From Bob Rafsky to Jennicet Gutiérrez, activists have long interrupted politicians as a means of holding them accountable for issues they might not otherwise discuss. That history continued on Saturday when a group of organizers shut down a speaking event featuring Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders in order to force the Democratic hopefuls to address police violence in communities of color.
While those activists have already been dismissed as “hecklers” in the media, their disruptive tactics succeeded in getting both presidential candidates to publicly say the words “black lives matter.”
The Associated Press reports that demonstrators interrupted O’Malley’s interview with moderator Jose Antonio Vargas at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix with chants of “black lives matter,” “say her name,” and “save our men.”
“I want to hear concrete actions,” #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Patrice Cullors insisted of the former Maryland governor. “We are in a state of emergency.”
O’Malley agreed that “black lives matter.” But The Guardian reports that he threw a “white lives matter” in there too, at which point he was, understandably, booed. After the conference, O’Malley took to Twitter to clarify his position and hint at a plan of action: “Everyone deserves a voice. #blacklivesmatter. I WILL promote a racial justice agenda as president.”
When faced with the activists’ call during his own portion of the event, Sanders said: “Black lives of course matter… Black people are dying in this country because we have a criminal justice system that is out of control.”
Will O’Malley and Sanders back up their words with action? That remains to be seen. But thanks to their Netroots “hecklers,” they’ve been forced to consider the question.