Adam Jackson and Dayvon Love of Baltimore’s Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle discuss the recent exchange between Black Lives Matter activists and Hillary Clinton
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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back everyone to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. Video of an exchange last week between Black Lives Matter activists and Hillary Clinton is currently making its viral rounds, causing some to see this as an advance of a movement and its ability to challenge power. But what precisely is the value of such actions, and what of the absence in that exchange of actual demands? To address these and related questions are Adam Jackson, CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, and director of public policy for that same organization, Dayvon Love. Welcome to you both, back to the Real News Network. DAYVON LOVE, DIR. OF PUBLIC POLICY, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Thanks for having us. ADAM JACKSON, CEO, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Thank you for having us. So Adam, let’s start with you. As I said in the introduction, I want to ask you both as seasoned activists, people doing on the ground work here in Baltimore on a regular basis, and those who have both been on some level involved in some working relationships with Black Lives Matter, what you think of this exchange as you’ve seen it between a couple of activists and Hillary Clinton? JACKSON: Well, one of them, I have more fundamental issues with Black Lives Matter generally, and it’s kind of illustrated in the exchange, is that there’s no focus on institution-building. First off, Hillary Clinton meeting with some activists from Black Lives Matter means nothing in the long term. I mean, they’re not making demands on anything specific in terms of an agenda that’s going to be uplifting to black folks as a whole. And besides that, she was schooling them on, you know, in terms of talking about changing the hearts and minds of white people. Hillary Clinton was the the one talking about redistributing resources and demanding laws and accountability. So the thing is, what comes across to me is that people are not focusing on nation-building in the Black Lives Matter movement, and there needs to be a focus on how we can do that instead of changing hearts and minds, and focusing on social media and Twitter [posts]. You know, people need to be focusing on how we want to nation-build and protect lives of black people in the long term. BALL: Dayvon, same question. Your initial response to that interaction? LOVE: Well, I mean, I was really disappointed. I think one of the things that emanates a lot through the conversations I hear from a lot of activists that proclaim to be formally or officially affiliated with Black Lives Matter, it’s really the lack of concrete policy proposals and demands, as well as a lack of emphasis on advancing particular, whether it’s policies or things to just endorse that affect conditions of black people. And so when we look at a lot of what we see, that exchange to me was more about wanting former Secretary Clinton to feel a different way, as opposed to putting forward concrete demands that could improve the quality of life for black people. BALL: You know, I mean, when I watched the exchange it did feel–you know, on the one hand we all, I think, want to support the general endeavors of Black Lives Matter. And I certainly wouldn’t want this conversation to be placed in, just lumped in with all the others that are taking place, that are just critical, sort of blanketly critical of Black Lives Matter. We want to in some way be supportive. But I was a bit concerned in seeing what seemed to be a walk back from what has been traditionally part of the black liberation struggle and positions that I think had long been achieved, most specifically, taking our concerns for the black community here in the United States above and beyond even just domestic politics. You know, there’s long histories of people like Du Bois or Malcolm X or others taking issues to the United Nations, or Marcus Garvey looking beyond even the shores of the entire Western hemisphere for support for the black struggle. And yet here it seemed to be something that was solely focused on getting a mainstream, dominant white politician to speak about the hearts and minds of white people. And it felt like a walk back. I’m wondering if either of you have any sense of that. Dayvon, I’ll start with you. Or if there’s any critique of my analysis or interpretation of it that you would want to share. LOVE: Well, I think you’re absolutely right. I think a part of the problem is, is that there is an industry around using black people’s bodies and black people’s ideas in a way that helps to reinforce the institutional power of white dominated, controlled institutions and intellectual projects in order to make sure that white folks are still in control, even on the left. I think unfortunately what happens is, is that the exchange, I think, is representative of a paradigm as to how the left approaches issues facing black people, which is more about consciousness-raising and resisting power, as opposed to the activity of building power and putting forward agenda items concretely to address the issues that we face in our communities. So I want to echo your statement in terms of wanting to be generally supportive of people that are doing something as it relates to trying to address the condition of black people, and that we would never want to discourage that spirit. But I think it’s important that we understand that we operate in a context where there are certain interests in black folks presenting themselves in the way that was presented in that particular exchange, where you have a black person explaining issues of racism and white supremacy and asking about her change in feeling. That is something that plays into the strength of white supremacy in the sense that that approach is about white acceptance and license towards certain things, as opposed to organizing the power and putting demands on the table that can concretely address the issues black people face. BALL: So Adam, I’d like you to respond to any of that as well. But also as a leader of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, were you in your organization to take a meeting such as that with Hillary Clinton, or anyone else for that matter, what might be some of the agenda items that you would want to see addressed specifically? JACKSON: Well, in response to the second part of your question I think that, I mean, first off I’ll be asking a bunch of other grassroots organizations here in Baltimore. We’ve already been doing some of the work in terms of reforming laws and working on the substantive agenda items that need to be addressed in terms of accountability and in regards to police brutality and things like that. So if someone like Hillary Clinton, who has a lot of Democratic, who has a lot of clout in the Democratic party, and in Baltimore where they’re a heavily Democratic city, my demand would be she put some of the other elected officials on the hook, and she put them in line with supporting an agenda that’s going to transform the conditions of black people. Because there’s people already here doing the work. We don’t really need Hillary Clinton to come into town and to give us anything, or to create something. She just needs to throw her political support, her financial support and that of her colleagues behind the agenda of the grassroots. And I think that’s what was missing from that exchange with her, with the Black Lives Matter folks. And I also agree that we should be supportive. But I also think we should be wary of folks who are becoming new age poverty [inaud.] when we’re talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. You got people who–so instead of like the Al Sharptons of the world who have their own, who have a platform like major news media and talk about black issues, now you have people who tweet and share Facebook posts, and people who claim them as leaders of grassroots activism in major cities. And I think that people need to be politically astute enough to know the differences, and so they can identify how to gain and attain power as opposed to just being people who are talking heads, who have no connection to the communities that are affected by these issues. I think long-term, that’s what we need to throw our support behind. Because I think that the energy is there, and we shouldn’t discourage people’s energy in terms of wanting to uplift the conditions of their people. But at the same time we shouldn’t encourage narcissism in the face of actual transformation of the conditions of our people. BALL: You know, Dayvon, one of the critiques I saw of that exchange suggested that one of the agenda items that might have been of value for Black Lives Matter to put before Hillary Clinton would be a decriminalization of protest. As we see in this country increasingly, there is a problem with protest being criminalized and demonized. But I would ask you the same question. What other agenda items might LBS seek to specifically put on the table, were you to take that kind of meeting with a Hillary Clinton or someone akin to that position? LOVE: A fundamental, a very fundamental thing we need to be talking about is reparations. And that’s a word that scares people. But if you look at one of the problems that people of African descent have in this country, you think about the 246 years of chattel slavery, where white folks are able to accumulate the amount of wealth they’re able to accumulate, which then gives them access to capital that allows them to perpetuate further the [future] generations of white supremacy as they manifested themselves during Jim Crow, and now in what people call this [inaud.] civil rights era. So we need to be talking about how do we make concrete investments, and the resources in the communities of African-descended people, so that we can begin to do for ourselves in a way that allows us to address the issue of white supremacy. We should also talk about something else that I wanted to make very clear, that I think is really important, is a lot of the conversation around law enforcement has been around federal law. And one of the things that in LBS we are very clear about is that most of the law enforcement rules and regulations in this country operate on the state level. And so in Maryland we have the Maryland Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights. And we have a heavily Democratic General Assembly. And so one of the things that a Hillary Clinton could do is using her political capital as a darling of the Democratic party, to be able to use her political capital to influence the state legislature in the state of Maryland to amend or even repeal the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights which gives police officers certain protections against allowing the community to hold them accountable. And so being able to figure out in the particular terrain that you’re operating in, whether it’s Baltimore City, whether it’s Ferguson or wherever, what are the things that impede police accountability for us. That would be something that we would have asked former Secretary Clinton to help be supportive of, because that’s something that we could concretely use to pass an important piece of legislation to affect police brutality in the state of Maryland. BALL: Very finally, I did want to ask the both of you if you thought that any of what I think we’re all agreeing we saw as lacking in that exchange could be related to the levels or the quality or the experience in actual organizational building. I heard you both mention institution-building, but I also hear in part of that process is really firmly cementing an organization that would then have clear agenda items, have a clear protocol for who’s going to speak for who, and what’s to be said in certain settings. Is there anything that you would want to encourage Black Lives Matter activists or anyone else looking to engage the struggle based on your long experience doing this work here in Baltimore? JACKSON: I mean, probably my advice would be is to stop getting swept up in the national media coverage and some of the national dialog, and focus on the grassroots building that you can do in the places that you live. Because I think here in Baltimore one of the things that we’ve been real clear about in terms of how we’re going to move forward is that we already have people doing stuff here. We already have organizations, and we already have individuals who are doing things, which is why we formed a coalition of them to kind of centralize resources and power. And so in terms of Black Lives Matter folks, I think that you need to identify organizations in local communities, build power, build a base there. And then kind of move from creating an agenda that local politicians and local leaders have to follow, as opposed to national media dictating what your agenda should be for the places you’re at. Because in Baltimore whatever they do, like Dayvon said earlier, whatever they do on the federal level, most likely going to have an effect on Baltimore. Most of the money for public safety comes from the state and local level in terms of our police department, if we’re talking about police accountability. So we need to be to be focused on state and local law. Federal law really doesn’t have an effect or impact on what we do here in Baltimore. And so it’s all about local grassroots building and the financial resources you can centralize, and finding other organizations you can partner with locally as opposed to focusing on the national focus. BALL: Dayvon? LOVE: I mean, just to reiterate a little bit of what Adam mentioned, just the idea of having organizations to hold people accountable. And I really encourage people to not think of activism as an individual endeavor that you want to engage in for the purpose of being your own, you know, being a hero or trying to save other people, but I think it’s important to build organization and build organization that holds people accountable so we can begin to build sustainable, long-term movement building that can last beyond just the moment. BALL: And if I could just quickly suggest to anybody that gets themselves in front of somebody like Hillary Clinton, please put in a word for the abolishment of all debt. Cancellation of debt, student and otherwise. I think that would be a great platform plank for anybody to build an effort or a movement off of. Thank you both for joining us here at the Real News. Dayvon Love, Adam Jackson of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. We appreciate your time. LOVE: Thank you. JACKSON: Thank you. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.
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