Last month, Black Lives Matters protesters interrupted an event featuring Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley. Activists stormed the stage, demanding that the politicians address the issue of institutionalized racism. Their responses were exactly what young American voters have come to expect from politicians — silence from Sanders and a “White Lives Matter” from O’Malley.
For a generation that’s accustomed to gridlock in Washington, social media-driven activism has been a more useful tool for change than legislative policy. Because of Black Lives Matter, the dialogue on racism, police brutality and the criminal justice system has rapidly transformed. President Obama has visited a federal prison and talked with nonviolent drug offenders. The Confederate Flag came down in a week. The movement's effect on American politics is similar to that of Occupy Wall Street, which exposed the issue of income inequality in America.
Just as the majority of politicians have failed to address income inequality, Washington has done little in support of civil rights or social justice. A year after the murder of Michael Brown, protesters are still in the streets of Ferguson. Many other instances of police brutality have occurred. Politicians aren’t doing anything, so Black Lives Matter protesters are taking matters into their own hands.
Protesters interrupted another one of Sanders’s speeches in Seattle last weekend. According to the Washington Post, they demanded Sanders be held “accountable for his actions.” They called for him to address issues like police brutality and incorporate elements of their movement into his platform. Sanders left the stage, letting the group take over.
Sanders has since attempted to position himself as a civil rights activist, supportive of the Black Lives Matter cause. He hired Symone Sanders (no relation), a Black Lives Matters activist, as his Press Secretary. She’s been introducing Bernie at his recent rallies, spreading the message of the Black Lives Matter and ensuring voters that Bernie has always supported their cause (and will continue to do so). “There is no president who will fight harder to end institutional racism,” Bernie said at his rally in Los Angeles last night. He also added “Racial Justice” to the “Issues” section of his website, along with a well-written explanation of the problems this country faces and how they can be fixed. Bernie wants to let activists know that he’s heard their message, agrees with them, and has incorporated it into his campaign.
It’s difficult for activist movements to trust politicians, especially when the issues they're fighting against have been perpetuated by Washington for centuries. Symone’s new job doesn’t mean Bernie has earned the unequivocal support of the Black Lives Matter movement — he still has more to accomplish. As of now, however, he’s the only candidate that can prove he’s always been fighting for civil rights. He's also the only one that at least says he's going to fight for racial equality. If the many Americans pushing for change in this country have to support one of the candidates that could potentially win the election next year, Bernie is their best bet.
Image Source: The Stranger