Bernie Sanders Needs a Fred Hampton, Young Patriots Moment in a YUUGE Way
I must begin the piece by stating my love and appreciation for Brother Bernie Sanders. There can no longer be a debate about the significance of his historic Presidential run, nor the positive impacts his policy proposals are having on our very troubled nation. It was through my criticism of Bernie’s environmental justice approach and policies that brought me to his campaign as an unofficial advisor, as a surrogate and as an ardent supporter — I am proud to remain in contact with his staff offering my take and ideas on his environmental policy proposals. Bernie, to me, has always embraced an ethic of accountability, and it’s in that spirit that I offer this critique of what I have recently observed from him and too many of his supporters who appear to be stuck in a vortex of tunnel vision.
Last week, while rallying in Boston with Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders opined, “Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks. I don’t agree, because I’ve been there.” To be clear, of course not ALL of Trump’s supporters are racist, sexists or bigots — but at the same time, racists, sexists and bigots don’t exactly represent an outlier on the bell curve of Trump’s supporters. That’s why I was happy to see Sanders’ statement rightfully and swiftly rebuked in a series of excellent pieces written by Fannie Wolfe, Chauncey DeVega and Medhi Hassan.
Wolfe in her piece broke it down adroitly stating, “Regardless of whether Trump supporters were disgusted, delighted, entertained, or titillated by Trump’s cruelty, Trump supporters share at least one commonality. Trump’s parade of cruelties during Election 2016 was not a dealbreaker.” DeVega bolsters this statement in his article by remarking, “In the United States, white liberals and progressives have historically shown a serious inability to grapple with the realities of the color line and the enduring power of white supremacy. Many of them are either unable or unwilling to understand that fighting against class inequality does not necessarily remedy the specific harms done to African-Americans and other people of color by white racism,” and Hassan offers excellent analysis opining, “For Sanders, Warren and others on the left, the economy is what matters most and class is everything. Yet the empirical evidence just isn’t there to support them. Yes Trump won a (big) majority of non-college-educated whites, but he also won a majority of college-educated whites, too. He won more young white voters than Clinton did and also a majority of white women; he managed to win white votes regardless of age, gender, income or education.”
In sum, the writing is clearly on the wall and it’s time for Sanders, Warren, the Democratic Party and so-called white “progressives” to open their eyes and their hearts — something I hope to observe while they tour so-called “Red States” later this month. Perhaps there is an argument for not becoming obsessed with “identity politics.” But that does not mean we should not identify the people in this nation who are the most oppressed and who suffer the most, nor the people who support or supported the regime currently in the White House that exacerbates oppression, and why they did/do so consciously and unconsciously.
Bernie had no problem calling out Secretary Clinton during the Flint, MI debate for her racism when she uttered the term “super predator,” and I wish he would do the same with Trump supporters. Their racism and intolerance was in full display as we all observed People of Color assaulted verbally and physically at numerous rallies, there’s even a pending lawsuit against Trump for inciting this violence. The Democratic Party and Sanders would do well to embrace the examples and analysis of the Democratic Socialists of America, who continue to impress me with their approach to addressing systemic and institutional racism, bigotry and patriarchy.
Sanders was famously arrested in Chicago in 1963, standing up for desegregation. This was one of the many reasons I supported his candidacy, he was the only candidate, from both parties, to risk arrest for Civil Rights — something even the man he was running to succeed didn’t do. Burlington, VT is roughly 900 miles from Chicago, but in the case of Brother Bernie’s aversion to identifying and calling out racism, as pointed out by Wolfe, DeVega and Hassan, Burlington may as well be light years away. And this is ironic, because Bernie need look no further than the city that houses his alma mater for a model, and perhaps greatest lesson, for unified resistance to economic oppression. He need look no further than Fred Hampton and the original Rainbow Coalition.
The Rainbow Coalition consisted of the Black Panthers, Young Lords, American Indian Movement, Chinese I Wor Kuen and others. What intrigues me the most about the coalition was the inclusion of the Young Patriots. In their seminal work, Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times, Amy Sonnie and James Tracy remark, “…the Patriots asserted that oppressed whites, particularly poor white southerners, constituted “a people,” and in doing so carved out a rare and controversial claim to white ethnic revolutionary nationalism. As “hillbilly nationalists” they claimed white southerners’ right to determine their destiny and oppose the “pig power structure” that created slavery and the capitalist North–South divide.”
With all due respect to Sanders, his group Our Revolution is nowhere near the radicalism of the Rainbow Coalition, the type of radicalism we need in such radical times. Hampton and the Young Patriots understood they were fighting a mutual adversary, Capitalism. The difference between the economic populism of Hampton and Sanders, is that Hampton and the Young Patriots understood that Adam Smith’s “Hand” is whiter than it is invisible and, via Capitalism, covertly aims to do one thing in a profound way, facilitate a perpetual investment in global white dominance — even at the expense of low-wealth and working class white people, because that’s how abject avarice functions. Hampton et al also understood that Capitalism, in itself, is inherently racist and oppressive, a view also shared today by scholar, author and my new friend Chris Williams.
We are already starting to see the effects of Sanders’ pernicious omission as it pertains to racism and oppression from the so-called “Left.” Just yesterday the Minnesota based Star Tribune released an article littered with fecklessness and fatuity entitled, Seven Ways Liberals Must Realign With Middle America written by self-described liberal and “semiretired marketing executive and researcher,” Doug R. Berdie. Berdie’s prescriptions include: So-called “hate crimes” laws must be repealed and replaced; Drop the “reparations” push (which, again, alienates people and prods them toward Trumpism); and, wait for it, Change the mantra “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter.”
It is of course correct to establish the nexus between Trump’s election and increased instances of citizen induced violence against marginalized populations including, but not limited to, transgender citizens (especially transgender women of color), Native Americans, immigrants and their families and those of Muslim and/or Arab descent. But if we are truly seekers and practitioners of justice, then we must also establish the nexus between Sanders’ omission of racism/oppression and the recent Star Tribune article, which pronounces viewpoints that are not exactly nascent for many so-called white “progressives” — especially those who reside in so-called “Red States.”
One of the less cited quotes of the non-sanitized version of Martin Luther King is, “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate…” Brother Bernie is on a perilous trajectory to the “white moderate” moniker King warned of.
I believe we all want to see Bernie continue his trajectory of improvement, associated with understanding racial and ethnic injustice, that he displayed following disruptions of his appearances at the Netroots Nation 2015 Conference and in Seattle, WA by members of Black Lives Matter. And here’s the irony — because he’s not in the White House, which even limited Barack Obama from speaking truth to power on issues of race and oppression, Bernie actually has greater latitude to exercise a more radical approach to identifying and addressing racism and all forms of oppression. Step one is calling it out when it’s right in front of you.
Bernie Sanders was recently polled as the most popular politician in the country. A closer look at the poll reveals that it was non-whites that put him at the top, with 47% of them having a strongly favorable view of him, compared to 27% of whites (the poll was taken before the recent Boston rally). Sanders would do well to continue and build on this support by actually delivering to this demographic, unlike the Democrats who continue to deny them an equitable return on investment for their support at the polls. Rhetoric and language matter and are a function of garnering and maintaining support, which is why we have to qualify his statement in Boston as clumsy and languorous.
My love and appreciation for Brother Bernie Sanders remains ubiquitous and unwavering. But the equation of love must include variables of constructive criticism and fearless feedback. Otherwise it’s not love, it’s nothing more than infatuation — and Rod Stewart hasn’t written a hit song in a long time.