When the Women’s Convention announced that Bernie Sanders would speak on the opening night of its national conference in Detroit later this month, the response on social media was swift and brutal.
Many supporters of the group, which spearheaded the record-setting marches around the U.S. to protest President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, were outraged that conference organizers would pick a white man to address a convention meant to elevate women of color. Others were annoyed that Sanders—who recently endorsed a candidate for mayor in Nebraska who has been criticized as anti-abortion—would be embraced by a movement that supports reproductive rights. Others nursed a grudge against Sanders and his supporters for their role in Hillary Clinton’s election defeat.
On the surface, the hoopla may seem silly: many of the critics were objecting to the misperception that the Vermont Senator was “headlining” a women’s conference. He isn’t. The Women’s Convention doesn’t technically have a headliner, but its featured speaker is Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who has called for Trump’s impeachment. Sanders is one of only two men among the 42 speakers at the three-day conference, held in Detroit from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29. The publicity around the former presidential candidate’s appearance was a function of the fact that he is the most famous speaker on the docket.
But the controversy over Sanders’s role in the Women’s Convention raises larger questions about whether the progressive grassroots uprising against Trump’s agenda can thrive as a “leaderless” movement that aspires to unite coalitions across the left.
How can the movement amplify the voices of specific groups—especially women, immigrants, and people of color—while embracing white men as full participants? How can it harness the activist outrage that drove the largest demonstration in U.S. history while expanding its ranks to win seats in the midterm elections? The best way for the so-called Resistance to achieve tangible change is to build a broad coalition. But is it still a women’s movement if it showcases male leaders?
In their first interview since the controversy erupted Thursday, the leaders of the convention defended the move, chalked up the controversy to a misunderstanding and expressed dismay that Waters’ role at the gathering was overlooked.
” Why did the same people not take as much interest in sharing and helping…