In Her Own Words: The Political Beliefs of the Protester Who Interrupted Bernie Sanders

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by Eli Sanders
The Stranger
August 11, 2015

The roar of internet response to what happened in Seattle on Saturday surprised even one of the activists behind the action. But in retrospect, it makes some sense. On that stage in Westlake Plaza, some of the most emotional issues of the moment collided: race, class, age, opportunity, privilege.

Two black women who said they were representing the Seattle Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a rally that had been planned by a multicultural coalition that wanted to celebrate Social Security and Medicare. The main speaker at that rally, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, was an older white man who, two weeks earlier, had tried to communicate his solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in a speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and whose campaign had been working on (but had not yet released) a racial justice platform. Sanders says he will fight harder against racism than any other candidate. One of the protesters who interrupted him, Marissa Johnson, says: "If he's our best option then I'm burning this down."

The crowd at the rally was largely white and thought it had come to cheer a surging Socialist candidate as well as important social programs that keep millions of Americans out of poverty. When the rally narrative they expected was interrupted, the response by some in the crowd of thousands turned ugly. When that happened, Marissa Johnson, one of the protesters, said the crowd had just proved its own racism.

The last person to speak at the rally before Sanders, Washington State Senator Pramila Jayapal, has already, and with great multidirectional empathy, outlined what she feels may be among the roots of what happened in Seattle on Saturday. The "anger and rage that we saw erupt," Jayapal wrote, is "not the problem." Rather, she wrote, "it's a symptom of the disease of unacknowledged and un-acted upon racism."

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