Activists with Seattle's Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a rally this afternoon at Westlake Park where Bernie Sanders was scheduled to speak.
Along with a number of local organizers and politicians, Bernie Sanders was set to speak about the importance of protecting and expanding social entitlement programs. He was reportedly only going to cover this entitlement issue, as he is due to give a larger presidential rally later in the day.
Bernie took the stage and thanked Seattle for being one of the most progressive cities in the States.
Then, Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford, activists with the Black Lives Matter movement who were standing near the stage, raised their fists in the air. They got on stage and took over the microphone and demanded attention. There was a little confusion over who would receive the mic before Robby Stern, president of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA), announced that Black Lives Matter activists could speak after Bernie. This was not received well by Johnson and Willaford. Johnson took back the mic.
The crowd booed and started to chant "Bernie."
Johnson said: "We won't let Bernie speak unless we get silence."
Again the crowd responded, in large part, by booing.
After some general shushing sounds, the crowd finally silenced themselves, and Johnson began to speak.
Johnson began her speech by saying that Seattle isn't as progressive as Bernie perceived it to be:
"I was going to tell Bernie how racist Seattle is... but you already did this for you." Marissa, founder of BLM Seattle, says.
— Sydney Brownstone (@sydbrownstone) August 8, 2015
More vocal members of the crowd began booing in response to Johnson.
Johnson spoke through the heckling, welcoming Bernie to the town of Seattle, where "white supremacist liberalism" prevails. She called for four-and-a-half minutes of silence in honor of Michael Brown. (Michael Brown's body lay in the street for four hours after he was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson last August.)
After some more booing, the crowd again silenced itself.
During the silence, people screamed "Bernie matters," and "all lives matter."
Following the moment of silence, Johnson again said that they were not going to let Bernie speak. She accused the senator of failing to apologize for the way he handled the Black Lives Matter members who disrupted his speech at Netroots Nation in July, and continued speaking about the need for real action against police brutality.
Someone took the mic from Johnson and tried to hand it to Bernie, who denied it. At that point, someone handed the mic to Xochitl Maykovich, a community organizer for Washington Community Action Network (WCAN), who'd spoken about social security earlier in the rally.
After Maykovich spoke, Bernie left the rally.
As the crowd began to disperse, Stern (the PSARA guy) took the mic. In an attempt to revive interest in entitlement programs, he suggested that the crowd sing "Happy Birthday" to a giant cardboard cake. It didn't seem like anyone was singing along with him.
Gerald Hankerson, president of the Seattle-King County NAACP, had spoken earlier at the rally about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement in the national conversation about economic inequality. He wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt to the event.
After Sanders left the stage, Hankerson told Stern he was sorry Bernie didn't speak.
"We worked on this for a while," Hankerson said in an interview. "And not having Bernie Sanders able to speak, obviously... [Stern] worked hard on this all year long to get him here. So I'm sure he's disappointed. I'm disappointed for him that he lost that ability to do that. But ultimately, the message here is that these young ladies want to be heard, and who am I to say they can't be heard?"
Hankerson said that he was proud of Johnson and Willaford for "standing up for what they believe in and being courageous enough to confront a potential presidential candidate to get answers to some of the questions that they had."
Hankerson added that he'd like to see more from Sanders on racial issues going forward:
I would like Bernie Sanders to address racial inequality the same way he does economic inequality. He seems to be pretty good at that, but when it comes to talking about race, he hasn't been able to answer some of the questions that people are asking for. And I look forward to him actually answering that question while he's on his campaign. Because he is someone that is seeking the leadership of our country, and if he can't answer that question about race as these young ladies said, the question is: Why should I vote for you? And I think he's a hell of a candidate. I like his issues on working equality, income inequality, but I have yet to hear anything about race on hand. And if you don't do that, this is going to happen all around the country, not just Seattle.
Bernie Sanders is currently at a fundraiser at the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill.
UPDATE: This afternoon, Johnson shared an update from
the Black Lives Matter Seattle Facebook a Facebook page calling itself "Black Lives Matter Seattle." However, the Johnson-associated page is one of several Facebook pages that have called themselves "Black Lives Matter Seattle," and the page associated with Johnson appears to be much newer than other Black Lives Matter Seattle pages; its oldest post is from early Saturday morning. Johnson's press release about the "Black Lives Matter Seattle #BowDownBernie Action":
On this, nearly the one year anniversary of the ruthless murder of Mike Brown, we honor Black lives lost by doing the unthinkable, the unapologetic, and the unrespectable," it reads. "Out of radical love for our Black brothers and sisters, we put our lives and our bodies on the line to testify to their persecution and resilience. We join together in Black love to #SayHerName and declare that #BlackLivesMatter, understanding that our love will disrupt the complicity and corruption of our anti-Black society; GOP, Democrat, and otherwise.
Another Black Lives Matter Seattle Facebook page posted an apology an hour later:
To the people of Seattle and #BernieSanders I am so sorry for what happened today in Seattle. I am a volunteer who just runs this page and I am only just starting to get into the movement. I was unaware of what happened and now that I've seen the video I would like to say again that I am sorry. That is not what Black Lives Matter stands for and that is not what we're about. Do not let your faith in the movement be shaken by voices of two people. Please do not question our legitimacy as a movement. Again I would like to apologize to the people of Seattle and I will be trying to reach out to Mr. Sanders.
This post has been updated.