Marissa Johnson, co-founder of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, told MSNBC on Tuesday that she hijacked a speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders in Seattle on Saturday because “we really need to put pressure on people who claim that they care about black lives,” especially when they’re running for president.

“Especially on the left,” Johnson explained, “candidates have this liberal rhetoric, and we really need them to match it with their words and with their actions. So the thing is, if Bernie Sander is really grassroots and he’s really there for the people, then he would make room for grassroots movements and not say to the grassroots movements, ‘You need to settle with what I give you.’ ”

Johnson’s characterization of Sanders’ as dictatorial and indifferent toward activists whose concerns fall outside his established focus on economic justice is unsubstantiated and therefore beggars belief. But she is no doubt expressing the painful, frustrating and worrying sense of exclusion that many black Americans have felt when looking at the candidate’s campaign and wondering where they fit in.

Shortly after the protest, Sanders released a comprehensive platform on racial justice and introduced Symone Sanders, a young black activist, as his campaign’s national press secretary.

Elsewhere, at The Guardian on Tuesday, New York writer and policy advocate Heather Barmore wrote — convincingly, in this editor’s view — that Johnson and fellow activist Mara Willaford’s disruption of Sanders was necessary because a “state of emergency” has been declared — for blacks especially, and Americans generally — and this emergency needs to be dealt with immediately.

Barmore wrote that she “cringed at the sight of women who look like me storming a stage and making themselves heard.” And she “couldn’t put” her “finger on why.”

My gut reaction wasn’t an indictment on the actions of those Black Lives Matter organizers on the ground. They were pushing their way into progressive spaces and, in so doing, riled up audience members who have long patted themselves on the back for being the most liberal people in the room. It didn’t dawn on me until much later that their actions made me uncomfortable because they were doing something that I, as an introvert who prefers to stay quiet, would never be brave enough to do.

Johnson and Willaford are holding Sanders and other leftists to their claimed values, Barmore continued:

For every move forward in society, there has to be one person who takes the first step. Being first is a terrifying place to be. It’s brave. I know myself well enough to know that I will not be the first to do anything but that when these giants force me to look in the mirror and question my actions, then I will do so. A state of emergency has been declared both literally and figuratively which means that I must step out of my shell to physically join the protests I have so frequently written about.

Black Lives Matter protests have dared to push the status quo and speak for those who have been afraid to speak for themselves. They have put a magnifying glass to the campaigns of presidential candidates, they have forced us all to squirm out of discomfort. No matter who is speaking, discourse on race isn’t supposed to be easy. Grassroots members of Black Lives Matter are pushing their way through spaces and forcing conversation that makes us all a little tense but that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

They are forcing Americans of all races to look deep inside themselves at their own biases and how hundreds of years of biases have contributed to racial turmoil of today. No one is excluded – especially not those who want to be leader of the United States of the America.

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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