You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

The Uncivil Servant: Bernie and the Black Lives Matter Movement

Mitchell Abidor
August 13, 2015

by Mitchell Abidor

BernieFOR THE SECOND and almost certainly not the last time, Bernie Sanders has been blocked from speaking by people from the Black Lives Matter movement. Though in Phoenix he was able to get in a few words at the Netroots Conference, in Seattle he was unable to speak at all. Yet again, the suicidal instincts of the American left have kicked in. Yet again the American left is proving itself to be foolish, cowardly, and self-destructive. It regularly provides the answer to the question why socialism never got a hold here: It never got a hold, or at least never did after the Greatest Generation of leftists of the Depression, because it doesn’t deserve to with representatives like those we have today.

Attacking Bernie Sanders? He’s the enemy? Bernie, who immediately issued a statement condemning the killing in Charleston, two days before Hillary Clinton did? Sanders, who, unlike the Clintons, has dedicated his life to social justice — he now represents a new face of white supremacy, as I’ve been hearing from lefties, who’ve been lying in wait for something to attack Bernie for? Sanders rallies are now “white space,” as the website Change From Within claims?

I applaud those who boo the disrupters; they are banking on the guilt feelings of white liberals to allow the most undemocratic and foolhardy acts to be accepted if performed by blacks. After all, the moderator in Phoenix said afterwards that he wasn’t going to prevent young black women from speaking. In the aftermath of the Phoenix disruption, I wrote to every group that was involved in it or supported it, asking if this was their idea of democracy. Not a one answered. The reason is simple: For too much of the American left, democracy is something that exists for me and not for thee. I realize now how right the then-Marxist historian Eugene Genovese was to condemn those of us in the 1960s who made a hobby of preventing people we didn’t agree with from speaking. Have we learned nothing in fifty years?

Do the Black Lives Matter activists really think that the white left is the main enemy? Or that, again as we can read on Change From Within, that “the greatest stumbling block to racial justice is not the KKK; it’s well-meaning white people who would rather maintain injustice than risk the decentering of our Whiteness and White comfort.” Really? Can anyone seriously mean that? Is a Bernie presidency thus more of a threat than a Trump one? A Rubio one? Or any of the asserted Republican clowns running? Can anyone really think that the sweet young people out campaigning with me for Sanders are worse than the rabid loons of the Tea Party? Is the debate on race and politics so degraded that anyone can seriously believe that?

Apparently there is discussion within the Black Lives Matter community about whether Clinton should be prevented from speaking as well. Sanders, Clinton, O’Malley... Those who prevent them from speaking bank on the audience doing nothing worse than booing them, if that much. If you think disruption is a valid tactic, why not disrupt a Republican? After all, Trump was in Phoenix just days before Sanders. The answer is obvious: imagine two black women grabbing the mic at a Republican rally in front of thousands of rightwing white people who are angry and crazed at the best of times. The result would not be a pretty one, and I can’t help but feel that this is a reason to bother Bernie: he’s a safe target of opportunity.

CAN SANDERS do and say more on behalf of the black community? Sure. Can we all do more? Sure. But to say that those who could do more are worse than those who do nothing or who are actively harmful is the height of political stupidity. Is there anything that prevents blacks form being active in the Sanders campaign? Is there anything in his platform to oppose, even for leftists? Of course not. But as always, we have to make the best be the enemy of the good. The constant harping on the lack of black faces at Bernie rallies has become a tiresome trope. You don’t see many at any rallies. And perhaps they have it right: what the hell are we doing participating in rallies so far in advance of the elections anyway? As John Oliver so brilliantly said, there are babies who’ll be born on Election Day whose parents have not yet met.

The left and black activists are acting out yet another death wish, trying as hard as they can to find a way to prove that no white politician gets it, that no Democrat is to be trusted. We in this country get what we deserve, since we try to turn even good causes into a sham and a shambles.

Mitchell Abidor, our contributing writer, is the recipient of a Hemingway Grant from the French Ministry of Culture for his new translation of Emmanuel Bove’s A Raskolnikoff. His recent books include an anthology of Victor Serge’s writings, Anarchists Never Surrender, and a translation of A Socialist History of the French Revolution, by Jean Jaurès.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.