TRUTHDIG--Post-Bernie Sanders progressives should focus unrelenting attention on the racism infecting American society, illustrated by the killings of black men by police and the deaths of officers at the hands of armed African-Americans.
I consider this issue and income inequality the greatest problems facing America. Unfortunately, the Bernie Revolution is frittering away its energy by embracing too many good causes, rather than concentrating on these.
But before I discuss that, I’ve been digging into what Sanders’ followers are thinking of doing after the election this fall, and they’ve got interesting things to say.
“I think the [Bernie] movement is as strong today as it ever has been,” filmmaker Montgomery Markland told me. He’s planning to campaign and raise money for the state and local candidates Sanders hopes to mobilize after the Democratic National Convention next week.
Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America, mirrored the pride and disappointment many followers are feeling after Sanders’ recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. He wrote about it in In These Times:
“While the platform is likely the most progressive ever, with enormous thanks to Bernie and his supporters, it will likely stop short of satisfying the tens of thousands who campaigned for him and the 12 million who voted for him. There is no proposal to end fracking; Medicare for all was voted down; and the platform does not support an end to new Israeli settlements in Gaza or the West Bank.”
I received a long and thoughtful response from Carson Malbrough, a young African-American man who is a junior at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a leader in Students for Sanders. We exchanged emails when I was writing about Sanders volunteers.
“We [younger voters] are the future of this country, and what we saw in Bernie Sanders’ candidacy was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, yet it was everything we could want,” Malbrough wrote.
“He advocated for economic justice, racial justice, environmental justice, drastic changes to higher education, etc., in ways we didn’t know were possible because most politicians don’t have the conviction to do it. … You’ll see many Sanders supporters joining or creating new issue-oriented organizations, educating and registering more of our peers to come out and vote, peacefully protesting for justice and even running for office with the same progressive platform Sanders called for. … I don’t believe any other candidate could have catalyzed this many people like this, especially considering how new most of us are to politics.”
I asked if he was disillusioned by his candidate’s endorsement of Clinton.
“I am far from disillusioned at this point,” he said. “I was disappointed at how the primary ended, but despite that, I still hold my head high. The anger and passion we all felt will not go away, and that’s because this is bigger than just Bernie Sanders. Our system that is corrupted by money and power is something we didn’t know could be changed. We never expected to see our voices amplified on a national level. We never expected for all of the issues and values we care about to be vouched for so passionately.
“To be honest, many of us never expected to even care about politics. But now that we’ve witnessed our potential, there’s no turning back. We will turn this anger into action in order to make our country better moving forward. Even when all the cards are stacked against us, we will lead, and we will achieve the unthinkable.”
As for himself, “I personally plan on casting my first vote for Jill Stein, and the reasons why are simple. My predecessors marched and died for my right to vote, and I value that right. I value it so much that I refuse to waste it on the two major parties’ nominees because I don’t align with them on a moral level. I do not align as Democrat or Republican, so this fall I will be voting with my conscience.”
All these folks have good ideas, and they believe in them. That’s why the Sanders movement was great to cover. It was something I myself hadn’t experienced for some time—politics with a purpose.
But the crisis over racism calls for something bolder and more single-minded than the laundry list of good ideas being tossed about by the Bernie Revolution. It demands support of Black Lives Matter and its police reform agenda.
There are good reasons for this, such as the special racism directed toward African-Americans since slavery, particularly by police and the rest of the so-called criminal justice system. Then there are the numbers. As The Guardian reported in its project titled “The Counted,” on American deaths, of the 598 people killed by police this year, 147 were black, 94 Hispanic, 13 Native American and 297 white, which figures, since whites are 77 percent of the population. African-Americans, being only 13 percent of the population, died in disproportionate numbers. So did Latinos, with 18 percent of the population, but not in the numbers inflicted on black people.
Moving the country closer to open racial conflict is the fact that eight police officers—five in Dallas, three in Baton Rouge, La.—have been shot and killed by African-Americans recently. One of the Baton Rouge police officers, Montrell Jackson, was African-American. He had been on duty in the tense city during the days of protest that followed the killing of an African-American by white Baton Rouge officers, a period of time also marked by rumors of a foiled murder plot against police.
Jackson’s presence reflected a little-noticed aspect of urban policing: Police departments, particularly urban ones, tend to be racially mixed. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department is 40 percent Latino, 38 percent white, 12 percent African-American and 7 percent Asian, statistics that are generally similar to those of other urban police departments.
While on duty during the protests, Jackson posted a powerful message on Facebook. “I’ve experienced so much in my short life and the past 3 days have tested me to the core,” he wrote. “I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat.” He also wrote, “Please don’t let hate infect your heart. This city MUST and WILL get better. I’m working in these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer I got you.”
He got a bullet, instead.
If Baton Rouge police had not killed a black man, there probably would have been no protests, and Jackson and the others, protecting peaceful demonstrators, would not have died.
Black Lives Matter is working to elevate the situation to the top of the national agenda.
Many people, liberals among them, will argue that all lives matter. That’s true, except that all deaths are not treated the same. Nor are all confrontations with police. Studies, and just as important, decades—even centuries—of anecdotes offer irrefutable proof that when stopped by police, African-Americans get a harder time and face a greater chance of being killed.
Black Lives Matter is being smeared at the Republican National Convention, which has given the GOP presidential nomination to Donald Trump. From the beginning, the party has framed the convention as a law-and-order event. As violence has increased in recent weeks, Trump took on the mantle of the law-and-order candidate. And the Republicans’ special target is Black Lives Matter.
Trump’s inflammatory campaign is designed to weaken liberals, just as Republican law-and-order campaigns did in the 1960s and 1970s. The well-intentioned Bernie Revolution will be eclipsed by race hatred.
It’s time for progressives, for all the people who rallied behind Sanders, to take a stand against this. Black lives do matter.