If we all know one thing for sure, it’s that the 2016 campaign revealed divisions in America’s political thought that many were content to ignore for too long – especially in the Democratic Party. And no one accomplished more for that goal than Senator Bernie Sanders.
His campaign sent a consistent message that the establishment (the DNC) had ignored the will of the people (his supporters) and nominated Hillary Clinton against their wishes. Later on, Bernie helped foster the idea that his loss in the primaries was due to the all-powerful DNC, which Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek describes as “an impotent organization with very little power.”
Hillary Clinton has even admitted that Sanders’ caustic rhetoric took a toll on her campaign, and many women have spoken out about the online harassment that they faced from his supporters, many of whom are self-described “progressives.”
So why give him the primetime spot at a “women’s convention?”
Choosing Bernie over representation
I wrote a piece a while ago about the white imagination, and how white supremacy manages to edge its way into the lives of all, rendering young black people unable to even imagine worlds centered on themselves.
When I saw the Black Panther trailer, I was struck by the unmitigated chocolate involved. Just a crap ton of melanin – dark, DARK-skinned people – being warriors and superheroes and shit, and not apologizing about it.
That shock or surprise, because of how few spaces represent people of color, is exactly why it’s helpful to properly center events on the identities involved (especially if your contention is that those voices are not heard enough.)
I would also not choose John Green (though he’s made killer videos on the topic) to open an event on racial injustice and inequality, either, nor do I believe he would accept. (And I LOVE me some John Green.)
Representation is bad enough as it is, without having a white man open an event meant to be about women.
What choosing Bernie says
Sec. Clinton would’ve been an obviously good choice, given the vast swaths of women who supported her and have felt victimized by this presidency in the time since she has lost.
It could’ve been especially meaningful to black women, 94% of whom voted for Clinton, and many of whom did so, not because they felt that she was the lesser of the two evils when compared to Donald Trump, but that she was actually a good option.
There are those who say that feminism isn’t about solely women, and it’s also about male allies who bolster the cause.
This is true-ish, but Sanders has shown a checkered understanding of women’s issues in the past.
With his post-election insistence that Democrats eschew identity politics and not just say “I’m a woman, vote for me,” he very clearly stated that HRC’s gender was all she had to offer voters, (a not-so-subtle dig at a woman with thrice his résumé in a third of the time in national politics.)
During the campaign, he offered a brusque dismissal of Planned Parenthood’s endorsement of HRC, calling Planned Parenthood “the establishment,” which through the framing of his campaign of outsider vs. establishment, we could reasonably read as “the enemy.”
It’s worth noting that Sanders’ comments – which he has since apologized for – came at a time when they were besieged by crises daily, and a calculated attack by the right wing of the federal government. Planned Parenthood endorsed who they trusted on women’s issues – and it wasn’t Sanders.
Is this the “progressive” man you want opening your event?
It didn’t have to be a politician
Even if we were to take into account comments by Tamika D. Mallory, one of the event’s organizers, on their announcement that Sanders would open the convention, and if we believed that they reached out to high-profile, accomplished, and successful women to no avail, we cannot believe that every high-profile, accomplished, and successful woman in the country was “busy.”
“They were busy” does not cut it. All of them were not “unavailable.”
Furthermore, everyone mentioned in that tweet was a politician, but politicians don’t happen to be the only women with thoughts worth hearing about progressive politics. It could have easily been an opportunity to uplift a woman that maybe participants were unaware of before.
Perhaps an investor to talk about the market, or a doctor to talk about what changes to the ACA mean for you. A conservationist to talk about climate change. An immigration lawyer who has worked with Dreamers and illegal immigrants to give insight on a process citizens don’t have to go through.
Response to backlash
Several moves the WC has made since make it apparent that they knew their choice was indefensible, as they announced Sanders’ inclusion after the refund date. Whatever you want to say about the situation, be it that they were right or wrong to invited Sanders, that…is shady.
If you’d like to have a Bernie Sanders rally, do it. But don’t trick women thinking they’re headed for a female empowerment event only to be treated with a stump speech for Sanders 2020, after they can’t take their money back. This move suggests that the WC knew what they were doing wasn’t right.
The WC then contended that Sanders was not a focal point of the event, and attempted to contain the damage by pointing out the small number of men at the conference relative to women, but…they gave Sanders the opening speech spot.
Most likely, they believed that his presence would garner further interest, higher attendance, and more money, but when they received a negative reaction, stated that Sanders wasn’t a centerpiece.
I have no doubt that, had the reaction been more amicable, the WC may have pushed even more Sanders PR as a draw to the event.
A “women’s convention” should be about uplifting and amplifying the voices of women, and the WC had to know that inviting Sanders, locus of attention that he is, would distract greatly from that point. It’s quite the stretch to suggest that you didn’t think Bernie would be, umm, noticeable.
Not to mention:
- Sanders has spent his post-election tenure appearing on Stephen Colbert to promote his book, something that he has criticized Clinton for.
- His wife, as part of his 2020 campaign, attempted to connect the sexually depraved behavior of Harvey Weinstein to Hillary Clinton.
- The Women’s Convention, an outgrowth of The Women’s March demonstration a day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, uses the quote “Women’s rights are human rights,” a quote attributable to Hillary Clinton, without attribution.
What kind of message does the convention believe it’s sending to women beleaguered by sexist trolls online to invite a man that does very little to tamp them down?
There should not be a man opening a “Women’s Convention,” given the already absurd lack of credence that women’s words are given compared to men, and the unfortunate lack of spaces available for them to make their words count.
What could have been an uplifting experience is now pockmarked by the fact that after contacting 3 senators, the Women’s Convention apparently decided the pool of women with valid thoughts on progressive politics had run dry.
Further, it definitely shouldn’t be this man, with his penchant for smearing a woman that many women and especially women of color, in the U.S. and around the world, admire and respect.
Even if Barack Obama himself, beacon of progressivism and beloved by all, were to speak at the convention, he’d better only be there to introduce Michelle.