Professor Lawrence Ware writes an essay in which he asserts that #BernieOrBust is a function of white privilege. I disagree.
Professor Ware begins his piece with an admonition to voters to prepare themselves for a loss by Sanders, invoking the math involved. While the climb to victory is a steep one, the math equation hasn’t yet been resolved. Moreover, there are two equations and not one. The main equation is winning the nomination. The secondary equation is transforming the DNC platform at the convention in July, and reclaiming power for the progressive movement from then on.
Ware states that “Sanders pushed Clinton so far to the left that she began calling herself a progressive.” Mrs. Clinton began to call herself a progressive at the New Hampshire debate in which she said she’s “a progressive who gets things done.” That statement was a political stunt, not borne in fact. The Clintons, Bill and Hillary, have always prided themselves on turning the Democratic party into a centrist party, with triangulation as the main mode of expressing that view. Depending on the audience, that claim is still made by both Clintons, and with great pride.
While Secretary Clinton is certainly running on a platform that is more progressive than she envisioned before starting this primary cycle, there are many areas that she has refused to budge on that progressives insist on, namely a living wage, universal healthcare, banking reform, and campaign finance reform, with working to repeal Citizens United as the centerpiece. I’ve written a number of pieces on the insurgent campaigns this cycle and the following of the populist campaigns. At the heart of that success lies a societal change, in the form of a new social class called “precariat.” This new class, which has been forming over decades, has taken its final shape in the wake of the Great Recession. While the precariat can generally be characterized as being comprised of highly educated former middle class Americans who are at or just above poverty level, there are sub-classes, which I wrote about here and here. The motivation behind Bernie or Bust is not supremacy, but survival of a battered middle class, in an election cycle that embodies an ongoing class-warfare in which the left is divided between progressives and neoliberals.
Senator Sanders was not prepared for the interruption at Netroots. What happened in Seattle, however one characterizes that event, Sanders followed up by hiring Symone Sanders that very weekend and published his platform for racial justice two weeks later. While the platform remains the most progressive any candidate has ever proposed, it remains unmatched by his main opponent. Sanders has updated many times following meetings with BLM and other civil rights activists. Mrs. Clinton and her husband, on the other hand, have spurned BLM activists each encounter they’ve had with them. I’ve been chronicling their missteps on this blog:
So, I disagree that Sanders has been remiss since Netroots. If he dropped the ball at Netroots, he’s made a considerable effort to put it right ever since. Those who’ve been willing to take notice are a vocal but relative few. Sanders has gone places no other white politician has been willing to and fielding and answering questions in the kinds of uncomfortable settings his opponent has not participated in.
To his credit, Sanders has shied away from pandering to Black voters by trumpeting his civil rights record. But even if he had attempted to do so, the push to de-legitimize Sanders’ life’s work began the weekend of Netroots, with Roderick Morrow leading calls to ignore fifty years of civil rights activism that Sanders has been involved in. The push for the delegitimization of Sanders’ life work took on a bizarre turn a few months later, when op-ed writer Jonathan Capehart attempted to, quite literally, take Sanders out of his own iconic photo. Here too, Sanders did nothing to capitalize on an obvious slight, and just allowed the facts to bubble up and eventually win out.
Sanders has never failed to realize any of the things attributed to him. Just a couple of days after Netroots, Sanders gave a speech at a meeting of the SCLC. That speech wasn’t given any mention in the press, but it is well-worth watching.
Calling Sanders’ supporters racist and then using that accusation as a vehicle with which to demonize Sanders and his campaign vis-a-vis Black voters has been the go-to tactic for the past year. Dr. Angela Davis best explains Sanders’ political revolution in the context of today’s racial politics. Davis also best explains the things Sanders has not excelled in conveying, not out of some latent racism, but, perhaps, from the disadvantage of a generational lack of familiarity with today’s language. Michelle Alexander also speaks of Sanders’ political revolution and why she supports it:
Martin Luther King himself was criticized at times for prioritizing economics in the way he did. While one can argue over methodology and ideology, the aim is still to work on racial justice and economic justice in tandem – not one instead of the other. As for Sanders’ supporters, thankfully, they aren’t running and Sanders should no more be held accountable for his success with them than Clinton for hers in garnering the Southern Black vote.
There has been no evidence of any racial resentment coming from the progressive camp. Social media aggressions and micro-aggressions that cannot be substantiated and sourced to actual Sanders supporters should not be held against him or against his voters. I get trolled daily. I receive racist mail rather frequently. It would be irresponsible of me to point to any political campaign and make an accusation I cannot prove. Unlike one of Hillary Clinton’s superpacs that established an organization by the name of Correct The Record, Sanders has no superpac and no social media presence that is funded solely for the purpose of disseminating propaganda.
A friend of mine had this reaction to Professor Ware’s essay:
“Sometimes, I think that certain black activists describe all disagreement from whites as assuming intellectual superiority. It’s not assuming intellectual superiority — it’s disagreement.
We whites will never know what the experience of being black in America is like. But I think it’s fair for us to argue that the fact that Bernie was fighting alongside blacks during the civil rights movement should count for something — I also think it’s fair for us to argue that Hillary being a Goldwater girl during that important time should count for something. It’s fair for us to argue that Hillary’s record on issues pertaining to communities of color is worse than Sanders’.
That’s not assuming any kind of intellectual superiority. That’s not telling black people how to vote. That’s making a moral argument — something that all people should be free to do without being accused of white supremacy.”
Nothing exemplifies more painfully how badly we need to reset the political system than the handling of the current opioid epidemic and the racial undertones that go with it. In part, that is why I disagree with the piece I just posted by Professor Lawrence Ware on why Bernie or Bust is an example of white privilege. Blacks and whites are dying for different reasons. Due to some crazy inability to finally get together on something as vital as pushing for change, racial divisions continue as they have and the establishment may well win, again. Divide and conquer, in spite of everything we know, continues to be the most effective means of control.
In my opinion, we need to focus on the movements at hand. The political revolution and Black Lives Matter need each other for many reasons and thus, I will close with the last paragraphs of my essay in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on Sanders and reparations:
Should Bernie Sanders, Secretary Clinton and all other politicians be pushed into beginning a dialogue about reparations? Yes, but not without first taking care to secure the foundations from which to address the totality of Black Lives Matter’s agenda while finally putting in place Martin Luther King’s Poor People agenda, changing the course and nature of American capitalism using the philosophical approach set forth in Joseph Stiglitz’ Rewriting The Rules and simultaneously enacting a fundamental reform of our national education curriculum with a view to radically change the quantity and quality of America’s font of knowledge about itself and its people. All of the items listed, in the form they exist today, have been central to America’s self-perpetuating race and class dysfunction. Of all the candidates in the 2016 race, Sanders’ platform for racial justice, is the most developed. Sanders has shown a degree of pragmatism and flexibility that neither Mrs. Clinton or any other competitor has been ready to match.
Without revolutionary changes in approach and understanding, true and lasting progress will remain out of reach.
“A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait