Why Democratic Presidential Candidates (So Far) Just Don’t Get the “Black Lives Matter” Movement

Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley takes the stage at Netroots Nation. O’Malley told the protesters, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter” — a statement that struck the demonstrators as dismissive of their movement and the unique discrimination endured by African Americans at the hands of the police. (Charlie Leight/Getty Images)
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley takes the stage at Netroots Nation. O’Malley told the protesters, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter” — a statement that struck the demonstrators as dismissive of their movement and the unique discrimination endured by African Americans at the hands of the police. (Charlie Leight/Getty Images)

Amid the famous politicians, wealthy donors and top Democratic Party officials invited to New York last month to watch Hillary Rodham Clinton announce her presidential candidacy sat another VIP guest: a newcomer to politics, but a man whose presence at the event was sought after by Clinton aides.

DeRay Mckesson, 30, one of the most visible organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement that has sprung up in the aftermath of protests in Ferguson, Mo., had received an invitation, and the campaign encouraged him to tweet his observations to his 178,000 followers.

He wasn’t impressed.

“I heard a lot of things. And nothing directly about black folk,” Mckesson wrote moments after the speech. “Coded language won’t cut it.”

Then this week, Clinton rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley each began a frenetic push to appease Black Lives Matter activists who are angry about the way the two men handled a demonstration by the group at a liberal conference last weekend. O’Malley, a former governor of Maryland, appeared on a black-oriented talk show to say he made a mistake, while Sanders, a senator from Vermont, called activists to request meetings.

The strained interactions demonstrate the extent to which a vibrant new force on the left has disrupted traditional presidential politics, creating challenges for Democratic candidates who are facing intense pressure to put police brutality and other race-related issues on the front burner ahead of the 2016 election.

The rise of Black Lives Matter has presented opportunities for Clinton and her opponents, who are seeking to energize black voters to build on the multiethnic coalitions that twice elected Barack Obama. But the candidates have struggled to tap into a movement that has proved unpredictable and fiercely independent. It is a largely organic web of young African American activists — many of them unbound by partisan allegiances and largely unaffiliated with establishment groups such as the NAACP that typically forge close ties with Democrats.

Led by several dozen core activists, many of whom voted for the first time in 2008, Black Lives Matter has organized protests — at times drawing hundreds of participants — in more than two dozen cities and colleges. Many of the movement’s leading activists are among Twitter’s most influential users — with the ability to pump messages out to hundreds of thousands of people, often prompting topics to trend nationwide.

At times, they have pressured media outlets to cover stories surrounding race and justice, and have leveled sharp critiques of politicians and celebrities that often go viral. In one such instance, activists blasted Clinton when she appeared at a black church near Ferguson last month and said that “all lives matter” — a phrase that struck the demonstrators as dismissive of the unique discrimination of African Americans by law enforcement officers.

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SOURCE: Wesley Lowery and David Weigel 
The Washington Post

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