This isn’t what this article was supposed to be about. I just wanted a quiet life, to write about the Lakers’ new found penchant for Free Agency failures – then the Democratic Party’s Netroots Nation meltdown happened. It stood as just another jarring reminder of the role privilege plays in politics and the tension that occurs when White candidates run up in urban cultural enclaves seeking support. Support unencumbered by the chains of accountability; the kind that shows up to vote at the polls but never asks the inconvenient questions – the support that gives out Black Passes.
There's a common misconception that Blacks don't vote, however there's a storied history of political strategists pandering for minority poll numbers. While Black voting rights have enjoyed a mere 50 years with varying levels of inalienable'ness, it's been made clear that minority numbers can swing election results. With this in mind Bill Clinton, prior to his Harlem move, campaigned on "Arsenio Hall" - saxophone in tow, candidate John Kerry invited, then senator, Barack Obama to deliver a rousing speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Even John F. Kennedy had his campaign paraphernalia handed out at Black churches nationwide. Another American legacy, however, is the lack of movement on issues inherently suffered by minority populations, once said support has been leveraged into Presidencies. What we see, instead, are classic exhibitions of selective tone deafness until next election cycle. Which brings us to Arizona, home of the 2015 Netroots Nation Conference.
Netroots Nation (interNET + grassROOTS) is a deliberately diverse annual convention, described by it's founders as a "family reunion of the left [where] thousands of bloggers, newsmakers, social justice advocates, labor and organizational leaders, grassroots organizers and online activists come together to make new connections, hone their organizing skills, share best practices and build stronger relationships with others working on the issues they care most about." What makes an event like this significant is the media's paradigm shift. The role technology and social media spaces have played in creating easier paths of access and allowing the opinions, narratives, and sociological realities of minority populations greater visibility. The #BlackLivesMatter movement doesn't happen without social media. To put it simply, Netroots has become (among other things) a conduit for Black thought and expression.
This also happens to be the event in which the Democratic Presidential candidate, and patron saint of a party’s too few choices, Bernie Sanders landed a pretty predictable political blow with minorities. There’s long been an outcry for this crop of Presidential candidates to stop skirting the issue of race relations in America; more specifically to speak on nationwide police militarization (and invasion) of Black communities, acknowledge the Black and Brown deaths at the hands of our police forces, and confirm that they also regarded the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a noble pursuit. To quote America’s finest community organizer, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “a riot is the voice of the unheard,” Netroots Nation provided the opportunity for the Democratic brass to listen, and predictably, we were brushed off once again.
This exchange was inevitable; Bernie has long been the subject of the Black side-eye, and to be fair, I can’t say it's completely his fault. His team has been touting his storied history as a Civil Rights icon this entire campaign and the, once excluded, Black American grassroots activists and media members were simply attempting to collect receipts. He has made exhaustively clear that he “walked with King,” which has quickly become a contemporary White Liberal trump card. The opportunity had finally presented itself to inquire about his record because, if we’re speaking frankly here, King hasn’t walked in decades, and Bernie’s record, sans a few well-placed sound bites, has been hazy ever since. It was high time that Black America asked Team Bernie to elaborate on his work. We’re in a dangerous place where our needs aren’t being met by a team that takes our votes for granted, but not having a bevy of options doesn’t mean we don’t get to hold them accountable.
The fracas occurred during a Town Hall meeting. Sanders, in the midst of his stump speech breaking down his plan for changing the way elections are funded, was challenged by local protesters to acknowledge the death of Sandra Bland. While he was discussing affordable healthcare, it was made clear that people were only interested in discussing one topic, a topic that was danced around like... well, The Bernie.
“Say her name!!!”
"What happened to Sandra Bland?!!!"
“If I die in police custody!!!”
“I want Bernie Sanders to say her name!!!”
…and other direct questions about Black lives lost due to White supremacy were strategically dodged. Every question seemed to end in poorly prepared talking points that simply stoked the flame set by other Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley who screamed both “All Lives Matter” & “White Lives Matter” to a room of Black folk minutes prior. Thus continuing to add to the tremendous chasm between Blacks and our supposed allies - the White progressive.
This was a significant blow to the Democratic Presidential hopes for O'Malley and Sanders, but merely business as usual for a populace that's used to being ignored. In an upcoming election chock full of unsavory options it's paramount that these exchanges continue, however. The hope is that we're able to continuously agitate and challenge our candidates to do better - to be better. In a game that weighs Black poll numbers with greater importance than Black opinions, maybe these are the setbacks that become campaign defining life lessons. In the meantime I'll just sit here envying the Republican Party's figurative clown car which, as of now, contains fifteen presidential hopefuls... they've gotta have someone.
Let me get your thoughts though; agree/disagree/want beef? Please address your concerns to my twitter. Additionally, feel free to check out our “All About The Game” Podcast Facebook page.