(Brookings Institution) – Last Saturday, Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator running to the left of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, was confronted at a rally in Seattle by members of the Black Lives Matter movement. The event followed a town hall meeting in Phoenix in July, at which Sanders and fellow Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley were interrupted by activists seeking greater attention for racial justice issues. Since then, a slew of articles have suggested that Black Lives Matter activists “err,” are getting it “wrong,” and even that they have been “remarkably dumb” in targeting Bernie Sanders.
The gist of these criticisms is that Sanders is a tried-and-true progressive and longtime ally in the fight for racial justice. But criticizing your friends is good politics for political movements, and sometimes, for the criticized officials as well.
Take, for instance, the interactions between President Obama and advocates for LGBT rights. As a candidate, Obama promised to be a “fierce ally” of the LGBT community. But when progress was deemed slow on the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and particularly when the Obama Justice Department opted to support the Defense of Marriage Act, LGBT advocates pulled no punches. Instead, they publicly criticized the president, shouted him down during a speech, boycotted one major Democratic fundraiser and attempted to disrupt another with bullhorns and loudspeakers. President Obama—with perhaps an unwelcome assist from Vice President Biden—would soon change his stance. By 2011, the Administration was overseeing the repeal of DADT and calling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Still, LGBT activists continue to aggressively and publicly confront the president. Just the other day, a transgender activist heckled the president again—this time at a speech the President was giving in celebration of Pride month.