Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bernie Sanders Footnote

Published 8/11/15
Updated 2/21/16

For me, a trip down Memory Lane...

When a couple of local activists attempted to take over the podium at a Bernie Sanders event last week they bit off more than they could chew. Not only did their misguided direct action simply fail, it proved, in fact, to be counterproductive. Watching this from a distance, I'm reminded of the chaos of the Sixties when a small but growing minority of civil rights activists competed for influence. The ultimate goal came to pass with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the years before that saw a chaotic mix of various groups, all ostensibly working for the same goal but hampered as much by infighting and quarreling among themselves as the systemic forces they wanted to change.

Little did we know that legislation was not the end. Another phase of the struggle was underway. When Congress and the White House followed up with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the magnitude of the challenge should have been made clear. But that was not to happen. Infighting continued as though nothing had happened. I went with a friend to an early meeting of the Southern Students Organizing Committee (SSOC) in Atlanta a year or two later and was impressed with the array of radical literature and AV resources on display. There was a fabulous film featuring interviews with Lillian Smith and tracts from the whole spectrum of leftist groups. I still have my copy of the Port Huron Statement (SDS) I picked up at that time. SSOC was soon absorbed by SDS and quietly dismantled. Not only was it limited to a region, black members were disgusted with the Confederate flag as part of the logo. Wikipedia has some notes. 

Those were exciting and important times. Everyday people and high profile leaders were being assassinated (four children in Birmingham, Medgar Evers, JFK, MLK, RFK) and activists were going to jail in large numbers. Urban riots broke out all over the country. In 1963 my college roommate and I took part in what was supposed to have been a march on the capital (Tallahassee, Florida) organized by local activists to protest segregation, but at the last minute two busloads of better-organized NAACP activists rolled in and took over, diverting the destination to a segregated ball park instead for what turned into a fundraising and cheerleading event for NAACP. Many local activists dropped out, refusing to take part in what they saw as "giving in" to more moderate forces. Some called them Uncle Toms, overlooking the fact that they had been in the struggle since before the newcomers were born. Local activists apparently didn't know (or care) that those two busses had come from Jacksonville where the beginnings of one of those riots had just taken place, and the leaders only wanted to prevent the same from happening in Tallahassee. My roommate and I took part anyway, since we had stayed up late making a banner our of an old bedsheet proclaiming "Discrimination Must Go" and it needed two people to hold it. Only later did we learn that you don't take sticks or poles to demonstrations because they can be used as weapons against you in the wrong hands.

Bernie Sanders and I are about the same age, and I'm sure he knows a lot more about the dynamics of political organizing than most. (A younger Barack Obama might have benefitted from some Sanders coaching as a community organizer.  Bernie seems to have honed his skills to a fine edge.) Meantime, the Web brings about changes much faster than in the good old days. When King wrote his letter from a Birmingham Jail we learned about it as it was passed along by mimeograph copies, sometimes with typos. It was not professionally published until some time later. But now, thanks to the Web, we get information at the speed of light. 

So here are four references to last week's Podium Affair to read and study. Lots of pictures and a few videos can be found at the links. To his credit, Bernie never missed a beat, moving on to tens of thousands of people wanting to hear him. And without interruptions, thank you. 

Questions emerge in regards to Seattle activists’ connections to #BlackLivesMatter
posted by Sky Palma August 10, 2015

After the interruption of a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle this Saturday by activists claiming to represent the city’s Black Lives Matter faction, many in the progressive sphere were left scratching their heads 
It was an awkward and confrontational spectacle, ultimately causing Sanders to leave without speaking and ending with the mostly liberal crowd booing and hissing the two women who commandeered the podium while speaking for this country’s fastest growing civil rights movement.

Now the focus turns to Marissa Jenae Johnson — the woman who grabbed the mic from Sanders — and story gets downright weird and confusing. 
The Internet is awash in conspiracy theories on Johnson’s motives: She’s a a paid operative from the Hillary camp sent to sow turmoil among Sanders supporters; she’s actually a Sarah Palin supporter (a cursory examination of the comment thread on the Facebook post where this originated, reveals that Johnson was referring to her early political leanings in high school which have since changed); she’s a conservative Christian who supports Sarah Palin (it’s true that she spouts some pretty nutty religious rhetoric on social media — she’s definitely a devout Christian of some sort — but there is no evidence that she is a “conservative” Christian).
Black Lives Matter Seattle Protestor Is A Former Tea Party Palin Supporter
August 10, 2015 Paul Loebe

An interesting development has occurred within the Black Lives Matter movement and it has caused many outside and from within the movement to question the wisdom in the most recent interruption of Bernie Sanders campaign. While no one can deny its effectiveness, especially considering Senator Sanders newest addition to his team is a Black Lives Matter activist, this interruption happened after Bernie had already begun shifting his campaign towards publicizing his stance on racial issues 
When individuals place themselves in the public eye they become scrutinized at every level. While looking into these activists for the Black Lives Matter movement, it became readily apparent that either they were not officially a part of the BLM movement, or they were not organized until just around the time of the incident. 
A pre-existing BLM_Seattle Facebook page put out a statement that initially distanced itself from the incident. The owner of that page also maintained an autonomous Twitter account that published a public apology as well.
BLM Activist Who Shut Down Sanders is Radical Christian, Sarah Palin Supporter
August 9, 2015 by Michael Stone

One of the Black Lives Matter activists who shut down the Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle is a self-identified “radical Christian” and former Sarah Palin supporter.
Marissa Jenae Johnson along with another protester, Mara Jacqueline, interrupted the planned Seattle rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Saturday afternoon, preventing the Vermont senator from addressing the massive crowd. 
The rally at Westlake Park ended around 3 p.m. with Sanders choosing to leave after the belligerent protesters took the stage and stayed there, controlling the microphone, and hurling racist insults at the progressive crowd gathered to hear Sanders speak.
After disrupting the Sanders’ event and taking the microphone, a hostile and obnoxious Johnson accused the audience of “white supremacist liberalism” before telling the Seattle crowd:

I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is — with all of its progressives — but you’ve already done that for me. Thank you. 
As one might expect, the crowd did not take kindly to the childish insults. Perhaps even more puzzling, an obviously confused Johnson said:

If you care about Black Lives Matter, as you say you do, you will hold Bernie Sanders specifically accountable for his actions. 
Apparently Johnson is unaware that Bernie Sanders was marching with Martin Luther King Jr. before she was even born.
The Real Black Lives Matter Wants Activists To Publicly Apologize to Bernie Sanders
By: Adalia Woodbury (more from Adalia Woodbury)

Monday, August, 10th, 2015Black Lives Matter wants the two women who shut down a Bernie Sanders event in Seattle on Saturday to publicly apologize to the Senator and Presidential Candidate. 
Jason Easley wrote about Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford shutting down Bernie Sanders’ rally in Seattle 
They led organizers and the media to believe they are part of Black Lives Matter. It’s not hard to understand why. BLM is succeeding in its efforts to raise awareness and get action on the multitude of issues that are a direct consequence of structural racism. The Black Lives Matter movement is very loosely structured without a central organization. 
That provides freedom to activists and supporters, but it means that BLM is also vulnerable to groups who may wish to co-opt their national reputation, as occurred on Saturday. Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are many groups who use black lives matter as a rallying call. 


It is now February 21, 2016 and much has changed since I posted these notes last August.  Now, half a year later, Sanders has not only plowed past those first clumsy encounters with what has become a national movement, but both he and they have grown into full-throated voices for their respective messages. Black Lives Matter has made Super Bowl halftime status and Sanders is at this writing a viable contender to become the Democrat nominee for the general election. (He likely will not be, because of Hillary Clinton's clear favorability with party leaders in the form of super-delegates to the convention.)

So this was my Facebook post last Friday that has been well-received.
Bernie's message may not result in concrete results but it's doing more to change the political will than any have done before. 
We already have single-payer in the form of Medicare. We also have pure government health care in the form of VA hospitals and all the branches of military medical service corps. We have private alternatives to Medicare in the form of Medicare Advantage (the insurance industry's answer in the form of PPO or HMO or other variants). And poor as they may be, local and county public health clinics and various Medicaid models represent existing models of public-private healthcare ripe for improvement and expansion. 
Every time I go to the health department to update my TB test I see lot of infants and toddlers, presumably to be checked for problems or get their immunizations up to date. And I wonder why there is not at least one doctor on duty -- pediatric or otherwise -- as a resource person. 
Any or all of the above are just waiting for public awareness and demands to deliver universal health care -- not in one form, but collectively when properly calibrated.Canadian Medicare is one model, with no insurance alternatives. Britain's NHS is another model, augmented by private alternatives and insurance. Every country with universal care has it's own variant of public/private participation -- although there will and must be a strong measure of regulatory oversight to make it happen here. 
It's not a dream. Universal health care is totally feasible for America. The main obstacle is the political will to make it happen, and Sanders is making that happen.
Bernie Sanders has much of the younger generation in his pocket to the dismay of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Here is one explanation why...

Why Do Young People Have Such Visceral Dislike for Hillary?Here’s a theory.
By Jamelle Bouie
That Democrats have a generational split in their presidential primary isn’t a surprise. Young Democrats flocked to Barack Obama in 2008, to Howard Dean in 2004, to Bill Clinton in 1992, and in one of the most famous examples, to George McGovern in 1972. What’s different about this primary is the size of the gulf between young Democrats and the rest of the party. Eighty-four percent of voters between 17 and 29 backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucus, and in the latest New Hampshire polls, he leads Clinton by an almost 9-to-1 margin. 
Despite the many, many takes on “millennial” disenchantment with Clinton, the why of her weakness isn’t as obvious as it seems. The big, obvious problem is that in Iowa and New Hampshire we have a narrow sample of young people to choose from. Between the two states, we are looking at a distinctive group of young, white, largely college-educated liberals whose left-turn is both surprising—in its speed and intensity—and predictable given events (the shock of the Great Recession) and the usual divides in the Democratic Party. (In her youth, for example, Hillary Clinton was fighting the “establishment” from the trenches of the McGovern campaign. 
Because we don’t know what young black and Latino voters believe about the contest between Sanders and Clinton—so far, there’s little polling from either South Carolina or Nevada—it’s hard to make firm electoral conclusions about Clinton’s weakness and Sanders’ strength, although it is clear that we are witnessing a real ideological shift in the Democratic Party that will play out in the next 20 years. With that said, we can still glean insight from the divide, and try to pinpoint—in particular—the source of Clinton’s weakness. And to that point, I asked around. For young participants in presidential politics, what was the problem with Hillary Rodham Clinton? What was so off-putting? 
Speaking to students attending a Clinton event at Manchester Community College, the big answer was Wall Street. “I’m concerned with her talks with Goldman Sachs—the big money that is behind her,” said Sarah Kocher, who was there with a group from Hofstra University in New York. By contrast, she admired Sanders’ stance against “the big money and the banks.” “Bernie is very honest,” she said. 
“I think a lot of us are starting to realize that Hillary is just part of the establishment,” said Kate, another student from the same group, whose only hesitation on Sanders was his ability to deliver on his promises. 
Another group of students—who had come out of curiosity—sounded a similar note. “I get the impression from Hillary that as soon as she gets in office … she wouldn’t be an effective president,” said Michael Hathaway, “and if she was effective, it wouldn’t be for me, it would be for her banker friends who were giving her millions of dollars.” 
Sitting next to Michael was Lexis, who had less to say about Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, and more to say about her campaign appeals. “I have a very large problem with the fact that a very large part of her campaign is riding on the fact that she’s a woman, and expects people like me—women—to vote for her,” she said. She continued: “All I have heard so far is ‘I’m a woman vote for me, because we need a woman president.’ We’ll have plenty of time in the future for women to run, for qualified, worthy women to run. We need to get over this concept of immediate gratification that’s driving this campaign.” 
What’s striking in all of this is how visceral the dislike is, especially since Hillary—while important—isn’t a central figure in the story of American politics since the end of the George W. Bush administration. She backed the corporate-friendly policies that young Democrats are rebelling against, but she isn’t responsible for them. 
I don’t have an explanation here, but I have a theory. It’s obvious that the left turn among young voters is a product of the Great Recession. For Americans who left high school or finished college in 2008, 2009 and 2010 (I’m part of this group, for the record), the economy was a wasteland, with little opportunity and tremendous competition. Young people—and especially college graduates—were promised a pathway into the middle-class and received, instead, a dead end. 
Clinton isn’t responsible for this state of affairs, but she comes out of a governing class that played a large and important part in letting it happen. And while she has moved to the left to accommodate the concerns of younger voters, she’s still tainted by her history. That this is complicated—that it interacts with her gender in important ways—is almost irrelevant, as evidenced by the resistance to her gendered appeals. 
What matters is that to these young voters Hillary Clinton was on the wrong side when it mattered. And that Bernie Sanders, as flawed as he might be, wasn’t.
The logic is straightforward. I think Bouie is right. And that lacerating contest between her and Obama in the months leading up to his final selection are sure to have left scar tissue on anyone paying attention. I was watching closely because I felt at the time she had a better chance at being elected than he, but I had no problem shifting gears when he was named the candidate. Then when he immediately named her as his Secretary of State I could not imagine a more conciliatory gesture.

All that is recent past for me and my peers. But I can easily understand how that can be seen differently by anyone in their thirties or below. To a younger crowd that recent part of history suggests political gamesmanship more than the exercise in democratic give and take that it was.

In a different Facebook post I "shared" a short video of Bernie Sanders opposing one of the many crime bills that have come through Congress over the years. Unfortunately it is timed to persuade voters to select him instead of Hillary Clinton to be the Democrat nominee in this year's presidential election. I like and respect them both, so I passed the video along with the following comments...
Watch and listen, but take many of the comments under advisement. This video is now being used to excoriate Hillary Clinton, and much of what is now being said about her in the comments thread is accurate. But accurate and "true" are not exactly the same. I say that because she and Bill Clinton are no more blameworthy of the events, conditions and legislation that was passed under his watch than you, I and all the rest of the country that allowed those measures to come to pass.

Whether or not we like it, living in a democracy means that when the majority makes a decision, those of us in the minority agree to allow that sentiment to prevail. But it does not mean we cannot rail against it, argue, complain, teach, persuade and cajole others to change their minds (and hopefully their vote) for the next occasion the same issue is presented for reconsideration. That's how we make progress. And that's what is happening again in 2016 with these elections.

This video of Bernie Sanders is testimony to his insight, foresight and stubborn refusal to yield the moral high ground when matters of principle reach the floor of Congress. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people of Vermont for sending this man to Washington for the years he has been there, both as a Congressman and a Senator. And we now owe it to ourselves to once again hear his admonitions and help him as he continues to bring issues into the spotlight that have too long been overlooked.
If elected president Bernie Sanders would be the oldest person in history to have done so. He is an American version of what the Japanese call living national treasures -- someone dedicated to causes greater than himself. He is like Socrates to ancient Greece, Old Testament prophets or writers of fiction warning society about the dangers that await if we make poor choices. Bernie Sanders uses his time under the spotlight to talk about principles and goals, not himself. He is an American gadfly.

Hear the words of Socrates...
I am the gadfly of the Athenian people, given to them by God, and they will never have another, if they kill me. And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God by condemning me, who am his gift to you. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long 1and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You will not easily find another like me, and therefore I would advise you to spare me.

No comments:

Post a Comment