All Hands On Deck: We All Have A Role in the Movement for Black Lives

by Leah C.K. Lewis A recent  Twitter beef occurred when  Deray McKesson received a  response fr...

by Leah C.K. Lewis

A recent Twitter beef occurred when Deray McKesson received a response from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to discuss racial policy. Activist dream hampton tweeted that this moment should have happened between Sanders and founders of Black Lives Matter. Her response is being cast as a growing divide between the official BLM organizers and other protesters and activists such as McKesson who mobilize locally.


You may perceive me as straddling the fence, but both hampton and McKesson are correct. Any candidate who understands the significance of Black Lives Matters organizational founders, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, will reach out to them for a meeting. This is a reasonable expectation of BLM activists, protesters, and supporters. This is simply the proper and respectful thing to do. On this point, hampton is correct.

Yet, McKesson and any other activists, especially those who have a legitimate contribution to make, have a right—indeed, an obligation—to engage politicians and the political and legislative process. This is what activist do. To attempt to curb the activity of activists is contrary to the very nature of activism. Do you see the irony that such diminishment would pose?

Some may view what McKesson has done as a violation of protocol. As we know, etiquette is not an element of authentic activism. Even so, McKesson’s “challenge” is being viewed as (or actually being) co-opted and/or a foil. His invitation to attend Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign kickoff in New York positioned him (and his nearly 200,000 Twitter followers) as a guest to be courted. Activists are, however, duty-bound to exploit every opportunity and relationship, and must, simultaneously, take care not to be exploited.



The antithesis of McKesson’s invite was the reception Massachusetts BLM activists received from Clinton and her camp when activist were barred from the larger New Hampshire campaign event. Instead, a small group was granted a private audience with Clinton. To the displeasure of many, Clinton took a highly disrespectful and patronizing posture—even pointing her finger at them, as she demanded their policy proposal. Finger wagging is a cultural affront especially in interactions between African Americans and whites. The optics were horrific for Clinton from an African American perspective. Consequently, I perceived Clinton as sending a strong message to bigoted whites that she would not kowtow to “these people.”

Even the demeanor of the Massachusetts BLM activists was muted and uncomfortable. Activists are, by and large, agitators. Agitation has many manifestations—protester, civil rights attorney, legal and policy strategist, negotiator, and literary activist, to name a few. There must be an “edge” to the actions and articulation of the agitator. That edge is speaking truth to power and putting injustice and inequality on front street. The moment an activist becomes compliant or chummy, the title “activist” is lost. But the objective of their actions, which is to annihilate the ideology of white supremacy and its vestiges, is not always lost.

We see this in the evolution of Symone Sanders, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' recently appointed Press Secretary. Symone Sanders enlightened Bernie Sanders to the intersection between economic injustice and racial injustice. This, of course, has value. Ms. Sanders contributed the art of advocacy to the BLM Movement. Upon effectively persuading Mr. Sanders of the connection, he hired Ms. Sanders at the end of their initial meeting. Advocacy is the gentler cousin of activism. Her evolution was that of an outsider to Mr. Sanders’ campaign to an insider. By becoming an employee of the campaign, Ms. Sanders forfeits any possibility of publicly agitating Mr. Sanders. She is now, essentially, his surrogate mouthpiece as she serves as his press secretary. Additionally, a blatant commitment to BLM must be sublimated to Mr. Sanders campaign agenda. A stunning example of this was found in Ms. Sanders preparing attendees at a Bernie Sanders rally in Portland to chant down BLM activists with “We are in this together,” should the latter have practiced civil disobedience.

While I found this highly distasteful, I recognize that Ms. Sanders has a valuable role to play—that of an insider who can, hopefully, continue to have a positive impact on policy matters of Mr. Sanders as a senator, and perhaps, as president of the United States.

Smartly and humanely, Bernie Sanders, and even Martin O’Malley took it upon themselves to develop policy proposals that could, if implemented, alleviate undue social burdens placed upon Americans of African descent. Certainly, this era of police brutality and other systemic injustices call for policy. Black Lives Matter has stimulated the call for policy through activism, advocacy, agitation, and communication. Policy, for example, Campaign Zero, is a critical component of this social and political dynamic and must be created organically by activists, elected officials, and candidates.
McKesson, hampton, and Ms. Sanders, as well as, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi each have a role to execute to advance the cause of Black Lives Matter. As do I, and every single person who is so inclined to fight this very necessary fight for the equality, equity, and valorization of Black lives, which is to be memorialized and ratified through policies and laws; and, ultimately, put into place through the practice of respectful human engagement.

If we really appreciate the quest we are on—and have been on for four centuries—we will throw aside the “Official Organization vs. Movement” dichotomy raised in the twitter conversation between dream hampton and Deray McKesson. Both sides have the end goal of fighting white supremacy and institutionalized racism. So, all of us must find a place within liberation efforts. Our very lives, and the quality thereof, depend on it. The “it” being our ability to value, and mobilize around, the common ground upon which we stand. Without question, we need each other in this fight.

Photo: a katz / Shutterstock.com

Leah C.K. Lewis, J.D., M.Div., D.Min. (ABD), is among other good and wonderful things, a graduate of Howard University School of Law where she was trained to be a social engineer for righteous causes. A frequent contributor to ForHarriet.com, she is a councilwoman and literary activist. Follow her on Twitter @HumanStriving, SoundCloud.com/Reverend-Leah-CK-Lewis, and http:www.facebook.com/The.Reverend.Leah.CK.Lewis. Check out her personal blog at http://humanstriving.blogspot.com. #BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName #StayWoke #HumanStriving #EarnThisVote




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