It was a typical weekend for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): He shattered attendance records at big-city rallies — not once, but twice — and he lost control of a campaign event to Black Lives Matter protesters.
The action came during a three-day trip down the West Coast, which concludes Monday with stops in Oakland and Los Angeles.
In Seattle on Saturday, Sanders drew 12,000 supporters to the Hec Edmundson Pavilion, according to the Seattle Times, and another 3,000 to an overflow area. The next day, he topped even that record by drawing 19,000 to Portland's Moda Center, home to the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. According to CNN, which cited an arena spokesman, another 9,000 Portlandians were turned away at the door.
Seconds after Sanders took the stage, a dozen protesters from the city's Black Lives Matter chapter jumped barricades around the stage and grabbed the microphone from the senator. Holding a banner that said "Smash Racism," two of the protesters — Marissa Janae Johnson and Mara Jacqeline Willaford, the co-founders of the chapter — began to address the crowd.
"My name is Marissa Janae Johnson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Seattle," she said to sustained boos for an audience that had waited an hour and a half to hear Sanders. "I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, filled with its progressives, but you already did it for me, thank you.
The activists demanded 4½ minutes of silence in memory of [slain Ferguson, Mo., resident Michael] Brown, to symbolize the 4½ hours his body lay on a Ferguson street. While rally organizers raised their hands in support, some in the crowd yelled profanities.
After the few minutes of silence, the protesters said they wanted to confront Sanders for failing to address their concerns when he was similarly interrupted at a town hall for liberal activists in Phoenix last month. Johnson beckoned Sanders to stand closer as she spoke — he refused.
The Westlake protesters would not let Sanders take the microphone, prompting rally organizer Robby Stern to say the event was over because the demonstrators were determined to stop it.
Sanders left the stage and walked through the crowd, greeting supporters, before leaving in a white Jeep for a fundraiser at the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill.
In an apparent reaction to the protest, Sanders announced the hiring of a young African American activist as his national press secretary later Saturday. Symone Sanders, who has worked for Public Citizen and volunteered for the Coalition on Juvenile Justice, quickly took center stage in her new role, delivering a 10-minute speech that night at the Hec Edmundson Pavilion introducing her new boss.
According to BuzzFeed, she first met Sanders three weeks ago when she offered him advice on addressing the Black Lives Matter movement:
“One of my suggestions, he took it and ran with it on Meet the Press, is that racial inequality and economic inequality are parallel issues,” she said. “I [told him,] you know, economic equality is an issue. It’s something we need to address. But for some people it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it doesn’t matter where you went to school, it doesn’t matter what your parents do. It doesn’t matter that Sandra Bland had a job and was on her way to teach for her alma mater. It doesn’t matter. None of that matters.”
Symone Sanders also addressed the Portland rally Sunday night, according to CNN, and instructed audience members to chant "We stand together" if another protest erupted onstage.
A further sign the campaign was unnerved by the protests? For the first time, according to CNN, it hired security:
Six guards stood around the stage on the floor of the Moda Arena, ensuring that if a protest were to break out, it would be unlikely the stage would be seized. Sanders' campaign declined to talk about security after Saturday's protest, but the senator has yet to travel with a visible security detail.