Why political movements can’t forget their marginalized members

Op-eds Opinions

When Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, it didn’t take long for pundits, thinkpiece writers, and Sanders detractors (some of them one in the same) to ask why those rabble-rousing Bernie Bros couldn’t just take the L and go home rather than cause a fuss at the Democratic National Convention.

“They’re sexist,” some said. “They’re being ridiculous,” said a few others. “They’re just a bunch of privileged white men who jumped on the socialist bandwagon,” said a couple more.

Sanders supporters — to say nothing of Sanders himself — have been put on blast for months, especially when the likelihood of Sanders winning the nomination grew smaller and smaller as the primaries dragged on. But rather than get out of the way of the Clinton campaign, Sanders and his supporters took their fight to the end of the line, opposition from certain contingents of the Democrat party be damned.

As a result, Clinton shifted on a number of issues, including free college tuition, health insurance reform, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, bringing her platform closer to the left — and closer to Sanders.

For a candidate that represents the ‘left’ party, shifting closer to the actual left should be considered a good thing, yeah? Not so, if you ask the #ImWithHer crowd.

But the Bernie backlash is an example of a phenomenon where political spaces originally created and held by leftist groups gradually shift to the centre, and when those same groups who occupied that space try and pull it back, they are met with derision and opposition.

And it’s not limited to the U.S. elections: Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) experienced the same thing when they staged a sit-in at Toronto Pride in June. The demonstration was a way of reclaiming a space and pushing for more inclusive events for black LGBT people, because Pride has a demonstrable history of excluding them.

And though it worked to a varying degree, the backlash from those outside the black LGBT community was palpable. Similar to the response Sanders’ supporters got, BLMTO protesters were admonished for what some saw as hijacking an event that has become mainstream — and, to some degree, has lost its edge.

By committing the perceived offense of advocating for a cause, both BLMTO and Sanders protesters were shouted down by a mainstream movement that should be looking out for those group’s interests and trying to bridge the divide. Both were accused of intruding on a space that didn’t belong to them, when the opposite is true.

But a political movement is only as strong as its members, and no political movement got its way without kicking up a fuss. Had Sanders and his supporters bailed out three months before the convention, Clinton would be less pressured to accommodate their demands. Protest works (most of the time), and by catering to those supporters, Clinton will become a stronger candidate for the American left to rally behind. Likewise, the harder BLMTO pushes Toronto Pride to get its act together and listen to those marginalized folks in the queer community, the better future Pride events will be for everyone.

All I’m saying is this: let folks be mad. Chances are they have something worth being mad about.