Diane Benjamin’s Outburst: Further Thoughts

Following Tuesday night’s mayoral debate at University Galleries in Uptown Normal, Ellsworth blogger Diane Benjamin continues to assert that the Black Lives Matters protest against mayoral candidate Kevin Lower was not peaceful because demonstrators purportedly “attacked” a Lower campaign vehicle after the debate concluded. Benjamin submits as evidence an accidental* 9/11 call made by the vehicle’s driver Bruce Meeks, who alleges that demonstrators banged on his windows.

Diane first claimed that the protest was not peaceful in a loose collection of inchoate thoughts (i.e. a blog post) on March 29th, among them an assertion that incumbent mayor Tari Renner is in league with “satanic anarchists.” Benjamin appears bothered that “at least 20 people lined both sides of the doors as people left [the debate].” In a reply to a commenter on yesterday’s blog post, she writes “You obstructed the crowd as they were leaving.”

As it transpires, members of Inside BLNNews were in attendance during Tuesday’s debate and happened to be standing outside of University Galleries when Benjamin departed. The demonstrators were arranged in two lines on either side of the gallery’s main entrance, as seen in this video. The demonstrators in no way impeded the exit of Benjamin or other audience members. In fact, the first ten seconds of the video clearly show alderman Kevin Lower and supporters leaving unobstructed and unmolested.

Inside BLNNews has its own theory about why the peaceful protest seems to have struck such a nerve with Benjamin, and it goes like this:

Leaving aside the fact that the demonstrators confronted Lower and his supporters with evidence of his own words on social media, which must have been uncomfortable for them, Diane’s fury may stem from the challenge to her own prejudices. In a lot of conservative discourse–if it can be called that–Blacks Lives Matter protesters are violent. They loot. They set cars on fire. They assault police officers. It does not matter that the vast majority of Black Lives Matter protests around the United States have been largely peaceful; confirmation bias prompts many conservatives to focus only on examples of violence so that they can dismiss the movement more easily.

The demonstrators that Benjamin witnessed on Tuesday night were ethnically diverse, cheerful, and filled with song.  They were well-organized. They were law-abiding. They did not harass those who attended the debate. They did hand flyers to many of the debate attendees, but this is hardly a threatening activity**.  Black Lives Matter Blono may have unnerved Benjamin because they challenged her preconceived ideas about what a chapter of Black Lives Matter looks like.

For instance, Benjamin appears baffled by the concept that individuals of other races can be allies to black people, writing, “Funny how a lot of white people make up Black Lives Matter.” Benjamin seems especially infuriated that Mayor Renner, whom she filmed during a portion of the debate, lightheartedly danced with one of the demonstrators.

But this is not at all unusual or contradictory if one understands that Black Lives Matter welcomes anyone who is passionate about achieving equality and justice for black people–mayors included.

Benjamin goes on to say, “I thought BLM doesn’t believe All Lives Matter!”

Again, this statement reveals more about Diane Benjamin than it does Black Lives Matter. The idea that members of Black Lives Matter, whether black or of another race, devalue other lives in uplifting black ones is simply not true. It bears repeating that equality is not a finite resource, which dwindles for white people if black people are accorded it. (White people may indeed have to give up some of their privileges along the way, but that is a different subject for a different day.) In short, Benjamin has constructed a strawman version of Black Lives Matter, which is easier for her to attack and hate.

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Because the living, breathing representation of Black Lives Matter did not resemble the boogeyman version in her head, however, because she was forced to walk past them and acknowledge their existence, Benjamin resorted to manufacturing a version of events in which Black Lives Matter Blono mobbed a Lower campaign vehicle while Normal mayor Chris Koos turned a blind eye. The simple truth of the matter is that demonstrators took an opportunity to pose next to the campaign vehicle of a man who wants to be their mayor, but joins racist Facebook groups in his personal time and has yet to apologize for it. As for Koos, he did not intervene because there was nothing to intervene in. A Normal police officer spoke to demonstrators after Meeks’ phone call and determined that they had been behaving lawfully.

Many white people feel vulnerable when black people exercise power and react by becoming defensive. In all probability, Benjamin falls into this category. She is no doubt bothered that a black-led organization would protest a white establishment political candidate. She is bothered that certain of Kevin Lower’s racially insensitive activities were uncovered by the Facebook group Bloomington Deserves Better Than Kevin Lower and subsequently picked up by local media. She is bothered by her fear that this media coverage of Lower’s activities may have damaged his campaign, though not bothered that Lower performed these activities in the first place. She is bothered by the idea that more people are beginning to speak out against the ludicrous allegations she makes on BLNNews.

But most of all, we suspect she is bothered that she can’t vote for Lower, her preferred candidate, because she resides in Ellsworth. At the end of the day, all of her interference in Bloomington politics will be for naught, because its citizens–not Diane Benjamin–will decide to elect either Tari Renner and Kevin Lower this coming Tuesday.

-Harry (a white person)

*In the call, Meeks remarks that he had been preparing to dial 911, but did not mean to do so.

**If Benjamin is bothered by flyers, then we suggest she never meet a Mormon missionary or a street preacher, because whoa! Watch out!

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