An open letter to Marissa Janae Johnson on her decision to interrupt Bernie Sanders

Dear Marissa Janae Johnson,

There is currently a ton of banter about your decision to interrupt a Bernie Sanders rally here in my hometown of Seattle, and I wanted to offer a more detailed analysis of why some are concerned about what happened. While some may be immediately opposed due to the fact that they are racist (which is unfortunate), I think the greater majority have legitimate concerns over how this could potentially harm the #blacklivesmatter movement.

You stormed the stage of a political candidate with a commendable history of support for all minorities (Click here to read.) The audience found this disrespectful. You scream at them and call them racists. Then, you turn around and demand they be respectful and offer 4 1/2 minutes of silence for Michael Brown? You knew this wasn’t going to happen. I think a simple study of sociology is what could offer you insight as to why the crowd reacted the way they did. I don’t think it was because they were all “white racist progressives,” I think it might be because of the glaring hypocrisy of demanding respect and cooperation while blatantly offering the opposite.

This is the trouble with your action and why it has been so divisive. The national debate that has been ignited has very little to do with black lives matter, and everything to do with an irrational, crazed woman storming the stage of a political candidate black people would be wise to support. The words you delivered were beautifully written, well-researched and factual, and passionately delivered, but the message was lost in the pandemonium you provoked.

The question I beg of you is what were you trying to accomplish? Were you trying to elicit further conversation about #blacklivesmatter? If so, I’m sorry to say you have failed. In the past couple of days, I have not seen much discourse at all about #blacklivesmatter. If that hashtag is being used, it is most commonly in comments about you. Comments questioning your tactics. Comments questioning your religious and political affiliation. Even some comments in support of you, but still very little about #blacklivesmatter. I doubt the goal was to make this about you, which is why so many, including myself, are questioning strategy.

What I am repeatedly hearing is that those who are looking at this from an intellectual perspective and questioning strategy, are being called liberal racists, white supremacists, etc. I have been accused of caring more about hearing a speech about Social Security and Medicare than I care about black children dying. These assertions are abhorrent. They are not helping anybody, and instead, they are hurting the very cause you champion. It seems that through your actions, #blacklivesmatter is starting to seem more extremist, which will ultimately result in the loss of public support.

This idea of extremism is further evidenced in certain parts of your interview. Throughout most of it, you sound poised and intelligent. Certain parts, however, make me think that #blacklivesmatter would be wise to separate from you. You state that you “don’t have faith in politicians” or the “electoral process,” and state that it is “well documented that it doesn’t work for us, no matter who you are.” “I refuse to believe the system that we’re in is the only option that we have,” you say. “If he (Bernie Sanders) is our best option, then I’m burning this down.”

So, what system of government would you propose? It seems you have not shared any thoughts outside of what sounds like total anarchy? The system you refer to is always changing, and it seems to be changing for the better as we evolve. For example, as a gay man, I could absolutely cite examples of injustices to LGBT citizens that are blatantly occurring all across the nation, but I would be remiss if I didn’t appreciate that we just progressed a great deal by legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states. Interestingly, this was all done under our first black president, who is currently serving his second term. And who do you think is responsible for those advancements? It seems to me that it is quite likely, in part, those “white liberals” you so flippantly call “racist.”

Do you see the problem here? You are alienating yourself from some of your biggest supporters, which is why your actions are being called into question. I think your intent was solid, but your methods are flawed. I understand your frustration, I respect your boldness and some of your stances, but I think you may have hurt the movement that you, me, and so many care so deeply about.

I’m glad we can at least agree that #blacklivesmatter.

Best of luck.


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