The neoliberal left (of which I am proudly not a part as I am a member of the progressive left) has taken to their FaceBook and Twitter feeds, and even the pages of contemporary rags such as Newsweek, to raise the question, “Why isn’t Bernie Sanders doing something about the death of George Floyd?” Their mewling is both disingenuous and dangerous.
First, Bernie Sanders is no longer a candidate for the Presidency. He is, once again, just a senator from the state of Vermont. For the neoliberal left to demand that he take center stage during this tragedy contradicts their demands that he vanish, be quiet, or otherwise kowtow to their uninformed positions on economics, politics, and race in America. Why demand Bernie now when, not even three months ago, they demanded that he simply go away?
Second, the actual demand placed on white people (including Bernie) right now is to be silent and be attentive to what’s happening. With so-called “black bloc” (anarchist) protestors stirring up trouble for peaceful protesters, and now far-right agitators posing as protestors doing the same, it’s imperative that white people sit down, be quiet, and listen to black voices. Bernie is doubtless listening to black voices, often articulated through the brilliant mind of Dr. Cornel West whose insights at this time have been truly invaluable. Bernie is listening to black voices and is doubtless weighing his response accordingly.
Third, as Newsweek demanded not only Bernie’s presence but the presence of so-called “college activism,” I would remind people that we are still in the grip of a pandemic. Most colleges are out of session and have been out of session for quite some time; the pandemic sent the college students home and so unable to mobilize any sort of united counter-protest. It should also be noted that, after the malicious lie that somehow the college students were too lazy to vote in the primaries to support Bernie, many college students on the progressive left feel demotivated and may abandon political activism altogether.
Fourth, more pressing questions about police response to crime persist and Bernie can not answer them; these are questions that must be answered at the levels of state, county, and municipality. One of these questions, which is representative of this point, is Why isn’t Central Park Karen in custody? You will recall that “Central Park Karen” was the name given to a woman who threatened a black man with police presence (and possible violence) because he dared to inform her that she needed to leash her dog. (“I’m going to tell them [the police] that an African American man is threatening my life,” were her exact words before she feigned hysterics and victimhood over the telephone). We see a hypocritical policing double-standard in the arrest of George Floyd and the fact that Central Park Karen gets to walk free when Floyd was not properly identified as the suspect and yet Karen has been openly named as Amy Cooper. Ms. Cooper committed at least one Class-A misdemeanor by filing a false police report and yet she has been granted a pass by the police to live her life (such as it is after she broke park rules, approached a man in a threatening manner, and then lied about him in her report).
Fifth, Bernie responds to crises with viable solutions that rest on the advice given by qualified experts; this is what differentiates progressives from neoliberal leftists. For the neoliberal leftist–who is truly but a centrist–emotion rules the mind and all that’s needed to fix the world is a sufficient amount of outrage. For progressives, real problems require real solutions and real solutions begin with gathering the facts, organizing the facts, analyzing the facts, visualizing the facts, and then reporting the facts. Once this process, protracted as it may be, is complete, a solution may be derived by those qualified to derive such a solution. For the neoliberal leftist, the outrage felt by the death of Mr. Floyd is sufficient to demand change; for the progressive, the outrage felt demands that change be correctly designed and properly implemented in order to do good.
Sixth, the death of Mr. Floyd is not unique to “Trump’s America” as some would claim. The problem of black men being murdered by police officers is longstanding and ongoing; the Black Lives Matter movement started during the Presidency of Barack Obama, after all. Van Jones noted that the threat to black people doesn’t truly come from the KKK as much as it comes from white Hillary Clinton voters; in so doing, he spoke truth to the banker-backed power of the neoliberal left (many of whom are former Bush supporters) about their own hypocrisy. When Hillary Clinton promised to “end racism” in America, her lack of an actionable solution was truly chilling for its sheer irresponsibility. Yes, ending racism in America is important, but without some metric of racism, some idea of what promotes racism, and some general plan of action, such a comment is equal parts delusion and demagoguery.
So, where is Bernie Sanders? Watching. Listening. Conferring. And, most of all, waiting for the intensity of the moment to subside lest he be just another shameless politician mugging for a photo-op. Activism requires action and, for as much as many neoliberal whites hope to achieve something in addition to the smug sense of satisfaction they derive from being seen at a protest, action means doing something legitimate, doing something productive, and doing something transformative.
Black people should protest. White people should sit in silence and respect the right of their black neighbors to exercise their First Amendment rights. If white people really want to help, they should look at the aftermath of the protests and resolve to help rebuild the structures destroyed in communities by patronizing black owned businesses. That’s something that can be done to change the world; grinning for a selfie while protesting in order to have something to put on Instagram, simply won’t have any impact at all.