On Monday, 24-year-old Black Lives Matter protester Marissa Janae Johnson told Elon James White and Imani Gandi of This Week in Blackness that she doesn’t “give a fuck” if her strident interruption of a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle has hurt her cause in the eyes of white people.
Last Saturday, Johnson and fellow Black Lives Matter of Seattle protester Mara Jacqeline Willaford disrupted a rally in support of Medicaid expansion in Washington state as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was getting up to speak. When the two women grabbed the microphone and screamingly insisted they were being reasonable by refusing to let the rally proceed, Sanders left the stage.
The stunt has left many on the left at odds. Johnson and Willaford’s supporters claim that the two women are acting with the urgency required in a situation where black people’s lives and bodies are being destroyed by police on a daily basis.
Critics say that the interruption amounted to little more than a clownish tantrum that drove as many people away from the Black Lives Matter cause as it could have attracted.
Johnson says she doesn’t care, ultimately, whether the tactics are alienating.
“I feel good,” she said by phone. “I helped launch a national conversation around race and electoral politics and respectability that’s still going strong two days later. I could not be better.”
Going after Bernie Sanders is “super important,” Johnson said, because “Sanders is supposed to be as far left and progressive as you can possibly get and in Seattle’s political context? I know that really, really well, right? We have hordes and hordes of white liberals and white progressives and yet we still have all the same racial problems. So for us locally in our context, confronting Sanders was the equivalent of confronting the large, white, liberal Democrat leftist contingent that we have here in Seattle who not only has not supported BLM in measurable ways but is often very harmful and is upholding the white supremacist society that we live in.”
Johnson said she and her group have not disrupted any Hillary rallies because “Hillary has better Secret Service than Obama.”
“She’s doing these private dinners that are invite-only,” agreed Gandi. “It’s positively ludicrous for people to think that these activists would not be protesting Hillary if they could get to her.”
“The work that I do in particular is agitation work,” Johnson said, when asked why she never contacted the Sanders campaign to ask for a spot in the rally’s program. “People are having these conversations, people are forced to do their own work and do their own reforms because of work that I’ve done on the ground.”
“Well, what would you say to the people who say that you’re hurting your cause?” White asked.
“I don’t give a fuck about the white gaze,” Johnson replied. “I don’t. I literally don’t.”
When asked about her admission that she once supported former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), Johnson explained that her parents, an interracial couple, are Tea Party supporters and that she was a supporter of the former vice presidential candidate when she was a high schooler in 2008.
“Clearly that’s not where I am, because people leave high school and go to college and [change their views],” she explained, adding that she was a “devout evangelical Christian.”
“So, yes, I did run up there and confront Bernie Sanders because of my religious conviction, absolutely. Are they right-wing religious convictions? No.”