The weeks-long feud between Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and protesters from the #BlackLivesMatter movement culminated this weekend in yet another confrontation, this time at a Sanders rally in Seattle. The increasingly bitter rift, which took off at Netroots Nation a few weeks ago and split wide open with the #BernieSoBlack social media campaign, resulted in a #BlackLivesMatter takeover of a Sanders rally on Sunday that has even some supporters of the movement scratching their heads.
The move did nothing to endear #BlackLivesMatter to outsiders, but it did have the effect of getting their message out, which has been the point all along. To some degree, that strategy appears to have worked, as later that weekend, Sanders released a racial justice platform that goes a good deal farther than his other recent policy proposals on the issue. For example, where Sanders once called for federal funding of police body cameras, he has now caught up with Hillary Clinton, and favors making the cameras mandatory. He also proposes increased federal oversight over police misconduct and use of force, robust criminal justice and sentencing reform, and a raft of voting rights provisions:
ADDRESSING POLITICAL VIOLENCE
We need to re-enfranchise the more than two million African Americans who have had their right to vote taken away by a felony conviction.
Congress must restore the Voting Rights Act’s “pre-clearance” provision, which extended protections to minority voters in states where they were clearly needed.
We must expand the Act’s scope so that every American, regardless of skin color or national origin, is able to vote freely.
We need to make Election Day a federal holiday to increase voters’ ability to participate.
We must make early voting an option for voters who work or study and need the flexibility to vote on evenings or weekends.
We must make no-fault absentee ballots an option for all Americans.
Every American over 18 must be registered to vote automatically, so that students and working people can make their voices heard at the ballot box.
We must put an end to discriminatory laws and the purging of minority-community names from voting rolls.
We need to make sure that there are sufficient polling places and poll workers to prevent long lines from forming at the polls anywhere.
So far, though, Sanders hasn't added support for voting rights to his Supreme Court litmus test, which currently consists only of a willingness to overturn Citizens United.
The platform ends, of course, with a broader set of economic policies that also figure to positively impact black voters, an emphasis that has irritated many in the Black Lives Matter movement, but despite its shortcomings and latecomings, the plan has earned praise from activists. At the same time, Sanders has continued his streak of record crowds, and if there's any doubt that he has learned something from all of this, the Vermont firebrand showed signs of laying them to rest by having Black Lives Matter activists open up his 27,000-strong speech in Los Angeles on Monday.
The only real questions remaining are whether the rank-and-file activists who forced the issue in the first place will take "yes" for an answer, and whether the Sanders plan's depth will be matched by his enthusiasm for it. Will his racial justice platform become the priority that activists need it to be? And if this really is the end of the BLM-Sanders beef, what does this mean for Hillary Clinton, who has thus far benefited from Sanders' deficit with black voters, but for whom there remains a deep vein of mistrust among black voters left over from the 2008 campaign?