Ashley Williams, the #BlackLivesMatter protester who confronted Hillary Clinton at a private fundraiser last week, has been taking a lot of unfair criticism, but she deserves some as well. Criticizing Hillary doesn't make her a Bad Black or a Bernie Sanders operative, but doing so dishonestly does make her wrong.
Before I get to Ashley Williams, though, I'd like to first call bullshit on some of the people who have been criticizing her. Williams was on MSNBC Saturday morning, and responded to two such criticisms:
Tamron Hall: I can't tell you how many supporters of Hillary Clinton have sent me pictures of you with Cornel West, who claim that you're an operative, you're this, you're that, you're working on behalf of the Sanders campaign and all kinds of others. Were you sent there on behalf of any campaign?
Ashley Williams: No, Tamron, and I think it's kind of insulting that me as a young black voter can't have enough agency and ideas of my own to bring forth concerns that I have, that come from my own community.
This is a trend that I see daily on Twitter, in which Sanders or Clinton fans will automatically accuse any critic of their candidate of being a paid operative, and I wish it were so, because by their reckoning, I'd be getting fat checks from both campaigns on an almost hourly basis. This is the kind of accusation you make when you have no information to offer instead.
Bill Maher's criticism is bullshit on two levels, the first being that BLM actually has agitated at Republican events. Aside from that, though, it is precisely because the Democrats are supposed to be on black peoples' side that such actions are necessary. It's the difference between voting in a party that promises not to be as bad as your "deadly enemy," as Maher put it, and a party that will actually advance your interests.
Having said all of that, and keeping in mind the context of the remarks Hillary is being judged for and my previous criticism of Ashley Williams, I've got to call bullshit on her, too. Not because her demand for an apology from Hillary Clinton was based on a lie (which it was), I fully believe that she perceived Hillary's remark to be directed at black people, and Hillary should have apologized in any case. She eventually sort of did.
I'm also not calling bullshit over her concern about mass incarceration, which many blame on the Bill Clinton-signed crime bill that Hillary did not vote for, and who, as far as I can tell, mentioned it exactly twice in much broader remarks, and who was obliged, as First Lady, to support her husband's policies.
No, I'm calling bullshit because Bernie Sanders actually voted for the crime bill that Ashley Williams blames for mass incarceration, and when Tamron Hall twice asked her to address that, she gave a suspiciously rehearsed non-answer:
Tamron Hall: What about the fight with Bernie Sanders, who also supported crime bills, who also has a shaky record when it comes to gun legislation, which we know plagues America, but also, urban communities as well. Have you focused your attention, as well, on Senator Sanders?
Ashley Williams: Tamron, let's be honest here. So if it wasn't for organizers and activists, on behalf of the movement for black lives, none of these candidates would have legitimate racial justice platforms. So I think that it's important to remember that, you know, the movement for black lives and organizers and activists around the country and around the world have been advocating for people to look at these records, have been advocating for people to critically engage these candidates. And so that's why the action was so important. I wanted Hillary Clinton to explain her own words.
She gave nearly identical responses that didn't acknowledge even the existence of Bernie Sanders, let alone the question, which demonstrates that this is not about mass incarceration, which in Williams' own construct Sanders voted for, but about shaming Hillary Clinton.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. As I've written many times, Hillary Clinton has a lot to answer for, and a lot she has answered for, but if that's the case, be honest about it. Much of Bernie Sanders' issue with black voters has to do with unfamiliarity, while Hillary's stems from familiarity, with her triangulating ways and the way she campaigned in 2008.
Finally, though, I would point out that this entire confrontation would have been a win for Hillary Clinton if she had handled it better. Whatever Ashley Williams' beef is, she should have listened to it first.