Bankole: Sanders move puts emphasis back on women

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is an accomplished politician who has used his voice — especially during the 2016 presidential campaign — to bring issues to the fore that would otherwise not have been given prominence in our national discourse.

But when organizers of the women’s convention, slated for Oct. 27-29 in Detroit, decided to give him a headline speaking role at the opening of its gathering, they did a disservice to the very idea of uplifting the voices of lesser known women.

Thankfully, Sanders, who is considered an icon of the liberal progressive movement, backed out of the convention probably because of the backlash his appearance was already creating on social media.

The Vermont Independent announced late Friday evening that he was heading to Puerto Rico instead to assess the damage of the storms there.

From the day Sanders was announced as an opening speaker, with some of the organizers salivating on Facebook over it, I insisted that it was a very wrong move.

Because a group that purports to be lifting the causes of women, should have given the platform it was offering Sanders to women whose work have been integral to the overall empowerment of women.

It is noteworthy that the group did not withdraw the invitation despite receiving a stream of criticisms from across the spectrum, including EMILY’s List, the nation’s leading organization that recruits female candidates to run for political office.

“The choice of Senator Sanders sends the wrong message,” EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriok said in a statement days after he was announced as a headliner. “We have more women leaders in elected office than ever before, and they are forcibly leading the resistance against Trump and his allies in Congress who are intent on attacking women.”

Under pressure, convention organizers released a statement later indicating that Sen. Debbie Stabenow will be opening the convention instead. But the wrong message had already been sent when Sanders was first announced.

It is also ironic that liberals and progressives, who incessantly criticize Republican male politicians for trying to take a front row seat on women’s issues, decided it was OK to have a white male liberal set the tone of their meeting in the Motor City.

The women’s convention which grew out of the resistance against Donald Trump’s presidency — with the Women’s March — cannot have it both ways. You can’t crucify Republican men and accuse them of trying to dictate how women take care of their bodies, and at the same time, give a plum speaking spot to Sanders who is on record supporting candidates who are against abortion.

Earlier this year, Sanders offered a forceful support of Heath Mello, an anti-abortion Democrat, who is running for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

When confronted about supporting Mello, who as a state senator co-sponsored several bills to restrict abortion rights, Sanders told NPR: “The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about.”

Since the monumental U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide, abortion rights for liberal-leaning women has been an important component in the battle to expand women’s rights.

Even as right-leaning women offer plausible arguments to justify their anti-abortion stances, Roe v. Wade still remains the holy grail of upholding the sanctity of a woman’s right to choose.

If Sanders doesn’t understand that and supports an anti-abortion liberal for mayor, he has no standing to speak at a major women’s convention, especially for a group whose members brand themselves as liberals and progressives.

The women’s convention organizers should have known better.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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