Power in Safe Spaces: Hillary Clinton meets #BlackLivesMatter

Full disclosure: I’ve supported Hillary’s candidacy and Black Lives Matter and have participated in multiple ways at events for both as a part of a broader progressive agenda of my own, and plan to continue both.

Presidential Candidate HRC with Boston BLM

Presidential Candidate HRC with Boston BLM

I have to participate in this conversation, because I’m worried about modern movement’s need to garner acknowledgement of wrong-doing from people they identify as oppressors. I saw this from Occupy in 2011 and now BlackLivesMatter. In the video clip below Black Live Matter, Boston chapter founders talk to Hillary Clinton about the over pinning issue that the USA isn’t a safe place for Black Lives.

Something should be said for “safe spaces” when building up the courage  and strategy to talk to Power (a noun). Safe spaces are controlled places where everyone present is similar to you, and the risk of extreme opposition and even the intimidation of a statuesque peer is nullified. At no point when Power is present are the less powerful safe, so their words and actions should be chosen carefully. At no point is Power going to bend to the will of the lesser powerful, unless there are formidable threats.

Queer People of Color –  Safe Spaces

Queer People of Color –  Safe Spaces

Recently I had my own power and privilege checked in a safe space at Netroots Nation conference in Arizona during the QPOC (queer people of color) caucus. Confronted with my cis-gendered male privilege and education privilege and economic privilege, I had to pause to recognize that my advocacy for the political process and capitalism as they stand are results of feeling less (but still) disenfranchised than the majority of Americans. I’ve been privileged to attend many more safe spaces with people who look and love like me in Detroit, and Miami, and New York over the past few weeks in July/August 2015. All of these invites came without solicitation. The times seemingly require it. People are concerned in a way that neither I, nor my parents, have seen in our years. We are mid 30s and 50s year olds. We all came of age after the civil rights era (1954-1968). Because of my relative privilege, I’ve been a proponent for movement to consider “how to negotiate with power”, as I’ve spent the majority of my professional life in negotiations with various executives. My constant argument in these spaces is to communicate and show how, being visible is not enough. Nor are talks about “ends” even if campaigns call for an “end”. While activists regularly communicate in definitive regards per their movement, the actual progressive work is incremental and never ending. We need to be used to selling a grand thing and doing a grueling thing.

Daunasia Yancey a young, black, female, gay activist on CNN

Daunasia Yancey a young, black, female, gay activist on CNN

When asked what she wanted from candidate Clinton, activist Daunasia Yancey said that she was expecting to see some personal acknowledgement of how Clinton played an integral role in establishing oppressive policies. Power always responds with questions and comments about formidable action, because that is all that it can respect.

SMH. Demands aren't enough. Good relationships of any sort, intimate and other, are formidable. (Attraction + Respect + Trust = Formidable)

— James Felton Keith (@JFKii) August 21, 2015

Tine Turner said it best "what's love got to do with it..." With BlackLivesMatters, Clinton said, "you may not ever change enough hearts" but it can change minds and the formal protections of all lives. Diversity is not about assimilation but formal acceptance and integration of the queer (minority) groups so to ensure that we can all co-exist productively.

#BLM chapters need agendas "Then you can be for something, instead of just getting people to admit" @HillaryClinton https://t.co/LyfqEQJ20C

— James Felton Keith (@JFKii) August 20, 2015

These types of comments should be expected not only because Hillary represents a diverse group of Americans and global American interests, but also because politicians need people to meet their political activism with social activism. BlackLivesMatters did a great job at getting the attention of the world and this video is an example. It was true that politicians did not understand what the hashtag meant. BlackLivesMatter activists are not "disrupting" the political process, they are participating.

Asa Philip Randolph with MLK & JFK

Asa Philip Randolph with MLK & JFK

We are having the same conversations again and again, since before the civil rights era, and perhaps we should be constantly having these conversations under changing titles and modern themes. In Covenant with Black America, there was mention of often overlooked Black labor and civil rights A. Philip Randolph who came before Paul Robeson, and MLK, and JFK, and LBJ… he had unique access to the White House. The book tells the story of after dinner cigars on September 27, 1940, when Randolph was invited to the kings quarters. I’m talking about non other than the record holder WWII strategist, 4 term elected President Franklin D Roosevelt. At FDR’s request, Randolph talked about the dire conditions of Black people at the time and an agenda for governmental intervention. As it goes in the book…

Roosevelt, after fully acknowledging the validity and merit of Randolph’s arguments and the merits of his substantive proposals, challenged the well-known activist with the following words: “Now, go out and make me do it.”

Fast forward to the 2010’s: The extreme visibility from technology has outraged a generation with violent truths of Black deaths at high rates from terrorists and government officials. Different than our safe spaces where emotions are explored and strategy is built, when in the face of Power you must educate it and participate in the political process. I’m so proud of the way that the Boston leadership participated so far, but disappointed by the general comments and fall-out of the video from onlookers on social media. In this social media grass roots era of soundbites, leadership is still important. Many wont understand the stunt of BlackLivesMatter challenging progressive candidates. Event the mainstream news pundits are politicizing a topic that resides more in sociology and economics to ask invalid questions like “why challenge Democrats over Republicans“. It’s an ignorant interpretation of the strategy. Wise: Hillary as the powerful representative of so many Americans (of all cultural backgrounds including Blacks) could only afford to talk about political action, regardless of how she lobbied in the 1990s. This movement must make policy recommendations at the municipal, state, and national level to empower minorities to have immediate influence and equity.

James Felton Keith (@JFKii) is an Author, Engineer, Economist, & Ethnographer