August 10th, 2015 by Clark Humphrey

ap/elaine thompson via thinkprogress.org

Rumors abound about the two “Black Lives Matter” protesters who took over a political rally at Westlake Park last Saturday, preventing Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders from making one of his three scheduled Seattle speeches that day.

In social-media posts and on assorted websites, folks have alleged that the disruptors must have been secretly working for Republicans, or the CIA, or Hillary Clinton.

Marissa Jenae Johnson, one of the disrupters, turns out to be a self proclaimed “radical Christian,” whose ideological journey included past stances as an anti-gay-rights advocate and even as a Sarah Palin supporter. She’s since renounced those former stands.

What is known is that Johnson and fellow protester Mara Jacqueline acted on their own, not as part of any previously organized Black Lives Matter chapter. But Black Lives Matter isn’t a centralized, top-down organization anyway.

The two ARE part of a local group called “Outside Agitators 206.”

They’re not plants.

They’re sincere. They’re for real.

And they’re radicals.

And radicals are sometimes more directly virulent toward other leftists/liberals/progressives than toward their more polar enemies.

Some of you would call it the old People’s Front of Judea vs. Judean People’s Front syndrome.

But Washington, DC-area activist/writer Dominique Hazzard asserts that this is a strategic, and sometimes necessary, tactic toward steering left-of-center movements into a stronger direction.

It’s also to be remembered that some of the previous (scheduled) speakers at the Westlake event did bring up Black Lives Matter, to a loud and positive response from the mostly white liberal crowd.

And it’s also to be remembered that, though Sanders didn’t get to speak at Westlake, he did give versions of his current stump speech at two other places in Seattle that day. And that his campaign organization has increased its outreach to the Black community, including some Black Lives Matter activists, and ratcheted up the tone of anti-racist rhetoric in its official platform.

So: a few thousand libs at Westlake had their mellow harshed.

But that one simple act has launched a hundred or more conversations.

If all sides in this can use it to come together, and if some of the Sanders fans who previously may have cared principally about white-progressive issues (gay marriage, pot, the housing crisis) can learn to grow beyond their own ideological “bubble,” the larger movement (and hence the world) may get a lot better.

Among these conversations:

  • Ijeoma Oulo at Seattle Globalist said the disruption, and the angry reactions to it, “shed light on the hidden Seattle that most black people know well — the Seattle that prefers politeness to true progress, the Seattle that is more offended by raised voices than by systemic oppression, the Seattle that prioritizes the comfort of middle-class white liberals over justice for people of color.”
  • Tim Harris of Real Change writes at PubliCola, “The activists at Westlake were out to interrupt our sense that black lives can matter whenever we get around to it. And some of us resent that. We think that things are supposed to happen in their time and place. We weren’t there for the black thing, and are upset about all the anger and rage and unreasonableness of it all.”
  • Jamie Utt at ChangeFromWithin.org claims that the disruption exposed “the white supremacy of the American Left”: “I see these protests as less about the individual candidates themselves and more about how their White base refuses to center Black lives and Black issues. It’s notable that White Bernie supporters, who consider themselves the most progressive of us all, shouted down and booed Black women who dared to force Blackness into the center of White space.”

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