege person represents.

While the first protest may have been awareness raising / done with specific intent to have a specific agenda item on the candidates platform (and they got it: both O'Malley and Sanders did add those items to their websites) the second one--and the mocking #BernieSoBlack hashtag (he's so black he's Rachel Dolezal's grandfather!) are, essentially, part of the social-media pile on.

Hillary is somewhat immune by (a) not showing up and (b) controlling her access--but also (c) not being the 'progressive choice.' O'Malley would be a better target--but he doesn't matter as much. This is also why we don't see #BlackLivesMatter driving, say, Jeb Bush off the stage--Jeb has not entered into the Social Justice contract and trying to shame him off the stage would just get everyone tased--and shouted own--and made fun of. #NoFun.

It isn't despite the fact that Sanders is a much, much better ally (in the literal sense--not the social justice sense) to the Black Lives Matter movement than any Republican candidate that he was run off the stage a second time--it's because of it.

What Next?

Sanders may or may not continue to draw fire--he's wounded and to some of his critics--for the emotional reasons above--that will make him a potential target. In the larger context, though, The Omnivore will turn to Oliver Willis: If Black Lives Matter, #BlackLivesMatter Has To Grow Up:
I recently looked at what appear to be the demands of the movement, and they are both horribly constructed and general. They don’t make any sense. Politicians need things to be spoon fed to them. What the #BlackLivesMatter slate of policies is has to be decided and hashed out and simplified. It needs to ask politicians and policymakers to sign on. And it should be localized, either for city/county governments, state governments, and in federal law. These racial issues touch us at all levels of civic engagement, not just in Washington. In fact, as with civil rights, Washington is likely to follow the pack, not lead (which is another reason why confronting a presidential candidate is of limited upside).

So the key issues have to be identified and honed, then presented to politicians to see if they are on board. This presents a concrete “ask” for them. Now it is no longer about the tone in which Sen. Sanders did or didn’t address the issue at hand, or if Gov. Martin O’Malley said the right version of who’s lives matter, or if Hillary Clinton is being appropriately inclusive about black women in her speech or not. For optics those things matter, but they really don’t matter.
What matters is who signs on to the policy slate, and — AND — what they’re doing about it if they get elected. Simply signing a #BlackLivesMatter policy slate isn’t a hall pass.
It is notable that #hashtag activism everywhere has the same problem: lack of clear demands (#Occupy and #GamerGate), lack of control of its forces, accusations of false-flags (which, The Omnivore thinks, are rarely if ever actually false), and attention-seeking behavior combine with actual activism in a toxic mix that often does more harm than good.

Willis said on Twitter he thought the #BLM goal might well need to be Body Cameras--Everywhere--for Every Level of Law Enforcement. Full Stop. The Omnivore thinks that might be simple and clear enough to make a real difference.

1 comment: