Marissa Janae Johnson (1991?- ), a Black American civil rights leader, is a founder of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) chapter in Seattle. She is best known nationally for stopping Bernie Sanders from giving a speech in Seattle on August 8th 2015.
Bernie Sanders is the most “progressive” (liberal or left-leaning) of those running for US president. He is a White senator from the second Whitest state in the nation. As Johnson rightly notes, he is a class reductionist, making policies that address issues of class in place of race.
Sanders had been interrupted by BLM protesters before. On July 18th at a Netroots Nation gathering in Arizona, they challenged him and fellow presidential candidate Martin O’Malley to make public their policies on structural racism. O’Malley did that a few days later. Sanders did not.
So in Seattle they interrupted him again. Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford took the stage shortly after Sanders began to speak. Johnson gained control of the microphone and said:
“Join us now in holding Bernie Sanders accountable for his actions.”
She motioned for Sanders to join her at the microphone. He did not move.
While Johnson was on stage she gave several examples of how Seattle is racist, the city that Sanders had just called “one of the most progressive” in the nation. She asked for four and a half minutes of silence for Michael Brown, during which some yelled profanities or gave her the middle finger.
When interviewed and asked whether she was turning people off from her cause, she said:
“I don’t give a fuck about the White gaze.”
She is against respectability politics:
“This whole notion that there are conditions on our humanity, fuck that”
She also does not think much of police body cameras:
“I don’t need a home video of my oppression.”
Of Bernie Sanders:
“If he is our best option, then I’m burning it down.”
When people ask if she hates White people, she asks:
“Do you love Black people?”
Some doubted whether she was part of BLM, but Patrisse Cullors, the head of BLM, said of Johnson and Willaford:
“BLM did not circulate a petition asking for an apology. We are not circulating articles that are slandering these women’s names. Cut this shit out, yall.”
Many doubted whether Johnson knew what she was doing, but a few days later Sanders did, at last, put up his Racial Justice policies on his website (even if they are largely class reductionist).
Her mother is White, her father is Black. Both are part of the far-right, racist Tea Party. Johnson herself used to be a Sarah Palin supporter. She grew up a Black token in White spaces. The turning point for her came when Trayvon Martin was killed – and none of her White friends cared. She now sees it as her duty to make people uncomfortable about living in a racist society.
She is an evangelical Christian, which she says means that, “you lay down your life for other people and the most marginalized.”
– Abagond, 2015.
- Black Spring
- Black Lives Matter
- Black People: The White Liberal User’s Guide
- Bernie Sanders
- Who talks about structural racism?
- Michael Brown
- Sarah Palin Kool-Aid Society
- respectability politics
- Trayvon Martin