To Bernie Sanders supporters: on being an ally

For the record I do not know who I will vote for in the primary — it will certainly be Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. To see the reason this letter is addressed as such look up @AngryBlackLady, @brownblaze, @Deray, or others on Twitter to get a sense of what motivated me to write it.


It is Sunday, Aug. 9th and once again Twitter, Facebook, and the Blogosphere are chock full of multiple iterations of arguments between #BlackLivesMatter activists and organizers (and their supporters) and Bernie Sanders supporters over the efficacy of protesting at Sanders’ political events and rallies. What happened most noticeably at Netroots hasn’t stopped — nor for that matter has the killing of unarmed black folks by police — and progressives who support Bernie Sanders are furious, so it seems… at the audacity of their candidate being challenged.

Why can’t you people just let him talk or answer your critiques? Why don’t you protest at GOP events? Why don’t you take on Hillary Clinton? Are you just a shill for Hillary? Don’t you know Bernie Sanders agrees with you — he marched with MLK after all. He’s the only candidate who cares about you and you are going to alienate him and his supporters. 

To which my only reply is: have you people lost your damn minds?!

How dare you in one breath claim to be an ally and in the next threaten to pack up your toys and go home if activists and movements you claim to be an ally toward do not engage in politicking exactly the way you’d like. Why are you more concerned with Bernie Sanders looking good or respectability politics than you are with black people being murdered in the streets by those who swore to protect and serve? If you say “well of course I’m not,” then perhaps reconsider how you are perceived — seriously take the time to do the soul-searching work that is an imperative part of this work (ps if it doesn’t hurt a little or make you uncomfortable at times you’re not doing it).

If nothing else how Bernie, his advisors and surrogates, and his supporters react to being challenged tells us far more about his candidacy than any white paper, policy platform, or stump speech.

Furthermore, let’s talk about presidential protests. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a protest taking place in the White House briefing room. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard about a protest taking place in front of the White House (see 24/7/365). Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a protest taking place at an event President Obama or another high-ranking official is speaking at or attending. Raise your hand if you haven’t raised your hand yet, and then go do some googling.

That all being said, what does it actually mean to be an ally?

Before I answer that question, let me back up a bit: I am a white woman from Texas who identifies as straight and as a progressive from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. My upbringing, my background, and my continued work on electoral campaigns or for non-profits and as part of grassroots movements constitute my lived experiences. It is very important that I first acknowledge who I am, the privilege I have, the power I have, and the oppression I am exempted from. None of this recitation of facts discounts the oppression I face; it just acknowledges that were I undocumented, not able-bodied, not white (and white passing), not cis and straight, not college educated, and didn’t come from a supportive and relatively well-off family my life would be even harder — and increasingly so with each layer of Otherness.

As such, it is not my place to tell LGBT activists that their lived experiences are wrong or that their tactics are divisive or ineffective. It is not my place to tell Dreamers that their lived experiences are wrong or that their tactics are divisive or ineffective. It is not my place to tell black folks that their lived experiences are wrong or that their tactics are divisive or ineffective. If I have not been clear it is not my place to tell members of marginalized communities that their lived experiences are wrong or that their tactics are divisive or ineffective.

Furthermore, it is not my job as an ally to become confrontational or offended or push back when power, privilege, and oppression are discussed. It is not my job as an ally to drown out the voices that are intentionally silenced by society. It is not my job as an ally to tell movements what to do, how to do it, and why that’s the only way to accomplish their goals.

Instead, my job as an ally is to listen and learn, to try to understand things I as a straight white woman born and raised in Texas will never otherwise understand. My job as an ally is to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. My job as an ally is to talk with other white people from Texas, especially fellow progressives, when they have fallen short or they are engaging in problematic behavior.

Most importantly, my job as an ally is to remember this is not about me. People’s lives are being lost, people’s lives are at stake. My comfort be damned. I am not outraged by interrupted rallies, I am outraged by broken necks.

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