Zen, BLM Shuts Down Bernie

August 9, 2015


I was at the Bernie Sanders rally yesterday (8.8.15) in downtown Seattle’s Westlake Center where he was interrupted a second time by protestors from #BlackLivesMatter. And I get why it is #BlackLivesMatter and not #AllLivesMatter.

Unemployment, incarceration rates, life expectancy, and any number of statistics show that people of African-American descent in the United States have it much worse than people not of African-American heritage. And what decent person has not read the news or watched the videos of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland in horror? Sandra Bland especially for me, because she was from my hometown Chicago and the video of her being pulled over for FAILURE TO SIGNAL is clear that the officer was overstepping his authority, or trying to teach a lesson, or any number of bullshit reasons that ended up with Sandra Bland being dead in a jail cell. This is an outrage and these events must stop, or there is no hope for this country.

So I went to Latihan today, as is my Sunday practice, and asked to test about why the Subud Greater Seattle community was mostly straight and white. A short discussion ensued as to how to best frame the question, but how I just stated it was deemed appropriate by one Subud Brother who was ALSO at the attempted Bernie Sanders speech and sided with the protestors on his Facebook page. The general consensus of the test was that the folks on this particular Sunday do not have networks where intimate connections would include a lot of Black people or Gay people. Nothing is more intimate that how one accesses the Divine, and Gay people in the U.S. are quite appropriately skeptical, as religion has been used as a cudgel to validate homophobia. But the general feeling was that our community is OPEN to others, should they seek the practice we have been doing in Seattle since 1974. I was “opened” in Subud in 2004. The fact that Subud people are discouraged from proselytizing makes it difficult to reach out to potential members and the aging nature of Subud is also a factor against outreach. That there are vibrant Subud communities in Mexico, Columbia, Indonesia and other places where there are few white people was mentioned as evidence Subud is not a movement for white people, but for anyone who seeks a direct connection with the Divine. Surely we will keep this issue on our spiritual community’s agenda.

And then there is Facebook. Two friends of mine chimed in about the situation and said:

Ethelbert on #BLM8.8.15

Evan FB on #BLM 8.8.15

Watch the video and you see the pure hatred in the face of the woman on the right of Sanders. You also hear the “demands” the one on the left makes and Sanders immediately rejects it. When this is met by resistance from many in the crowd, who had been standing in the sun for a couple of hours anxiously awaiting the only Presidential candidate in their lifetime who was not speaking spin and talking points, but had a 30 year record backing up his rhetoric, and you see how hatred begets hatred. But it was a tiny minority in the crowd that acted boorishly. Still, expect the worse from people, act with hatred, contempt and anger and then wonder why that serve is returned with some of the same.

I also think that the lack of respect for elders in our country was illustrated by this action. Old people are disposable, even if they have done the hard, dirty and thankless work of organizing and representing 50 years worth of the right causes, from Civil Rights to Gay Rights to Ending the War on Drugs, to today’s massive economic inequality and evisceration of the U.S. Middle Class. To call the gathered White Supremacists was insulting, false, and does no one any good.

I took a cursory look at the math and found that my hometown, Chicago, has 1.6 Million people of African-American descent. In this whole bioregion, Cascadia, there are perhaps 100,000. This has a lot to do with race relations in Seattle and Portland and Vancouver, BC. This is not white supremacy, this is ignorance at worst. Why did people like Alex Haley and Charles Johnson find Seattle a place to settle down? Because it was a hotbed of White Supremacy? Doubtful.

And speaking of Charles Johnson, what he would advise (as evidenced by a Crosscut article in May) suggests:

Johnson’s essays in Taming the Ox present Buddhist practice as a path to freedom that is “a matter of life and death to black Americans.” He reminds us of the Dharma teaching that though pain is inevitable, suffering is not: We can choose how to respond to pain, and Buddhist practices help us respond wisely. So although black Americans today aren’t responsible for having formed an unjust society, they’re responsible for how they react to injustice, and developing a felt sense of oneness with others can lead to a peaceable, constructive, even compassionate response.

Whites need liberating, too, writes Johnson. White Americans can use the Dharma to free themselves from the centuries of racial indoctrination that have limited them, closed them off in a blind and false sense of superiority, barred them from knowing black people and treating them with due respect.

But sitting and contemplation are hard, slow and boring methods. Getting your picture in the paper and creating hashtags that become popular, surely that’s a sign that you have an influence, right? Or is it a sign of the pathological narcissism of late capitalist culture in USAmerica? When will we do right by Native Americans who were here before ANYONE and have it the worst of all in this society? Do they need to storm the mic too? Do Americans of Cuban descent like me need to storm the mic to force Bernie to put normalizing relations with Cuba in his platform, or can we assume he’s got it right on this issue? I’m inclined to believe he’d do the right thing here too, as evidenced AGAIN by his record.

Yes, the system is corrupt and racist. Yes, the treatment of racial minorities is inexcusable and it has long been past the time to do something about it. (Sanders knows the economic inequality is at the root of it all and people will get that when he’s done talking and legislating.) For changing the system, I’d start with the Seattle Police and demand creation a Civilian Review Board for starters. That would be constructive and would send a message to the rest of the country the way the $15.00 an hour minimum wage did, and I’d be up for that struggle. But if you want to do it with hatred, tremendous disrespect (#BowDownBernie) and the abrogation of someone else’s rights to free speech and freedom of assembly, count me out. I see nothing good coming out of such tactics.


  1. Karma Tenzing Wangchuk

    Thanks, Paul. The complexity of this “moment” is mirrored by the fact that none of the good written responses to Saturday’s incident have quite hit the mark for me. Perhaps none will. I’m still in reflection on what happened–what it means, how it will affect our efforts to address race positively, and yes, how it will affect Sanders’ most interesting (and unique) campaign. I do know that for many of my cohorts, including people of color in my life, that #BlackLivesMatter is more than a hashtag movement, and that a lot of us with white privilege haven’t used our privilege well (or even come to acknowledge it); until we do, there’s something to be learned from awkward, disturbing, confusing, and messy moments like this. A deep examination, a deep meditation, is in order–has been for a few centuries. Thanks again, my friend.

    • Splabman

      I was unswayed by that piece. He seems ashamed to be a white person. I was in the crowd and these two women exhibited hate, condescension and arrogance. He was not there and the protestors had a small minority of attendees mirror back their own hate. One of the protestors is a former Sarah Palin supporter who uses religion to excuse her homophobia: https://www.thefalcononline.com/2010/11/body-of-christ-needs-repentance/ “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” The revolution I want to be part of does not need to abrogate anyone else’s rights. And the 1% won again while the left debates itself over the ONE candidate in my lifetime who speaks to all these issues. Wow.

  2. Matt Briggs

    I didn’t get that he was ashamed. However I suppose he was, since shame is specifically a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. I’m also not really concerned about the background of the activists, although I have to admit last night in reading about the activists I felt a kind of smug sense of see! A Palin supporter! I also felt a degree of defensiveness … “don’t they understand, Bernie Sanders is THEIR best shot.” I missed the rally because I was working, alas, so I also didn’t get to feel the arrogance or condescension, arrogance, or hate. My feeling has been one of shared solidarity with the Black Lives Mattered. That is I “shared THEIR concern.” As a white person who has not had to deal with the issues in the way a person of color does, and in particular the way African American Males do, I felt outside of/isolated from this as my cause. “Sure it is important. I hope you get something done about that. Go along now.” However, in reading the Dr. King’s quote in the article I pointed you to, and then rethinking what Black Lives Matter means I felt admonished by that quote. It wasn’t Saunders who ended the event, but the organizer. It was the crowd who was yelling and was upset by the disruption, but the disruption wasn’t for them. It wasn’t for you, unless you engage with it. Engagement and empathy even in the face of arrogance or Palin-supporters seems more prudent to me.

    Compare how that went down and say a Clinton event. One of the reasons people respond to Saunders is that he feels genuinely concerned about effecting fundamental change. No one is going to get onto the stage at a Clinton event except Clinton. If I was running for president, I would not allow anyone on my stage, either, that is for sure. But Saunders and the organizers did. I’m sorry they were not able to handle the situation.

    And I’m sorry, ashamed even, that white liberals behaved exactly as Dr. King talks about here: “The white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ ”

    I felt irritated by the disruption, and talked a while to my wife about it. She felt the disruption was necessary and even effective. My feeling was why don’t ‘they’ see that Sanders will help them (and all of us?) In fact even this thinking, this subtle rejection of the idea that Black Lives Matter is not also my cause — that is the issue.

    Shouldn’t disruption should be startling and uncomfortable? Not everyone can disrupt as eloquently as Duchamp or Stravinsky. But if an issue requires grabbing the body politic and staring it into the face, this is one of them.

    I’m sure you have read The People’s History of America. If a white person does not feel humility or distress toward their history, then a white person cannot feel humility.

  3. Splabman

    Matt, you say: “Engagement and empathy even in the face of arrogance or Palin-supporters seems more prudent to me.” Few knew one of the protestors had a history of supporting Sarah Palin and has written about her opposition to homosexuality.” But the lack of empathy was exhibited by a small minority of the gathered and a great deal of patience was, especially given the situation. When I finally left, my legs were wobbly from all the standing in place, in the sun, for hours, listening to many speeches I did not come to hear, many saying the exact same things about Social Security.

    I am with Krishnamurti on these issues. He said: “When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

    ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

    And I think Johnson is in a similar place with his advice in the link from the post above.

    • Matt Briggs

      Sounds like a fancy way of saying you don’t see race, Paul.

  4. Splabman

    As a son of a Cuban immigrant, who raised 4 kids in poverty as a single Mom in Chicago in the 60s, I see race and class every day. Sounds like you don’t get the gist of what K was after.

  5. Splabman

    To the extent that we, as individuals, separate ourselves by categories (which are illusions), we separate ourselves from the source. This leads to sickness and extra suffering, which is what Charles Johnson alluded to in his quote above. The problem will always be that we are human (at best noble and at worst, animal or fixated on the material) and we are called to be Bodhisattvas. We can call each other out endlessly because he or she is not acting as a Bodhisattva, or we can support their effort to become liberated. Hard to do that when someone is screaming at you or calling you a White Supremacist, but the challenges get more difficult the closer one gets to those states.

  6. Matt Briggs

    There are many ways to take the quote. It could also be read as a threat of violence. In any case, these are theoretical concepts. They are important to me as well and I have found them personally helpful, but I am less certain about their application to society. Dharma provides insight or liberation for an individual (your Dharma is not my Dharma) but when it is applied to the systemic racism as it seems to me that Charles Johnson is doing, it seems a Buddhist way of saying what Bill Cosby was saying: pull yourself up or away. Buddhism can be as much a narcotic as any other, which is why there is the middle path, at least to the teaching I was exposed to. I call myself a Buddhist, but a poor one. The activists were just using words, and they inconvenienced you. It was an opportunity for mindfulness, and yet it could also be an opportunity to entrench and defend your beliefs. These categories that you call illusions are resulting in the vast incarceration rates for African American males. How do you dispel illusions that have this power and this reality? Is there an appropriate time and place draw attention to these powerful illusions? I don’t think there is an appropriate time or place. My comment was, like you I saw that as a kind of grandstanding and out of place political action with an in appropriate target. But in thinking about it, I changed my mind or my mind was changed. I think I now see it as a purposeful disruption. The messengers and context are trivial. However, I think if I had experiences traveling to the event and standing in the sun and then seeing some irate young people usurp the stage, I also would be angry.

  7. Splabman

    You ascribe anger to my state Matt but I was more disappointed than anything else. I have had my hopes raised by candidates who would prove to be less than what I’d hoped. But comparing Charles Johnson to Bill Cosby: “it seems a Buddhist way of saying what Bill Cosby was saying: pull yourself up or away” is a cheap shot. What are the fruits of Charles Johnson’s consciousness and compare those to the systematic rape he engaged in for decades. As for illusions, many people buy into them. Had the protestors suggested a concrete action, as I have said before, like instituting a Civilian Review Board for the Seattle Police Department, #BLM Seattle could be leading a national movement to address the racism in police departments in a way that got the $15 per hour minimum wage on the national agenda. Perhaps that will still come, but unlikely from the two who acted as they did on 8.8. One black Facebook friend posted a link to an article saying You Don’t Piss on Your Friends and that’s a good start.

  8. Matt Briggs

    I don’t think I was ascribing anger to you. I was saying I may have been angry in a similar situation as the you described. I was irritated even reading about it, and that is where I began to think about the reaction. Listening to my own irritation. What was that telling me?

    I was comparing what Charles Johnson said (quoted by Judy Lightfoot) to a line of argument that Cosby has made. I have a great deal of respect for Johnson’s novels and stories and feel fortunate to have studied with him at the UW. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says. In this case, his advice strikes me as perhaps helpful for an individual, but doesn’t really address affecting systematic change.

    I have read some nuanced Facebook posts myself. Many people, however, seem to be taking this as a chance to articulate their separateness from the issues raised by the two protesters.

    In any case, what is a little piss among friends?

  9. Splabman

    Piss is better than poop. We got off easy.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You May Also Like …

9.28.2022 @ Underbelly

9.28.2022 @ Underbelly

  Once I survived the promotional photo shoot for the Underbelly reading, I was ready for the event. I'll be part...

read more
Nuchatlitz, Artful

Nuchatlitz, Artful

Bhakti and I were delighted to have been offered a chance to visit Nuchatlitz, BC, thanks to Adelia MacWilliam and...

read more