White progressives need to listen up!
That’s the message broadcasted by this year’s Netroots Nation confab after Black Lives Matter activists disrupted the speeches of Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders Saturday.
These activists claim no one is listening to their message. So, by the activists’ reasoning. the only way to get candidates to respond is to make sure progressive stalwarts can’t finish sentences at left-wing conferences. (RELATED: Sanders And O’Malley Shouted Off Stage At Progressive Conference)
O’Malley had his entire presentation derailed by the disrupters and was viciously booed after responding to the one, meandering question the protesters posed to him. Sanders didn’t even bother finishing his talk because he was tired of being shouted down while trying to speak.
For some observers, the treatment given to the former Maryland governor was not too surprising considering the growing chorus of criticism O’Malley is facing for his past support of tough-on-crime policies.
What’s surprising is the level of disrespect given to Sanders, the supposed darling of the progressive left.
And it wasn’t due to the socialist senator refusing to answer the shouts of the demonstrators.
After protesters demanded to know what the Vermonter would do for black people, Sanders assertively said he would work to enact criminal justice reform, progressive economic policies and affordable health care.
That didn’t appease the demonstrators, and they continued to show defiance for the left-wing hero until Sanders decided he’d had enough of their anarchy.
This incident was a sharp divergence from the reaction the senator usually receives from the crowds that come to hear him speak. It’s also not a good sign for his candidacy.
Apparently what motivates the far left activist base isn’t Bernie’s socialist economics.
That may sound ridiculous if you have seen the thousands swarm to hear Sanders speak and his surging poll numbers. And all he talks about, for the most part, is economics. Income inequality, government healthcare, free college tuition, and raising the minimum wage are the independent senator’s stock-in-trade.
He usually steers clear of cultural issues and on certain ones — such as gun control and immigration — he leans away from the progressive base. That presents a major problem for Bernie as a significant part of that base is driven by cultural issues, not economic ones.
Despite their apparently miniscule numbers, the cultural left is able to punch above its weight due to its influence in the media, in the culture and among grassroots activists.
Right now, the social force on the left with arguably the most energy and the most coverage is Black Lives Matter. From the intense scrutiny given for every time a police officer shoots an African-American to the rising call for criminal justice reform, this is the movement that is grabbing the headlines and developing a following — particularly among young white urban liberals and the African-American community.
Those are two essential parts of the Democratic coalition.
Young campus progressives aren’t protesting against income inequality, they’re demonstrating against police killings of blacks and “rape culture.” Publications such as Slate, The New Republic and Talking Points Memo give lopsided attention to the various causes of social justice warriors in comparison to economics. Ta-Nehisi Coates has become the most popular progressive thinker not for pointing out the growing wealth divide, but for his obsession with racial grievances. (RELATED: Meet The Rich Man’s Malcolm X)
This is the mindset of the activists and thinkers that dominate the progressive movement. Just look at how Black Lives Matter demonstrators were able to hijack an entire conference and were able to force the groveling of O’Malley and the event’s organizers. Netroots, instead of kicking them out, conceded to their demands.
These activists have the moral high-ground and are going to receive the support of the media, not the folks feeling the Bern.
Sanders’s problem is his highly self-selected audience.
The crowds he draws are primarily white and his events that bring in thousands are usually located in safe, progressive enclaves like Madison, Wisconsin. Sanders has little support in the black community and has received virtually no endorsements from prominent African-American leaders. He also appears unable to connect with the white urban liberal demographic that plays a major role in shaping America’s news coverage.
White urban liberals care more about ensuring every upper-middle class woman gets her justly-deserved orgasm than trade deals that outsource manufacturing jobs to Vietnam. That’s why they’re not feeling the Bern.
Oddly enough, the person who aims to receive the most support from these voting blocs is Hillary Clinton, the very face of the Democratic establishment. She’s received numerous endorsements from prominent black leaders and is heavily emphasizing gender issues this election cycle. Clinton is also discussing very important issues, like the problem of white privilege, on the campaign trail.
This is what the cultural left wants to hear instead of Sanders’ progressive economics. The main obstacle preventing the Vermont senator from reaching these activists is his identity politics-free message. Bernie doesn’t talk about how his plans will benefit this or that group. He talks about how it will benefit all Americans — regardless of race, religion or gender.
That’s not what the Black Lives Matter crowd wants to hear. As evidenced by the Netroots disrupters, they want a plan that explicitly spells out how it will help African-Americans.
They don’t want to listen to discussions that deal with all immigrants, they want a discussion about black immigrants. They don’t want to reform how law enforcement polices all communities, they only want to reform how the police deal with black communities. And they don’t want to hear about how a health care plan will be affordable for all Americans, they want a health care plan that will be specifically cheaper for African-Americans.
Most of all, they don’t want you to say “all lives matter,” they want you to only say “black lives matter.”
It’s a racial mentality that Bernie can’t appeal to. That might explain why he didn’t want to engage in a shouting match with them.
It also explains why he probably won’t be the Democratic nominee.
To earn that honor, you have to play identity politics. Sanders looks unwilling to do so. Hillary, on the other hand, has embraced it.
That’s why she’s the front-runner and the democratic socialist is not.