Black Lives Matter vs. Bernie Sanders: Seattle Showdown Edition. I’m conflicted.

I know I’m late. But it has literally taken me this long to form an coherent opinion on the the event.

Skip to the next header if you already know what happened in Seattle.

During a planned rally on Saturday, August 8th, three Black Lives Matter activists forced their way onto the stage and demanded Bernie Sanders address racial in justice. After extended remarks from the activists and mixed but mostly negative reactions from the crowded, Sanders left the stage and the rally was cancelled. Watch for yourself, if you are so inclined.

Subsequently, all the feels. Every single one.

For real. I had every reaction to this event.

But none of them really felt right to me.

I also received every one of these reactions from my network. White and POC alike. I just couldn’t make up my mind. None of them felt right. Every reaction I saw and felt was missing something I just couldn’t put my finger on.

Until I saw this video from the always eloquent and aptly named Jay Smooth.

I’m not going to recap it, because it is perfect and you should watch it. But I have to highlight this quote:

That’s great that he marched with Dr. King in the 60s but we also marched with Janet Jackson in the 80s and she taught us to ask, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ … If you believe in Bernie Sanders you should have faith that he can answer that question.

In terms of direct action, I thought the Seattle Showdown was a hot mess. I thought it was poorly executed, unfocused, and had terrible optics. It should have and could have been done better. However — and this is a huge “however” — it was a big net positive when you take into account its effects:

  • A weeklong top-story conversation about Black Lives Matter, its organizers, and its representation in the Democratic platform
  • Sanders added a substantial race and racial justice page to his campaign website
  • Sanders hired a black woman, who is a BLM supporter, as press secretary

So in end, I am totally ok with it.

Obviously, the Sanders campaign had its responses in the works for some time. I strongly believe, however, the Seattle Showdown accelerated them.

Regardless, his response to direct action — which will continue if organizers are to be believed — needs to be honed. He can’t just keep walking off-stage whenever it gets uncomfortable.

Bernie Sanders, I believe in you. But you need to bring it.

Sanders has been in the civil rights game for a long time and has, as one would, built up a pretty substantial record on advocating for marginalized communities as a civilian and as a public servant. Big time props for that.

However, there are two problems:

1) Socialism is an incomplete political philosophy.

Socialism is ultimately an economic model that addresses only economics. Even if one extends that model into a broader philosophy of “shared sacrifice creates shared progress”, it can only go so far to address issues that are largely cultural and largely not economic.

“How would socialism address the death penalty?” Electric chair Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Yes, our current capital punishment system is horrifically expensive and inefficient and an argument can be made that this inefficiency has an economic impact. But, what if the system was fiscally flawless?

How does socialism address the ethical question of capital punishment?

It can’t. Socialism is not an ethical construct. It is an economic construct. What does that have to do with anything? Everything. While structural racism often manifests itself in economic inequality, it doesn’t always. Much of racism is cultural and cultural racism fuels (explicitly and implicitly) structural racism.

Without an ethical framework to inform cultural positions, there is no reason for any member of any marginalized community to believe that a socialist can end societal dynamics of discrimination.

2) Scandinavian socialism is white socialism.

Furthermore, Sanders’ socialism is largely built from the Scandinavian model of socialism. I don’t know your level of familiarity with Scandinavia, but it does not look like America.

“Every Scandinavian country is more than 90% white.” Norwegian family in traditional clothing Flickr/KA4A8941

The United States is 63% white.

Panoramic view of the Copenhagen city Skyline Flickr/City Clock Magazine

Less than half of US states have a urbanization rate this high.

This demographical disparity makes it impossible for Scandinavian one-size-fits-all socialism to succeed.

It creates the potential for all sorts of terrible policy miscalculations from the laughably flawed national $15 an hour minimum wage nonsense to the racially ineffectual rising tides lift all boats approach of white socialism. Americans are too diverse for Scandinavian socialism.

It can’t succeed without acknowledging our differences.

Socialism + Intersectional Progressivism = WIN!

Intersectional progressivism is just progressivism that acknowledges that we are not all the same. Every community experiences and is experienced differently and those differences effect outcomes enough that they must be taken into account when creating policy. Pair that with socialism and we have a powerful, effective, data-driven platform lifts all boats without leaving people of color to drown.

Personally, I bet Sanders’ personal politics are pretty much there. But when it comes to intersectional progressivism, the rigor and vigor of his campaign rhetoric and policy platform need to match that of his socialism.

That is what I want from him. That is what Black Lives Matter wants from him. That’s what all his supporters should want from him.

He’s getting there. That means it’s working.