Further to the Disruption of O’Malley and Sanders, Including the Black Lives Matter Perspective

Angela Peoples, of GetEqual, was one of the organizers of the group that disrupted the Martin O’Malley / Bernie Sanders Town Hall at Net Roots Nation on Saturday. Pamela reported on that yesterday in #BlackLivesMatter Protesters Disrupt Netroots Nation Sanders & O’Malley Town Hall.

I bumped into Ms. Peoples later in the day, and she was nice enough to speak with me for a few minutes.

I’m more of an opinion guy than a reporter, but Ms. Peoples’ perspective here is more important than mine, so I’ll get to my opinions later. Although she was speaking for herself, I suspect the views she expressed represent those of the great majority of her collaborators.

By way of background, I spoke to several people from the mostly white audience after the event. Their view largely was that the disruption was inappropriate or that the initial disruption was fine, but that the disruptors were wrong to keep going after the first 15 minutes or so.

So, I asked Ms. Peoples for her reaction to those views.

“Civility,” she explained, “is a luxury afforded to those with privilege. When people are being pulled over for random traffic stops and losing their lives, the opportunity for civility goes right out the window.”

As Pamela suggested in her piece, it was breathtaking to see how poorly O’Malley  and Sanders handled the unexpected disruption. I was curious to hear Ms. Peoples’ reaction to the apparent failure of both candidates to anticipate being confronted with tough questions from the Black community. To her, it was simple. She wasn’t interested in hearing canned talking points, so the political ineptitude of Sanders and O’Malley being completely unprepared didn’t faze her. “Just be a human being,” she suggested. Doesn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation to me.

Okay, here’s my take. First, this shouldn’t be that hard for white people to get their heads around.

Second, the dismay expressed by most in the audience at the disruption is beyond pathetic. Check out the cost / benefit analysis of the disruption:

The cost: Had there been no disruption, the audience members would have been able to hear the candidates’ mini-stump speeches and their canned talking points given in response to the questions from the moderator. Call me crazy, but that seems like an incredibly modest cost.

The benefit: The audience members got to see the utter cluelessness and ineptitude of both candidates on an issue of urgent social justice. In this regard, Pamela understated the lameness of O’Malley’s response. He actually said “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” Sanders, remarkably, was worse. Unlike O’Malley, he had time to collect his thoughts, as he was backstage for 20 minutes or more after the disruption first got under way. Apparently, he used that time to review his stump speech. He was so un-facile that he could not pivot away from his prepared opening remarks in order to address the protestors. Then, rather than validating their concerns, he chose to condescend, to suggest that what they needed to be concerned about was not the deaths of their brothers and sisters but black jobs (you know, the subject he could recite statistics on), and to be dismissive, saying “of course Black lives matter,” in a tone such that “of course” implied that the question was a silly one. It was terrible.

Neither Sander nor O’Malley nor their advisors had anticipated the need to speak to members of the Black community. I don’t know how they managed to be so ill-prepared for this moment, but the lack of preparation came across as utter tone-deafness and lack of empathy.

I like Bernie Sanders. I hope he finds the judgment to apologize publicly for his performance. The irony here is that deep down inside, he probably gets it. I’ve not written him off. Yet.

But this needs to be a “teachable moment” for Bernie.

It needs to be one for a large swath of his supporters as well, those who were angered by the disruption yesterday. Essentially, they’re lashing out at the disruptors because of the impact it had on their candidate. That impact, however, was caused not by the actions of the disruptors but by their own candidate’s shortcomings. Consider how Sanders’ supporters would feel if, when the disruptors asked Sanders to say their name, he had said something like this:

I don’t know your name, but I know names like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice. Yes, Black lives matter. They matter every bit as much as white lives. And the violent actions of police towards those whom they are charged to protect is intolerable. Even more intolerable is the failure to prosecute the wrongdoers. We must do better. We must end this disgusting, upside down world where Blacks feel fearful in the presence of law enforcement instead of more safe and secure. I don’t have all the answers. But I hear you, and I promise you as President Black lives will matter to me.

I think Sanders had it in him to say that. I don’t think my words differ from his true feelings. My guess is that his own words to express those feelings would have been more powerful than mine.

But on this occasion, Sanders failed. He had a clear opportunity to embrace the moment. Had he done so, his words undoubtedly would have been along the lines of what I scripted above. And he would have brought the house down, including the disruptors.

Instead of embracing the moment, however, Sanders rejected it. He didn’t want to pivot away from his precious stump speech and talking points.

And he, and a huge swath of his supporters, were angered that he was asked to do so.

But that isn’t the fault of the disruptors. The only thing they did was give him a golden opportunity to speak out on one of the most urgent matters of social justice I’ve seen in my 58 years of existence and, more importantly, the only issue that matters right now to them and millions of Blacks across the country.

I hated to see O’Malley and Sanders fail so badly yesterday. I wanted them to succeed. I still want them to succeed. But I won’t delude myself into believing that Angela Peoples or her collaborators caused them to fail. As Ms. Peoples told me, all they had to do was be human beings. Can anyone rationally accuse her of setting the bar too high?

24 responses to “Further to the Disruption of O’Malley and Sanders, Including the Black Lives Matter Perspective

  1. Hi Bob,
    It was nice seeing you up at Netroots.
    We must have seen two entirely different events. It was plain to me that the demonstration’s main purpose was to disrupt & that they were quite successful. From where I sat, it was impossible understand what was being shouted or chanted & I could make out very little of what Black Love had to say. I really didn’t hear a group asking questions & expecting answers.
    I’m always the one putting forth the Black Lives Matter side of things. I’ve gotten into it in a couple of bars & with my family a few times. The remark about “the animals looting & rioting” has usually set it off & I can get quite emotional telling them why African Americans getting beaten & murdered ON CAMERA should be the thing that upsets them.
    It breaks my heart & it pisses me off every time another brutality or murder is exposed. Police culture needs to be broken & replaced with something human. You never see a police officer pull another off someone, or walk him away when he’s obviously out of control. That has to change.
    Still, if someone – or a group of someone’s – were yelling in my face about black lives mattering, my response would probably be something very inelegant like, “Of course black lives matter.”
    So far as I can see the disruption has worked out for Sanders – who is now addressing it in his speeches – & the movement. Would have been nice to have heard Vargas ask the question & heard a thoughtful reply rather than the jeers & chanting. My opinion.

  2. What most white people don’t understand (and I am a 61 year old white male) is that we are not treated the same as a minority.
    I had a 1989 red suburban I used as a work vehicle for years ( some of you probably remember it.)
    It had the back window broken out and the front window cracked and a passenger side window cracked and both Windows in the back cracked and was missing two hubcaps and the paint job wasn’t pretty anymore.
    Do you know now many times I was stopped?
    NONE.
    A third generation Mexican American worker had none of these and a perfect dtivi g record and he was stopped.
    White privilege? You think it doesn’t exist?
    Are you really that stupid?

    • I am a white male. I had a cracked windshield on my truck. I was stopped and given a “Fix it” Ticket. I lived in New Jersey for a while. I left the Turnpike, got lost, and wound up driving through the “projects” by accident. I was stopped by the Passaic Police for being in a high drug area and questioned why I was there.

      Anecdotal evidence is about as useful as a third ear. Since it seems very important to you, you may have my share of the collective “white guilt” your posting indicates is needed.

      • Maybe, Steve, but the statistics actually are consistent with Joe’s anecdotal evidence.

        What do you think the larger problem is “white guilt” or “white denial”?

        • “What do you think the larger problem is “white guilt” or “white denial”?”

          Without a doubt, the larger problem is “white guilt”.

          White guilt makes otherwise rational people behave in the stupidest manner possible. It is political correctness in it’s most rabid form. It is ultimately a self destructive philosophy that cannot allow any contrary views.

          People who experience guilt because they are white and have somehow been unfairly advantaged because of it seek to somehow “level the playing field” (using their words) without ever realizing that they CAN’T level the playing field to their satisfaction. There is no end to the demands they place on themselves to do that and they never feel they have acheived what they are trying to accomplish. The guilt just goes on and on and they beat themselves up constantly because there is never any end to the horror of white advantage they see before them.

          What is especially sad is the minorities they are trying to impress with their sincerity and their humility don’t give a damn about them. Sure, these white people can march with them, they can cry at the indignity of life, they can throw themselves in abject sorrow and misery at the feet of the oppressed, but when push comes to shove, they are just another “privileged white person”. All of that suffering and all of that guilt, and it means nothing.

          White guilt is a destructive psychological disease. Those who suffer from it are self destructive in the end. While they may feel there is great nobility in what they do, there is really only a prolonged, dull sort of sadness. Unless they someday come to their senses and realize the pointlessness of what they are doing, they will simply suffer a never ending guilt over something they have no control over.

  3. captain*arizona

    bernie supporters are white Mrs clinton supporters are democratic coalition.

  4. I always find it interesting how often – on this blogosphere – the source of all evil in the world, the worst devils that have ever existed, the very bane of human existance is singled out for that special deep, deep hatred that only IT deserves. I am speaking, of course, about WHITE MEN (insert dramatic evil music here)!!!!!

    What is always overlooked is how absolutely vital we are to these same people’s view of the world. To borrow from an old saying – the source of which escapes me at the moment – if we didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent us. After all, were it not for white men, on what would they blame all the suffering, failure, hatred, sadness, misfortune, bigotry, racism, misogeny, depression, skinned elbows, tooth decay, bad breath, lost socks, etc., that happens in their world?

    • Tell me about a white man being pulled over by the cops and losing his life because he was white and male.

      • Do you really think such things have not happened when a white male took on a really bad attitude with the cops and resisted them? Pay attention to the local news. It doesn’t get the big playup because it isn’t of interest politically.

        Your scenario is the usual fallback that is supposed to silence any critics, but the truth is that even other prominent blacks try and get the point across that when you are stopped by Police, DON’T give them attitude, COOPERATE with them, and – above all else – DON’T have illegal drugs and guns in the car. Such things are known to cause problems with Police regardless of your race (or gender, for that matter).

        But be honest with yourself…isn’t it delightful to have such a bug-a-boo and convenient target to blame all thing evil on? White men are just so out there, ready for blame and hatred. They can’t defend themselves because modern folklore has it that there is no good in them. They are just plain evil, intent on crushing anyone who opposes them. Isn’t that comforting to you?

        As I said, if we didn’t exist, you would have to invent us…

      • I forgot to answer your question. I can’t PROVE that a white man was pulled over simply because he was white and male. But other than the common assumptions made when black males are pulled over by Police, there is rarely any evidence that being black and male was the only reason THEY were pulled over. Particularly in the last decade or so when there is such sensitivity on the subject. The ASSUMPTION is always made because it finds a sympathetic audience, but there is rarely any such case or the Justice Department would drop the hammer of Civil Rights violations on that Police Department.

    • Oh you poor, poor dear! How awful it must be to carry the weight of everything bad and evil on your shoulders. Here, let me wipe away your tears, you seem to be whining and crying over this injustice.

    • This post may have been about Whiteness to an extent, which was kind of unavoidable because the issue involves Blackness, specifically, the violence committed against Blacks by law enforcement.

      But it wan’t about maleness. One of the cops involved in Freddie Gray’s death was a woman. And if Hillary Clinton had been there yesterday and handled the situation as O’Malley and Sanders did, she’d obviously be the subject of discussion.

      Thus, my sense is your comment was one you just wanted to make, without regard to how well it connected to the post you appended it to.

      • Bob, I mentioned before that sometimes an opening presents itself for me to discuss something not directly related to what was posted. In this case, my response was more directed to the extremely long reponse from Dianne Post who mentioned “white males” numerous times in her response. I am interested in seeing what response, if any, I get. So far, they have been pretty anemic, or foolish.

        By the way, if my doing this bothers you, please let me know and I won’t do it on your postings again. :o)

    • Larry Sakin

      Ah, yes. Instead of actually addressing the concerns of the Black Lives Matter protesters, let’s take the fallback position of what victims white males are, being cast as some sort of dark evil that cause only pain and suffering upon the world.

      What crap.

      This is hardly an original argument and truth be told, it is used more to mask the reality of racism than to illuminate it. I believe a casual look into the American justice system would show higher sentencing ratios for minorities than whites for the same crime and more deaths per capita of minorities due to police shootings. Further, when a white person is stopped by police, s/he generally has less to fear. While some believe this isn’t so because the media doesn’t find it “political” enough to cover, the reality is it doesn’t get covered because the same violence visited upon whites by police is highly disproportionate to that of minorities. To deny that white people have had and continue to have a great deal more privilege in our society is to be delusional.

      Gandhi said it best: “We must be the change we seek.” So, let’s stop confusing the victims and the victimizers, and look deeply into ourselves to see what each of us can do to create said change.

      • “What crap.”

        That “crap” is absolutely true in all regards. White males are the only category of human beings that it is socially, politically and generally acceptable to condemn, demonize, ridicule, criticize and hate without fear of backlash. Anyone who is intellectually honest has to acknowledge that. Of course that concept is not original to me…it is mentioned on a regular basis. and, inevitably, people emerge from the woodwork, not to refute it, but to make excuses for why it is acceptable.

        I didn’t address the other issues you brought up because that wasn’t the point of my missive. I also didn’t talk about China’s cornering the rare earth market, assisted suicide or the hot weather we are having. I spoke on the subject I was interested in and nothing else.

  5. Dianne Post

    Dianne Post
    White reaction to #Blacklivesmatter demonstration at NetRoots Nation.

    Most readers will know by now that a few dozen #Blacklivesmatter protesters disrupted the program and took the stage at the Presidential town hall on Saturday 18 July in Phoenix. I for one was very disappointed in the response of both O’Malley and Sanders. Neither of the two progressive candidates responded appropriately to the vital issue.

    O’Malley responded that he cared about Black Lives – and white lives and all lives – a cowardly response. White is the default as is male. When you talk about people, voters, constituents, students, workers or any other group, except criminals or prostitutes, unless you specify that the group is of a certain minority or female, it is assumed you are talking about white males as they set the base for who “people” are in the U.S. So when you say that whites matter, you repeat the obvious, it’s a given; but you bury the problem because everyone else is then invisible. Blacks are not asking that cops start killing whites – they are demanding that cops stop killing Blacks.

    I lived in communal situations several times and when you say everyone is responsible for taking care of the communal kitchen, you know who cleans it? No one. Likewise, when you say all lives matter, you know whose lives matter? No one – except perhaps the default – white male.

    Sanders was even more of a disappointment than O’Malley because he was not blind-sided but had time to prepare his response backstage. Instead, he acted in a way that to me appeared arrogant but to others seemed irritable as if to say – how dare you question my commitment. That is white privilege. We don’t like being challenged by Blacks about our own commitment to equality especially when we feel we have been on their side.

    Secondly, as a Presidential candidate, even as a sitting Senator, he should be prepared to respond to people who don’t agree with him or even dislike him. True, we don’t expect it in our own progressive community, but as public figures, we have to be ready to respond to critique.

    All Bernie had to do was what they asked – say her name – Sandra Bland. He could have said the officer was suspended which is a start but not enough. He could have said the federal justice department should do a thorough investigation. But say her name Bernie – say her name. Sandra Bland. Name her, acknowledge her as a valuable human being whose death is a tragedy and who deserves dignity and respect.

    His answer to what he would do about the issue of racism was completely inadequate. He said we have a failed justice system. No we don’t. Our justice system is very successful in doing what it was designed to do – arrest, detain, punish and incapacitate those viewed as a threat to the status quo, those who the state wants and needs to control. What he failed to acknowledge was what the protesters asked – a recognition, an admission that our country is built on structural racism.

    Even if you reduce the numbers in prison, Blacks will still be incarcerated in percentages beyond their proportion in the population unless we address structural racism. Even if we have free colleges and create millions of new jobs, more Blacks will go to college and get jobs, but they will still be at the bottom of the SES unless we address structural racism. We must come to grips, no matter how painful for us, with a country built on the enslavement of Black people. We cannot move forward into a future of real equality without acknowledging this truth. We demand Southerners admit that the Confederate battle flag represents slavery yet we won’t admit that our Constitution established the structure of racism that exists yet today.

    For my white friends who grumbled about the protest and disruption saying that this is not the way, you have harmed the cause, you should have made your voice heard some other way, I have this to say – we white people do not control how Blacks fight their struggle. We are not Black. We do not and cannot know what they have lived through. We do not and cannot define their struggle for them anymore than men can define the struggle for women. Blacks have their own voice; whites have to listen. Women have their own voice; men have to listen. This is what we, both whites and men, find so hard to do. Put ourselves aside and realize we stand no higher than another person.

    Over time, we change the language from Negroes to Black to African American. A riot occurs; a struggle follows and then when the dust settles, we look around and we’re in the same place. While unemployment dropped to its lowest point in seven years in 2015, Black women’s unemployment went up. It takes two Black women college graduates to earn what one white male earns. In spite of being the group with the most women in the labor market, Black women are the most likely to be poor. Black women’s maternal mortality rate continues to increase and is more than 10 times that for women in most other industrialized nations. A Black woman in America could double her chance of surviving when giving birth if she lived in Lebanon, Libya, Albania or Serbia. Black lives matter; Black women matter. Do not turn your head from the often ugly truth that is not only U.S. history but also today’s reality.
    * * *

  6. A very good look at this issue. I saw O’Malley at Puente in the afternoon, and he was still fumbling.

  7. I have read endless analysis on why voter turnout for democrats was so low in 2014. This article states the case extremely well. When people feel disenfranchised and to an extent, abandoned by their leaders, they don’t vote. A teachable moment indeed.

  8. Great article, Bob. I totally agree. Did you see Dennis Gilman’s video clip on racism from Bernie’s 7 p.m. speech? Still clueless. He rattles off statistics and talks again about being a mayor of a small white town in the early 1980s, and that’s it!

    • I’ll look at Dennis’ video. Does Sanders not have any Blacks in his circle of advisors?

  9. David Safier

    Thanks to you and Pam for covering this in such detail and in such a thoughtful way. This is all part of the much-needed discussion on race and racism we’re having across the country.