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Tactics of Black Lives Matter

When Black Lives Matter activists stormed onto a Westlake Park podium and interrupted Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ speech to an August 2015 rally, the ever-respectful, liberal Seattle establishment was stunned. The crowd of 5,000 waiting in the hot sun to hear Sanders — a progressive bunch to be sure — was angry and frustrated. By the time Sanders left, without speaking, BLM activists and crowd members traded insults and charges of racism.

 

Two Black Lives Matter activists interrupt a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle in August, 2015. Courtesy of Associated Press.

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.”

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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.”

 

Black Lives Matter demonstration in downtown Seattle at the corner of Fifth Ave. and Pine St. Courtesy of Naomi Ishisaka.

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.

 

Black Lives Matter demonstration. Courtesy of Naomi Ishisaka.

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.

 

Black Lives Matter demonstration. Courtesy of Naomi Ishisaka.

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?

 

To see more photos of local Black Lives Matter protests, visit naomiishisaka.com.

Related posts:

Stranger columnist Charles Mudede: The Bad Politics of the Black Lives Protesters Who Interrupted Bernie Sanders

State Sen. Pramila Jayapal: Why the Bernie Sanders Rally Left Me Heartbroken 


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Bryan Tucker

Bryan Tucker is a freelance producer and documentary filmmaker based in Seattle. His first feature-length documentary film, Closure, secured national cable broadcast distribution, regional broadcast distribution on KCTS 9’s “Reel NW” series and is available on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon VOD. Bryan works with a variety of freelance clients in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, and seeks out projects that elevate marginalized voices and address social justice issues.

More stories by Bryan Tucker

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I had total sympathy for BLM until it disrupted Bernie Sanders in Seattle. It seemed so inappropriate and perverted, like BLM had lost it's way, going after a progressive. It was like an act of cannibalism. Eating our own. I felt very sad about it, and embarrassed as a progressive. BLM should be going after the other side.

BLM is not affiliated with any political party. They are about creating awareness of the epidemic of racism that flows throughout this country. It is not cannibalism because they are not even affiliated with Bernie Sanders. They have no loyalty to any party. They are about the truth. That is all.

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