Last weekend at Hempfest, the Sanders campaign had a booth passing out buttons and flyers. Hempfest is probably the only place you’ll ever see an anti-tax protestor in a Bernie t-shirt next to other campaign volunteers.
— Lee Rosenberg (@Lee_Rosenberg) August 15, 2015
I stopped by for a bit and chatted with an older volunteer. When it comes to the long battle to reform drug laws, Sanders is better than many politicians, but still not that close to where I think he could and probably should be. As I left, they handed me a homemade printed flyer and I shoved it in my pocket. When I got home, I noticed that the flyer listing out his campaign’s positions had a line saying simply “All Lives Matter”.
This wasn’t official campaign literature, just a small flyer a volunteer made, but it was pretty tone deaf considering what happened about a mile or two from there the weekend before. Saying that ‘All Lives Matter’ in a political sense right now isn’t just some vanilla statement, it’s a response to the millions of African Americans fighting for a level of respect from the police and the criminal justice system that’s afforded to others. Responding with All Lives Matter is an attempt to brush over the fairly substantial gap that exists in how various forms of the government interact with black communities.
Our politics are defined by our fears. The Black Lives Matter movement is a response to the very legitimate fear among African Americans that they’ll become victims of the police or the court system. Many white Sanders supporters recognize that as a legitimate fear, but for most, it’s not the political issue that drives them. Most Sanders supporters are driven by their own fears over an economic system that favors the wealthy and often fails to provide basic economic protections for everyone else. And it’s the latter fear that’s been drawing large crowds to see Bernie, while Black Lives Matter rallies continue to be met with riot gear and spotty media attention.
I have to admit that my first impression after two activists stole the microphone from Bernie Sanders at Westlake was that it was obnoxious. I understand the powerlessness those activists feel when they see more abstract economic issues dominating the political conversation on the left, while the issues that many in their communities face are far more dire and direct. But the reality is, who the fuck cares what I think. It has no bearing on my attitude towards Black Lives Matter. I’ve long been beating this drum. I’m not really the target audience here. I’m not even sure Bernie was the audience that day. The audience was the cross-section of America who doesn’t personally experience the insecurity and fears that black America experiences and who doesn’t really think about it much.
For many of those who’d stood out on a hot Saturday afternoon to see Bernie talk about social security, the disruption of the event was an annoyance. The hope of the activists is that the crowd will weigh their own annoyance against the injustices faced in the black community and come away with some perspective. Does this work? Maybe. But it seems a lot more likely to work at a Bernie Sanders rally than a Donald Trump one.
I’ve been calling this strategy inconvenienceism. I hope someone can think up a better word for it, but that’s the best I’ve come up with. From blocking highways to disrupting public events, this strategy relies on an optimistic take on human nature, that most people have the ability to put aside their own discomfort to think harder about someone else’s. The name is an attempt to draw a contrast between it and terrorism, a strategy that comes from the same pit of powerlessness, but clearly doesn’t work to endear people to your cause.
Does inconveniencism work? It got the Sanders campaign to add a pretty solid racial justice page to their issue list. They hired black activist Symone Sanders and encouraged people to chant “We Stand Together” if there’s another disruption. So it certainly had an impact on the campaign. But does this really translate to better policies down the road? Or will it harden pockets of antagonism within the campaign inner circle and make the hard work of reform even harder?
When I was talking to the volunteer at Bernie’s Hempfest booth, I was tempted to ask him if he ever worried about pot activists disrupting one of his rallies. It was a funny contrast to me. Bernie’s official position isn’t much different from Hillary Clinton’s or even Rand Paul’s. He believes that states should be able to legalize, but hasn’t come out and said that they should. If a group of pot activists grabbed the microphone at one of his events and demanded clear support for legalizing pot across America, how would that play out?
I can’t think of a single instance where drug law reformers of any kind have used inconvenienceism as a tactic in the way that Black Lives Matter has. But maybe that’s why drug law reform has been such a slow process. Perhaps it would’ve sped things up and gotten us to this point sooner. Or maybe it would’ve played into negative stereotypes and hardened opposition. I have no idea. And I don’t think anyone else really does either. It’s a phenomenon that seems extremely difficult to study with any kind of scientific certainty.
My best guess is that it’s mostly a sideshow and has little effect on achieving real reforms. When Hillary Clinton met with Black Lives Matter activists last week, she seemed to echo that belief:
“Look, I don’t believe you change hearts,” Clinton said. “I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential.”
What was understandably frustrating for Black Lives Matter activists is to hear this from someone who has long supported policies that created the crisis in our black communities in the first place, and still seems reluctant to engage in any self-reflection over it. But it highlights the fundamental challenge for this movement and others like it. It’s extremely difficult to get the powerful to fight for the powerless, or even to see the world through their eyes. I think many whites feel that Bernie Sanders can be an exception to that rule. But I don’t think many non-whites do. And I think how that dynamic goes forward will end up deciding the Democratic nomination.
In the news for the past two weeks…
Adam Goldman and Missy Ryan look at the latest obstacles keeping the Guantanamo detention center open. Spencer Ackerman writes about how the Pentagon continues to block the transfers of those already cleared for transfer by the State Department. The pre-trial hearing for five Guantanamo defendants apprehended in 2002 and 2003 has been cancelled.
Jason Leopold writes about the previously unknown apology letter from the CIA to the Senate Intelligence Committee that was never actually sent and the CIA requested to keep secret.
Kevin Gosztola talks to British journalist Duncan Campbell on his decades of reporting on the British surveillance state. Daniel Costa-Roberts writes about the cooperation between AT&T and the NSA, which included spying on the United Nations. Hannah K. Gold writes about how the FBI spied on author James Baldwin.
Jenna McLaughlin responds to the anti-encryption arguments in the New York Times.
Mike Spies interviews a retired police lieutenant about what’s driving police shootings across America.
Kristen Gwynne writes about the effort to make drug consumption at music festivals safer. The success of Vancouver’s inSite facility is a prime example of why all forms of drug consumption should be decriminalized. Gloucester, Massachusetts is no longer treating heroin use as a crime. This is an issue that has been coming up in New Hampshire due to their high rates of heroin use.
Christopher Ingraham writes about police departments across the U.S. trying to obtain armored trucks, many of which are requested specifically for drug law enforcement. Ferguson, at least, is being forced to return their war toys.
Brian Sonenstein writes about deaths in private prisons and the rehabilitation concerns with having states transfer their prisoners away from their home.
The U.S. DOJ says that it’s unconstitutional to criminalize the act of sleeping outside.
Ken White writes about the delicate fundamental reciprocity behind having freedom of speech.
Kevin Drum writes about the insanely inhumane stance on abortion that’s becoming a mainstream Republican position.
Haley Potiker recounts her story of being refused vital medications by a pharmacy.
Amanda Taub writes about the recent controversy over the effort to decriminalize sex work. Mistress Matisse breaks down the arguments from those who wish to keep sex work illegal and dangerous. German Lopez looks at the evidence.
Chelsea Manning was found guilty of several minor infractions during her detention, including possession of the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair issue.
Daniel Walters responds to Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s belief that police militarization is a myth.
An Appeals Court threw out Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s lawsuit against the Obama Administration over its deportation policy.
A judge in Idaho struck down the state’s law that criminalizes videotaping instances of animal cruelty.
Montana’s medical marijuana law has been decimated.
Claudia Koerner looks at the debate over the death penalty in Colorado now that mass murderer James Holmes received only life in prison.
Two Albuquerque police officers will face trial for the murder of a homeless man.
A 19-year-old in Arlington, Texas was shot by a police officer at a car dealership where police said he’d rammed the building with a car in a burglary attempt. The family is questioning why deadly force was required, and the officer has since been fired.
In Houston, a woman was sexually assaulted by an officer who was looking for marijuana. A previous victim has already won a settlement and is pushing a bill to require a warrant for these kinds of searches.
A woman in Louisiana accuses a pair of cops of turning off their body cameras before shooting her suicidal husband.
Also in Louisiana, a man is serving over 13 years for a minor marijuana possession offense.
Steven Hsieh looks at Ferguson a year after Michael Brown was killed. The anniversary was marked with another shooting, arrests of activists and charges against journalists, followed by the county declaring a state of emergency. Wesley Lowery, one of the charged reporters, digs into the corruption. Meanwhile, heavily armed white citizens roam freely.
A Missouri man serving life in prison for marijuana offenses is finally being released.
The Chicago Police Department will have an independent investigation of its stop and frisk procedures
Ali Abunimah looks at the attempts by University of Illinois employees to evade scrutiny over the firing of outspoken pro-Palestinian professor Steven Salaita. Juan Cole provides more background.
A video shows Ralkina Jones, a woman who died in an Ohio jail, explaining that without her medication, she could die in the jail.
A Kentucky clerk refused a judge’s order to issue a marriage license to a gay couple.
A Georgia man was held for nearly 4 months after his jail sentence was up.
A civil rights investigation has been opened in the killing of a South Carolina teen during a botched drug sting.
A woman suing Virginia Wesleyan College over a sexual assault during her freshman orientation is being forced to document her sexual history for the court.
New York police officers are allegedly targeting methadone users and possibly falsely arresting them.
Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz write about the beating death of a New York inmate.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has banned the death penalty in the state.
Boston police are trying to do something about the inconvenient fact that citizens can film what they’re doing in public.
Colombia has decriminalized growing up to 20 cannabis plants.
A woman in Spain was fined for posting a photo of a police car illegally parked in a handicap spot.
Bradley Burston explains why it’s appropriate to refer to Israel as an apartheid state.
Hannah Allam writes about Austin Tice, a journalist who has been missing for 3 years in Syria.
Members of ISIS continue to use religious nonsense to justify their use of rape.
Khaled Beydoun writes about the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic.
China has arrested thousands for various “internet crimes” in the past month and a half. A television personality in China is facing “severe” punishment for being caught on video calling Mao an “old son of a bitch”.
A high-level member of the North Korean government is believed to have been executed.
Australia continues to drag its feet on recognizing gay marriage.