Bernie is bowing out of the Women's Convention. What does that mean for progressive men?

Oct 20, 2017

Whatever you think of his policies, Senator Bernie Sanders did something politically smart. Sanders, who had been scheduled to open the first-ever Women’s Convention in Detroit next week, announced that he wouldn’t be able to attend after all.

“I want to apologize to the organizers,” the senator from Vermont said, “but given the emergency situation in Puerto Rico,” he felt his leadership was needed there next weekend instead.

Bernie Sanders speaking in Traverse City, Michigan during the 2016 campaign.
Credit Todd Church / Flickr

Now it’s unlikely that there’s very much the 76-year-old activist can do in Puerto Rico next Friday that could not have been done before or since, and it is difficult to imagine him personally hauling away giant trees felled by Hurricane Maria a month ago.

But Sanders moved to smartly defuse a difficult situation created by what seems to me utter stupidity on the part of some of those affiliated with the Women’s Convention.

Sanders, arguably the most charismatic politician in America, had been asked some time ago to open the convention, and agreed. I had thought that a smart move on behalf of the organizers of the convention, which was billed as a weekend of “workshops, strategy sessions, inspiring forums and intersectional movement building,” open to “women, femmes, and our allies of all backgrounds.”

Bernie Sanders has been a supporter of women’s causes since the 1960s. But a few days ago, I began seeing angry rants against Bernie and outrage that he was opening the convention.

Some of this seemed to be because he was a man, but most of it because he had run against a woman, Hillary Clinton, for the Democratic presidential nomination. She had won that nomination, and he had endorsed and campaigned for her afterwards.

But still, some of them blamed him for her loss. A petition was started by someone named Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft to stop Bernie from opening the convention. “We believe a female-identifying individual should open the women’s convention, and optics are important,” said Ashcraft, who identified herself as a “mother, minister and magic-maker” from Brooklyn.

Sanders, who is also originally from Brooklyn and who made a little magic of his own in last year’s campaign, was smart enough to know not to show up where you aren’t wanted.

Ashcraft was right about one thing, optics are important – and she just helped flash a sign telling progressive men they weren’t welcome. They did the equivalent of Dennis the Menace and his buddies putting a sign on their clubhouse saying, “No girls allowed.”

The Women's Convention is being organized by the leaders of the Women's March on Washington, which drew millions of women to protest across the nation.
Credit Courtesy of Tashmica Torok

On closer examination, the convention doesn’t seem geared towards the sort of voters who Bernie appeals to. It costs a daunting $295 to attend, though students can get in for $125.

There had been some “scholarship money” available, the website said, but it’s now too late to apply for any. “We wish we could make the event more affordable,” it said, but too bad.

Well, I wonder if the organizers think any of my female students, most of whom voted for Bernie, or any poor women in Detroit, can pay those prices to attend an empowerment convention. I wonder if they even care about reaching them.

But I do know that if they care about making any real change, driving away your most famous national ally is not smart. And I’d guess that those supporting President Trump will smile.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.