Earlier in the presidential campaign, Black Lives Matter activists made headlines disrupting campaign events by Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and others, demanding candidates focus on criminal justice issues. Now the group has opted not to endorse any candidate in the presidential race. We speak to journalist Darnell Moore, a member of the New York City chapter of Black Lives Matter.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Darnell Moore, I’d like to ask you about the whole issue of Black Lives Matter’s endorsement, or not endorsement at this point. How—what’s been the debate within the movement on the issue of presidential elections? And, of course, there’s also the issue of the congressional Senate elections, which nobody pays much attention to right now, but will actually—whoever gets elected president, depending on who’s in the House and the Senate, will determine what they can do. But are you looking right now not to get involved in the primaries, or are you—is your movement also saying that when the general elections come, you don’t see any need to participate or support candidates at that point, as well?
DARNELL MOORE: And I think it’s important to distinguish between Black Lives Matter network, which is, you know, a collective of chapters across the country, versus the Movement for Black Lives, which consists of Black Lives Matter, the network, and so many other contingencies.
But in terms of endorsement now, I think withholding an endorsement is a decision that was come to collectively. One, there are folk who are on the streets, who are in the presence of municipal leaders, who are asking very clear things. You know, stop—we want the death of black people by police officers, blue-on-black violence, to stop. These are material realities. We want long-standing, entrenched forms of overpolicing and criminalization to end. And these are not rhetorical flourishings. This is not about leaders who have a type of leadership capacity. This is like, we are needing policy recommendations and bona fide solutions. For instance, there’s clear things that could be put out by candidates. Right—the United States, the federal government, does not have a universal fully how to track—data tracking system for something like police misconduct in 2016. These are like easy wins.
I think it also behooves us to—we do have a collective of black folk, variously—various incomes, different ages, and this is a potential voting base. And I think withholding an endorsement puts the pressure on candidates to actually come up with the type of policies and forms of governance that they think will actually lead to change. The withholding can produce that type of effect, we think.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of voter registration, in general, are you advocating people to register to vote and to at least vote?
DARNELL MOORE: And it’s clear—oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, so, it’s clear that there are a range of folk who stand along a continuum as it relates to electoral politics. There are folk who have always been a part of get-out-the-vote efforts, who are doing work in municipal elections and so much else, right? This is not sort of a monolithic movement. But I think what it is is an opportunity for the network, Black Lives Matter network, to utilize its collective power to withhold an endorsement to put the very—the necessary pressure on candidates to actually come up with solutions to the problems that are being put forth.
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote an open letter to Bernie Sanders. What did you say?
DARNELL MOORE: The letter really—I did write an open letter. And it was a letter that really offered a critique, not just to Bernie Sanders, but for Sanders followers, who really offer this point that income inequality needs to be foregrounded. But part of what I wanted to get at is that even when we think about income inequality, if we’re not thinking about the ways that income inequality is racialized and gendered, we miss the mark. So, for instance, when we’re talking about the worker as a monolithic or sort of idea, often that worker may not be understood to be, I don’t know, a black woman who is working-poor or working-class. The life experiences and work experiences of, let’s say, a black woman or an undocumented individual is vastly different than a white working-class person. And I think these are the types of critiques that have been coming at Bernie to push Bernie Sanders and supporters to think more intersectionally about income equality, to think about the various dynamics that come to play. Racialization, gender bias and inequity has much to do with income inequality as anything else.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ben Jealous, I wanted to ask you about—the South Carolina primary will be coming up soon. Are you going to be campaigning there? And what do you think are some of the key issues as the presidential primaries switch to places like Nevada and South Carolina, some of the key issues that you think voters there will be concerned about?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: You know, yes, look, I was in—this entire weekend, I was in Barnwell, I was in Rock Hill, I was in Columbia. I was meeting with pastors, I was meeting with politicians, and, most importantly, I was meeting with voters. And, you know, folks on the ground are extremely concerned. And it ranges.
You know, you talk to young black activists. You know, when they stand up for Bernie, part of it has to do with the fact that he’s the only candidate who has been against private prisons his entire career, who has never taken a dime from the private prison lobby. Hillary Clinton started out basically fine with private prisons and taking money from their lobby. She no longer does that, and we’re glad that she’s changed. But it’s that sort of consistency that gets the younger activists.
Talk to the older activists, you know, they’re very pleased that he is going to, you know, really take on this issue of the indebting of our college students, because it breaks their heart, it makes them worry for the future of their families and the country. They’re also very pleased that he’s the strongest on Social Security reform and really expanding it and making it stronger and, yes, making it possible for those at the very bottom to actually benefit from the purpose of Social Security, which is to make sure that our older people do not suffer, do not have to live indignant ends of their lives because they’re starving.
I think mostly folks are inspired to see somebody who dreams like, you know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, like JFK and, quite frankly, like many folks did at the end of the 1960s and '70s, when both these politicians really came on the scene, if you will, as activists, that he has said, “Yes, I will dream, but because I've been elected to office 20 times and I’ve served in the Congress and the Senate for 26 years and I have a track record of getting things done and reaching across the aisle, you can rest assured I will also get things done.”
AMY GOODMAN: And, Ben Jealous, finally, responding to Darnell, representing the Black Lives Matter movement—you come out of movements, as well—
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —but the power of the movement not endorsing, but making demands, especially this early on?
BENJAMIN JEALOUS: Yeah, look, this is one of—this is probably the most important movement of our time. And it is—the Black Lives Matter movement follows very much in the spirit of the founders of the NAACP, who decided to take on the practice of lynch mob violence and who shamed the country out of the practice and who have, for most of that period, not endorsed—not always, but for most of that period, not endorsed. Let me be clear: I speak for myself, I don’t speak for my old employers or the organization I’ve belonged to my entire life at the NAACP.
But, you know, when I look at activists like Darnell, I’m extremely excited. I’m also frustrated, because I know, 20 years ago, I was in the streets in New York leading protests after the Rodney King verdict, and we intended to get it done in our generation. But the reality is, it’s been 20 years, we’re still fighting. With that said, the anti-lynching movement took 60 years. And it’s going to be a baton, passed from young activists to young activists, that gets this done. So, you know, right on, Black Lives Matter. Let’s keep the pressure up.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. We want to thank all our guests for being with us: Darnell Moore of the Black Lives Matter movement; Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP; and in Vermont, Governor Madeleine Kunin, the first woman governor of Vermont.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at the private immigration prisons in this country. Stay with us.