10 August 2015
If black lives matter, build a party
Yesterday's commemorative violence in Ferguson MO, which if anything has only alienated whites further from the "Black Lives Matter" movement from the evidence I've seen, overshadowed another alienating incident earlier that weekend: another attempt to shout down Sen. Sanders by black protesters for his perceived failure to forefront their issue in his presidential campaign. Sanders bounced back with a big rally and promises a more proactive stance on black issues with the hiring of Symone Sanders (no relation) as his "national press secretary" and the de facto black face of his campaign. But his struggles continue to illustrate both the shifting limits of an intellectual progressive's outreach to the ethnic poor who are crucial to the election of any leftish candidate in this country and the limits of a protest campaign that seeks to intimidate existing candidates into adopting its agenda. The urgent relevance of the "Black Lives Matter" movement by now ought to be self-evident to all but those for whom indifference to black perceptions is a matter of alleged principle, and a self-styled progressive like Sanders should not seem to accept this grudgingly. But to act as if nothing else matters but the vulnerability of blacks to excessive police force is inevitably isolating and alienating, if not ignorant of the inevitable truth that the crisis blacks perceive will be resolved only as part of a package of broader reforms in which everyone should be interested. To act like you want to hear about nothing but police brutality will only encourage politicians to recalculate the necessity of your support -- unless activists and protesters turn their demand for attention into a positive threat. We can tell by now that there are some black people who won't vote for Sanders unless he addresses the police issue to their satisfaction. Those voters can take themselves off the board, in the event that Hillary Clinton or Martin O'Malley prove unsatisfactory, and then the candidates will turn their attention to the people more likely to vote. If "Black Lives Matter" hopes to force its agenda into the campaign, its exponents would be better off making clear as soon as possible that in the last resort there's someone they will vote for, so that they remain on the board as an inescapable factor in all candidates' calculations. Instead of disrupting other people's parties, they need to build their own. It needn't be a "black" party, since there are plenty of people of other races for whom black lives (and votes!) matter, and in any event it'll be an uphill struggle for acceptance among blacks for whom the Democratic party, with all its faults, is the only defense against the barbarians. It's easier, of course, to try to pressure Democrats into taking up the cause, but they won't be seriously pressured unless they believe refusal will lead to votes being cast against them instead of merely going uncast. If protesters do nothing but shout down the likes of Sanders and O'Malley, they will only seem to confirm the stereotype that they only know how to tear things down. Let them build something, and politicians will probably come to them, if only to beg them to stop -- and then terms can be dictated. The one thing that can't be done is even threaten to stay home on Election Day. If anyone does that, then black lives don't matter to them as much as they say.