I wish that I could find the words to describe how I feel right now. Maybe I will figure them out by the time you finish reading the following passage from Stephen Crockett’s story at The Root describing the meeting between Hillary Clinton and Black Lives Matter activists from Boston:
‘I stand here in your space and I say this as respectfully as I can, “If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what to do.”‘ Jones said. ‘What I mean to say is, this is and has always been a white problem of violence. There’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.’
‘Respectfully,’ Clinton answered, ‘if that is your position, then I will only talk to white people about how we are going to deal with these very real problems.’
‘That’s not what I mean,’ Jones said. He added, ‘But what you just said was a form of victim-blaming. You were saying what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts is to …’
Clinton told them that she isn’t interested in changing hearts, but rather policy.
‘You can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through that you might change some hearts,’ she said.
I want you, the reader, to step back and think about the scenario that has unfolded in the preceding passage. These activists get a private hearing with a candidate who is, at the moment, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Not only that, but this potential Democratic candidate leads polling aggregates against every potential Republican candidate for the general election as well, meaning that it is plausible that you are having a meeting with the next President of the United States. They get a very simple question, yet it is a question that most people working for social change would kill to get from such a high-profile political candidate:
“Well, the next question is, ‘So what do you want me to do about it?'”
The answer is so stupefying, yet so telling, that it bears repeating.
“‘I stand here in your space and I say this as respectfully as I can, ‘If you don’t tell black people what we need to do, then we won’t tell you all what to do.’ Jones said. ‘What I mean to say is, this is and has always been a white problem of violence. There’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.'”
The answer is impressive only in its ability to say absolutely nothing at all. No policy. Not even a nudge in a general direction towards something where a policy might be crafted. Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house faster than that statement could see any type of policy.
And not only that, but do you know what led into that garbled mess that you see above?
“The piece that’s most important….”
….is, apparently, telling Hillary Clinton that there is nothing that they, Black Lives Matter, can do about any of this. No advocacy. No policy agenda. No concrete plan. Nothing. Asking them to have a plan or a policy agenda? That is….victim-blaming. I am not kidding; that is what happens on the video.
I have alternated this entire day between befuddlement, bewilderment, and other nouns used to describe an unyielding state of confusion.
Just off the top of my head, there are at least three things that they could have asked for: a guaranteed right to protest without fear of ending your demonstration with a criminal background, legislation that bars police officers from earning pay while an investigation into a police shooting is ongoing, and a national limit to the amount of money that cities can make off moving violations and parking violations. Would those be my top three issues for the Black working class were I to receive the same audience? Absolutely not. But my goodness, it would be something more concrete than a response full of Intro to Sociology-style ephemera.
And for a series of protests that handwaves about “accountability”, it would have been beneficial to make concrete demands with which you could actually hold this person, you know, accountable. But what they allowed Hillary Clinton to do was completely evade any discussion of things that might actually get done if she becomes president in favor of allowing her to school them about the most fundamental premise behind policymaking institutions, which is to make policy.
Because if policy change is not the goal of this group of activists, then I am honestly wondering what the hell we are all doing here.