Later that day, Sanders issued a statement, saying, “I am disappointed that two people disrupted a rally attended by thousands at which I was invited to speak about fighting to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was especially disappointed because on criminal justice reform and the need to fight racism there is no other candidate for president who will fight harder than me.”
"Why Black Lives Matter"
It wasn’t the first time BLM had stopped a Seattle event. In fact, the Sanders disruption was mild. Last year’s Black Friday downtown shopping festivities were disrupted by 200 BLM demonstrators, closing the Westlake shopping center and preventing the ritual lighting of the Christmas tree. Five people were arrested.
BLM march leader Marissa Johnson explains, “America goes where their pocketbook goes, so today we're blocking Black Friday. We want you to be uncomfortable shopping.”
And that’s the point of direct-action tactics: to disrupt the routine and perforate complacency; to make people uncomfortable enough that the issue must be confronted. For BLM, the issue is the systemic killing and targeting of black people and the institutional racism that allows it to persist.
Seattle has been the scene of direct-action demonstrations since the Wobblies and the General Strike of 1919. Anti-Vietnam War protesters took to Seattle streets; civil rights and native activists occupied buildings; nuclear weapons protesters stopped Bangor-bound trains; and old-growth forest activists disrupted logging.
Say what you will, but direct action works. The day after the Seattle protest, the Sanders campaign added racial justice and prison reform planks to its platform. His campaign stop in Los Angeles two days later drew huge crowds, and Sanders agreed to have BLM open the rally. Though BLM is a chapter-based, loosely organized movement and there has been talk about whether the women who derailed Sanders’ speech were supported by other activists, the fact is that BLM is now part of the primary presidential campaign discussions.
One wonders why BLM hasn’t targeted the GOP candidates, but the Republicans are sure talking about it. Some call them a hate group that devalues non-black lives and inspires attacks on police.
President Obama weighed in:
"I think that the reason that the organizers used the phrase Black Lives Matter was not because they were suggesting that no one else’s lives matter ... rather what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in the African American community that’s not happening in other communities," he said. "And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address."
But how will that discussion happen?