Bernie Sanders, Black Lives, and Direct Democracy Reflections on Sanders at Netroots Nation 2015

grievanceA couple thoughts came to mind after watching the YouTube video of Black Lives Matter protesters making their presence known to Bernie Sanders at Netroots Nation 2015 in Arizona:

Bernie talks at people and he doesn’t know how to listen. I suspect this comes from being one of a few voices of push-back for so many years in the senate. A seed of self-righteousness will gestate in these conditions, and this can be a good thing, but not always.

So far we’ve seen this side of Sanders a couple of times – here in Arizona regarding BLM and another time regarding Palestinians during a town hall in Vermont. What is clear is that he treats the crowd as an “engagement” which simply needs to be checked off of a to-do list (“you said I had 15 minutes here…” he exasperatedly quips at Jose Vargas in AZ). This ethos rebuts the “sit down, shut your mouth and listen to me talk” attitude that Bernie imbues. Rather than have an actual dialogue with the crowd he insists on talking down to us, giving us his prefabricated speeches about income inequality, Republican media, the unemployment rate, statistics on black males etc. As if we don’t know this stuff. As if we don’t live this every day.

For those who are inclined to say “he couldn’t have an actual dialogue because the ‘hecklers’ wouldn’t let him talk”, I say: Both in Vermont and in Arizona he continued to be shouted down because his comments showed he didn’t care to actually engage, or clearly unveiled contempt for the hard work that is the democratic process (“so, what are we doing here?” he quipped again to Vargas at Netroots).

Bernie says he wants a “political revolution” and his political team is hoping it will be led by activists and grass-roots fighters on the ground, along with the rest of America. He says, he will be unlike Barack, in that he wants those groups to have a continued dialogue with his White house after he gets in office. Yet, the dialogue here is “sit down and shut up”, “listen to me,” I know what is best and, hey, I’m authentic because “I marched with MLK”. This, all in a time where structural white supremacy funnels my people from school directly into prison, and steadily murders us across America: the latest being Sandra Bland, a BLM activist moving to Texas for a new job who was audaciously beaten in the street and then hung in a Texas jail by police.

When the the moderator and Bernie attempted to retake control of the dialog in Arizona, that was exactly the problem: they were simply taking control and reinforcing the broken system of representative democracy. What Bernie needs to understand (through action and not words) is that what we need right now is Direct Democracy. Direct democracy: politically in the form of our voices rising to the top rather than the stale form of “representation” we deal with in representative democracy. And, most of all, Direct Democracy economically in the form of participatory budgeting where the people directly choose where money is allocated and for what reasons.

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