Mara Willaford and Marissa Johnson Talk Bernie Sanders Interruption In New Q&A

By Sameer Rao Oct 08, 2015

After their August interruption of a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle that pissed off many and arguably led to Sanders introducing a racial justice platform, Mara Willaford and Marissa Johnson kept a relatively low profile (a Willaford interview by Colorlines contributor Waleed Shahid is a notable exception).  

Now, they’re the subject of a new in-depth interview from Seattle’s Real Change weekly, in which they discuss the resulting media frenzy and the cooptation of movements. The whole interview, which you can read here, is worth your time, but we pulled a few choice quotes [edited for grammar and length]. 

On the subject of why avoided most media, the two are frank:

MW: [We] just felt like other local media outlets are really invested in the state apparatus and are really invested in spinning this story in a negative light regardless of what we say. And so it really didn’t make sense with our principles or our strategy to give any explanation to mainstream media outlets. 

MJ:  I would add to that that this work is not about us. We didn’t feel like it was necessary to try to dictate the conversations…We’re political agitators and we’re an opportunity and an occasion for people to have a certain dialogue. People get wrapped up in their personal reputations or whatever and so we could have really gone after that and tried to dictate conversations…But all of that was derailment and we didn’t want to dictate the conversation. 

Johnson on her Evangelical Christianity: 

I think that’s really, it was funny because people were, like, "We know you’re disingenuous because you saw you’re a Christian and Christians are hateful homophobes."…It was a lot of non-Christian folks who couldn’t accept my Christianity, which is very telling that everybody’s willing to talk about Kim Davis as a Christian figure. But I say I’m Christian and people can’t embrace me as a Christian figure. They either have to be like, ["She’s] not legitimate about her BLM work, or ["She’s] not Christian, she can’t be both." 
Johnson on how, as a child of conservative parents, she once supported Sarah Palin for vice president: 
Yeah, I was in a really white community and I was, like, "[Yeah], she’s kind of fucked up but she’s a woman and I would love to see a woman ‘cause these men are messed up."
On their issues with white liberals and black moderates they accuse of coopting the "Black Lives Matter" message: 
MJ: I don’t think we have an analysis that anybody’s moderate but even that, I guess the Democrats and the liberals, they’re worse than the Republicans…‘cause at least the Republicans are not trying to listen to rap music, they’re not trying to have my dreadlocks, they’re not trying to infiltrate all my meetings, they’re not trying to come and be in my space and wear the same clothes as me and whatever. They may hate me. But the Democrats are the worst. They’re like, "[W]e’re gonna pretend  like we’re black.’" […] They’re all Rachel Dolezal, basically.


MW: [B]lack suffering is either a comparison, like people will talk about how poorly their demographic [does] and they’ll compare it to the way that black folks are treated, or people always use black struggles as a way to amplify their cause instead of actually supporting and [being] involved in black struggle. There’s a quote from Fred Hampton that I’ve been thinking about a lot that’s, “Peace to you if you’re willing to fight for it,” and I think that’s really words to live by, because I think our action revealed how people want this peace without justice. People fundamentally will support things like Black Lives Matter until it’s not benefitting them or it’s confronting them. So people think that they shouldn’t be inconvenienced personally, that they should still have all the same benefits and the same complicity and the same comfort.

Click here to read Real Change’s Q&A with Mara Willaford and Marissa Johnson in full.