Activist Dolores Huerta. (Freedom To Marry / CC BY-SA 2.0)

An online battle has erupted over claims by iconic labor and civil rights activist — and Hillary Clinton supporter — Dolores Huerta that she was shouted off a Nevada caucus stage by people chanting “English only!”

On Saturday evening after Clinton had won and Bernie Sanders lost, Huerta took to Twitter with a message indicating she had been barred from providing English-to-Spanish interpretation at a Las Vegas caucus gathering in Harrah’s Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Huerta’s tweet instigated a backlash by Sanders supporters, who as The Washington Post notes, were “in many cases using the very language that had given rise to the idea that some Sanders voters are rowdy to outright rude. There were allegations of media bias and of deliberate attempts by the Clinton campaign and/or its supporters to besmirch the liberal credentials of Sanders voters or cast them as frothy-mouthed racists.”

The Washington Post continues:

“Fortunately, one Sanders supporter who was also present at that caucus gathering, actress Susan Sarandon, dispatched a tweet with her take on the night’s events and a link to a lengthy video that captured a large portion of the caucus.

The plain truth about what happened is that no one seems to have described events quite accurately. Here’s the video Sarandon shared in her tweet. The key section runs from about the 53:35 minute mark to around 56:46.

If you watch the Sarandon video, you will note that some of what is said and done is not audible or clear. But this much is:

Around 53:35, there is a call from the back of the room for a Spanish interpreter, because some in the room do not speak English.

There is a lot of cross talk, yelling, hissing and complaining around the 53:55 mark, as Huerta comes to the stage.

There are people shouting, “She’s with Hillary” and “No,” around the 54:12 mark.

At around 54:30, the permanent chair (the man speaking into the microphone) asks people to settle down, stop yelling and observe.

Then, the permanent chair says at around the 55:21 mark, “We’re going forward in English only.”

This statement was followed immediately by much applause and cheers of “Thank you.” All of this together would indicate that the people pleased by the permanent chair’s English-only decision were probably Sanders voters.

So there you have it. Right? Sanders voters can’t be tarred and feathered for — or even deemed guilty of — Huerta’s “English-only” chants claim. And Huerta appears to have misattributed the permanent chair’s English-only decision to the raucous crowd.

But it’s really not quite that simple.

Noting that the focus of the online firestorm seems to be about word choice, a Salon article says “the difference between ‘cheering’ and ‘chanting’ seems a strange hill to die on, but, as with most stupid election controversies, the anger here is more about what the story symbolizes than the actual facts in dispute.”

“Things are tense right now,” the piece continues, “because the Nevada loss is starting to look like a devastating blow to the Sanders campaign. From the beginning, the biggest obstacle to the Sanders campaign was convincing voters that this was about serious change instead of a bunch of privileged people posturing about how radical they are.

The problem is that dog-piling Huerta is exactly the wrong way to go about appealing to women, people of color, or labor organizers. The accusations of lying are a stark reminder of how women or people of color have long been treated as more mendacious than white men, and the lack of respect for an iconic labor organizer calls into question if these self-proclaimed socialists have even a basic understanding of what socialism is, or the centrality of labor concerns to the very concept of socialism. (This isn’t helped by the fact that the Sanders campaign is far more focused on middle-class benefits and Wall Street corruption than traditional socialist concerns like labor organizing or welfare for the poor.)

The attacks on Huerta also reinforce the very image that the Sanders campaign needs to get away from, which is that it’s about a bunch of well-off white men who are more interested in pushing people around than creating a progressive coalition. Of course, the odds of Sanders actually winning now are incredibly low. The coalition didn’t form and Clinton is on the path to the nomination. That we’re seeing a shift away from trying to play nice to lashing out isn’t too surprising, under the circumstances. But it’s still disappointing to see would-be socialists attacking a scion of the labor movement in this way.

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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