Why the Black Lives Matter Movement is Important to Young Democrats

Last year, Black Lives Matter (BLM) emerged as an historic movement for civil rights.* One of the outflows of the BLM movement has been the exposure of a rift between mainstream, often white, progressives and a growing group of activists who feel racial justice issues are not prioritized within many progressive spaces. This conflict came to a head at Netroots Nation last month and at a recent Bernie Sanders campaign rally in Seattle. Each of these events saw BLM protesters interrupt speakers as a form of direct action. The protesters also sought to have candidates provide policy positions specific to racial justice issues. While some have taken issue with the tactics of the protesters at those events (and the BLM movement more broadly), it is critical for progressives and young Democrats in particular to look past misgivings about tactics and support the BLM movement.

BLM “is working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” The movement is doing this in part by “broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.” The BLM movement is fighting to have traditional power structures in our country acknowledge that the lives of black women and men in America are just as valuable as others’ lives. More than acknowledging this truth, the BLM movement seeks to have policies and systems changed to accommodate that fact. According to The Washington Post, 24 black men had been shot and killed by police through the end of July this year. That’s about one death every nine days. A USA Todayarticle found that during a seven year period ending in 2012, a white police officer killed a black person nearly two times a week. It is critical to recognize that at its core, this movement is about the right for people of color to live and represents a fight against an existential threat for those involved in the movement. The cause of BLM is a righteous one and worthy of your support.

Beyond the cause of BLM, young progressives should also support the movement because of who comprises it. The BLM movement is largely made up of people who are young and attempting to organize to reform the system. In most estimations, this is precisely who the Young Democrats should be reaching out to. Many in the BLM movement are engaging in the political process for the first time and seeking allies. They want their voices to be heard and need other young progressives to listen and fight with them. Democrats have a history of standing up for the rights of minority and oppressed populations. Young Democrats exist precisely to help support causes and movements like BLM.

If you still have issues with BLM tactics, Dara Lind of Vox has an article that does a good job of putting those tactics in context. Lind argues that BLM activist use “disruptive” tactics, in part, because white progressives have not adequately responded to other tactics to raise racial justice issues in the past. Many point to the mere fact that presidential candidates are discussing these issues at all as evidence of their success.  As Charles Blow of the New York Times points out, history also serves as a good reminder for why objections to BLM tactics may be misplaced. Blow’s recent op-ed quotes the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which, in part, cautions us against becoming “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” One may have a reasonable discussion on the best tactics, but to let it distract us from supporting a righteous cause would be an injustice in itself.

If the cause and composition of BLM is not enough for you to support it, consider the cost of not doing so. As we approach a presidential election year, Democratic candidates will be looking to re-create the coalitions that helped elect President Barack Obama to two terms. A key part of those historical coalitions were African American voters. BLM activists have made it clear that if addressing issues of racial injustice and violence are not priorities for the eventual Democratic candidate, they will stay home next November. If those who identify with the Democratic Party don’t stand with the BLM movement now, and ensure our respective candidates prioritize racial justice, we risk losing elections at all levels. Beyond it being a just cause,  supporting BLM is also the politically prudent thing for the Young Democrats to do.

Whatever your personal reasons for supporting BLM, we must act now to show support in whatever ways we can. In a city where the two primary political parties are often referred to as the Black Democrats and the White Democrats, it is critical for us to be leaders among progressives in supporting the BLM movement. Moving forward, the St. Louis Young Democrats will do more to mend the rift between mainstream progressives and those in the BLM movement by offering opportunities for our members and Democrats of all ages to educate themselves on the issues surrounding the movement and connect them with ways to engage more directly. Regardless of where you stand, we must all work to proclaim, unequivocally, that black lives matter.  

Signed, Executive Committee St. Louis Young Democrats

Marius Johnson-Malone, President Elise Miller, Vice President Luke Sapa, Treasurer Chrystal Okonta, Secretary Kyle Juvers, Director Shayn Prapaisilp, Director Paul Sorenson, Director

*If you have issues with the phrase “black lives matter” or would simply like a better way to explain it, we encourage you to read this Reddit post: http://redd.it/3du1qm.  

UpdatesPaul Sorenson