Essence Debates: What's the Role of the Black Lives Matter Movement in Improving African American Lives?

Former New Orleans mayor Marc Morial and Dream Corps president Van Jones discuss the efficacy of the Black Lives Matter movement and where they see it going from here. 

ESSENCE.COM Jul, 31, 2015
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Hi Im Lauren Williams, Features Editor at Essence magazine, welcome to black lives matter, essences debates discussion. I'm joined by Marc Morial and Van Jones and we'll be talking about the movement. Lets jump right in, I want to get your very visceral reactions to it, do you think? Effective. And what do you think, if anything, it needs or what it's been able to do. In an effective, we're talking about it. It lets you know right there. We weren't talking about it last year, but they have been able to, through a simple hashtag, capture the imagination of a generation. Any time that happens, you have to give it maximum respect And maximum support. One of the things that we've been talking about personally and organizationally is a need to go from just having protest, to having actual concrete proposals. And I know there have been many proposals that have been raised by the movement. But I'm excited about the movement. I'm also excited about us getting some laws passed that can make a difference. And I couldn't agree more. I mean, any time a generation captures its voice, and I think the Black Lives Matter movement has captured the voice of a generation. And given A generation a chance to step into what I call the breach. And the breach would be part of this battle for justice and fairness and equality. It's a good thing, but I think Van makes a good point. We've got to add, proposals. We've got to take a lesson from the movements of the 1960's. They were about Passage of policy reforms, passage of new laws. So whether it's criminal justice, voting rights expansion, jobs and youth development or improving education, all across the board we've gotta do that. In the National Urban League, we specialize, we focus on The policy proposals, but the policy proposals without the energy and the activism of the movement, it's difficult to sustain them and also to get them past. Right, so how do you harness that energy? How do you get from the streets, from the anger, from the protests, then into the policy change? well first of all, some of those activists they protest for a few minutes and then they actually go and they work on stuff at the grass roots level and we never hear about that, so I want to make sure that people know. This is a very sophisticated movement, I'm not a part of the Black Lives movement but I am a fan of the Black Lives Matter movement and so they are doing things at the national level At the federal level where it is a lot harder to move stuff. We've been talking about this new criminal justice reform bill called the Safe Justice Act. My organization, The Dream Core, has a campaign called cut 50, working to cut the prison population and have over the next ten years. We launch something called Justice Reform. .org last week to support this legislation. There is real serious now bipartisan legislation, which the media has not paid attention to, that would actually address everything from police body cameras to prison sentences. It's called the Safe Justice Act. Just as reform now, .org is our effort to do something about it. I know that the Urban League is also passionate. Yeah, and we strongly support that effort and I would add that it's the kind of thing that's a component of what we call the 21st century agenda of jobs and freedom. That 60 organizations came together. To announce on the anniversary of the 1963 march on washington in 2013. It's a framework, it lays out vision, it lays out ideas around economics, education, criminal justice reform, voting rights for example. And so I think that the excitement of now is that public opinion has been energized and crystalized Around tragic events. Right, right. Whether it's Charleston, whether it's Baltimore, whether it's Staten Island, whether it's Ferguson, or whether it's Cleveland. Public opinion is being crystalized, people have gotten a cold shower, a wake up call, and a strong sense that look, has there been change in America? Yes, but Change is being eroded. And we have to step up and push the envelope, push the dial, if you will. If we're gonna have the kind of nation we want in the 21st century. Right. There have been a lot of comparisons to what we're experiencing now to the Civil Rights Movement. Do you feel like there are any parallels? Or is it something that we can't compare? Wait, well, first of all I was born in 68. So, I missed most of the sixties, but I am a student of the sixties. And it seems to me that there are a lot of parallels. Our organization is called The Dream Corps. In some ways inspired by Dr. King's dream and what can our generation do to build a corps of activists and advocates to fight for that Our slogan is close prison doors, open doors of opportunity into a new green economy. And so we have different campaigns to actually shut prisons down. Hm. But also campaigns. People forget. Dr. King didn't just talk about equal protection from bad stuff. You talk about equal opportunity to good stuff. Right, right, right. There's some good stuff in America that we should be associated with that we sometimes get left out of. Whether you're talking about coding education, the learn to code movement, to get our kids involved with Silicon Valley. We have organizations like Black Girls Code, Hack the Hood, Hidden Genius Project. I help to run Yes We Code. These are about equal opportunity to the growth industry of technology. We also have a campaign called green for all, that is a campaign working to get more solar power into our communities. If you have a house with solar panels on it, you're going to pay less on your energy bill, but your property values will be higher. That's a doubly whammy. These are the types of equal opportunity to the good We also have to be a part, as well as we fight for equal protection from the bad. Here's what I'd say, you know I was a baby in diapers during the civil rights movement, but the organization I proudly lead was one of the big six of civil rights organizations that were part of the change in the 1960s. And it's important that doctor king was Titular and pivotal but he wasn't alone. That's right. Right, right. There was a coalition of organizations and there was the student non-violent coordinating committee. And there was the activism of freedom riders and young people. The excitement of now to me is that young people are finding their voice, joining in activism Whether it's the black lives matter movement or it is people who are doing it on their own online, in the streets, in local communities. That is a positive step because for those of us that work hard every day on public policy, who try to find jobs and open the door to equal opportunity, the activist element is very important to build awareness To build civic engagement, to encourage people to being involved. Now, what is similar? The events in Charleston were shocking to me. Who could not be reminded of the four little girls in Birmingham? Every time I think about that, it has a numbing effect on me. Out of the darkness, out of that cloud, my hope is that people will understand that their voice, that their vote, that their involvement is needed more than ever, all across the board. What we try to provide at [UNKNOWN] is a place and a way. That people can involve themselves in very important work, but we also do is we're the do tank of this civil rights movement. We have job training programs, we have housing, counseling programs, we have home buyer education initiatives. We help 12,000 small business a year, so we're doing the hard work that sometimes doesn't get the attention and the publicity. And the key is, and the 60s taught us this You need an Army, a Navy, an Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard. You need multiple elements to push for justice in this country. You need activism. You need public policy. You need people in a legislative arena and in the political arena. You need people all across the board. The key is Are we at a point and are we at a time where there's gonna be. Right. Better working together to accomplish all of the goals that we want to accomplish. You talked about the role that Dr. King played on, do you feel like because the black lives matter doesnt have a singular leader or a handful of leaders that. No, I don't I think that we're in a different way. I mean after all We have a President Obama. But it's not that he's the titular leader of this movement. But it is that it takes people in elected public office. The Civil Rights victories in the 1960s could not have been achieved without the political acumen Of a Lyndon Johnson. But a Lyndon Johnson would never have acted without the activism of Dr. King, the activism of students, the atmosphere and the climate that was created that said, now is the time for change. So, I think that what we have today is what I would call more of a, if you will An orchestra of leadership and that we should not believe that success has to be predicated on having a titular leader. There are many people out there who are important voices. And have been, I really look at the black lives matter movement more [UNKNOWN]. The student nonviolent coordinating community. You may have heard of Stokely Carmichael, you may have heard of James Forman, you probably just heard of the Freedom Riders. You probably just heard of the work that was going on. You may have heard of a Diane Nash, you may have heard of an Ella Jo Baker, but you probably just heard about the Freedom Riders in snick. So I think they are in that legacy but they've taken it to a different level. This is really the third swarm based leader full model that you've seen. You saw the Occupy movement which had its dynamics. Right. And some people liked it, some people didn't. But it had a similar dynamic, there is no one leader. Right. Even with the dreamers on the immigration side. There really is no one leader. It's just the dreamers, and you know that you are on their side because you understand the plight of these young immigrants who want to remain here where they grew up. So this is the third now, the millennial generation producing another swarm model, another leader full model, and I think we're just gonna have to get used to it. That's the way they get down. Look, when we were growing up, we cared a lot about a singular name like a Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates. Nobody knows who's running Twitter, nobody knows who's running Uber. They just go with the brand and the activity, they don't care so much about the personality. So it's a different, but at the same time it's rooted In history. And I think what is so crucial is whether its criminal justice reform, voting rights act, advancement to fix the damage that the Supreme Court did to the voting rights. Whether its much more of a focus on living wages across the country, the key to all movement is to translate the movements Into public policy changes, into concrete steps that are taken. So there's got to be, and we encourage a growing alliance between activists, those who work in the public policy arena. Elected officials who are Sympathetic, empathetic and aligned. All of this is what we're on the cusp of today. But we're also against some powerful forces. The forces of the extreme right are highly organized, they're well financed. And sometimes there's a clash. But let me tell where, and Van knows this because he's been actively involved in this, You've got this incredible coming together which has occurred with both conservative and progressive leaders around criminal justice reform. So even in the midst of what seems to be a divided political discourse, there sometimes some places and areas where people can come together. And let me just underscore that because Again, cut 50 which is our campaign out of dreamcourt we have a summit we pull together, I reached out to Newt Gingrich who had a tv show on CNN called Crossfire we developed a very good working relationship, turned out we didnt agree on very much, but we did agree. On the idea that there are too many people going to prison, especially for petty offenses, and -- Right. Serving too much time, it's a moral disgrace, it's an economically unsustainable thing, and we were able to pull together a summit and march. We thought we might have 100 people to come, 700 people came, 10 Congresspeople. Eric Holder showed up. We had everybody from Cory Booker to the Koch brothers. Mm, wow. In one room and if you close your eyes you couldn't tell the difference between the Republicans and Democrats. Everybody knows if you believe in liberty and justice for all, we're falling far short of that value, in our present system. In our criminal justice system. So we can work together on that. Let me just say one more thing though, If I were a young person and I was a part of the black lives matter movement, I would be asking some very tough questions of people like myself in my forties, and maybe people in their thirties, let alone the other generations. Why don't we have more? Why are we not in a better position? I'd welcome that Challenge, I welcome that discourse. There are tools and insights and ways of doing things that these younger people have that I am just now learning. And so there's an opportunity for all three generations now to co-author a freedom agenda. We need the Baby Boomers who have all that great wisdom and all those great institutions, we need the Generation Xers, or my generation who have our experience. And we need the Millennial. All three generations can co-author if we work together on the issues that are pertinent. And I think right now criminal justice is the flagship, but economic development, and nobody knows more about that than his organization, economic development has to be the two, three, four, five, six, and seven agenda. And nobody knows that more than urban [INAUDIBLE] And I'll say that if you look at a Baltimore, look at Ferguson, one thing was clear you had high unemployment, high underemployment. And that to make change sustainable we need to confront the need for more jobs. Better jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage. So that people have self worth and self dignity. And that's a key to all of this. It's a key to, in the criminal justice reform arena, we work on re-entry. So we have programs around the country that help people who are coming Out of the criminal justice system, you get skills and training so that they can be employed. However, if we don't have a movement that says ban the box. If we don't have a movement which says that if one may have had a problem, a non violent problem, it's not a barrier to employment in all sorts of professions. Then the movement to economic opportunity is certainly gonna be stalled, so lots to do in this area. Let me just add one more thing on that too, which is so important. You got these areas that were underemployed and over incarcerated, underemployed and over policed, so that's a tinder box, and we've even discovered now that there are some people we have on our team, a young man named [UNKNOWN] He actually spent time in prison for a violent crime that he did commit. Mm-hm. And yet he was able to turn his life around. He's now a fellow MIT. He's now a published author. And so Certainly those people who have been found guilty of non-violent and petty offenses. They should certainly have a pathway home, and the rest of them, too. We're in a situation now where we're throwing away so much genius and so many lives, and you're not giving people a second chance. I don't understand how you can be in a society That says it's a predominately Christian society and nobody can get redemptions or second chances makes no sense to me. That's not my God. And the other thing I think is important is as a part of re-entry is what I call family unification. Helping men reconnect with their families, reconnect with children. There's so many important elements of this And I think the Black Lives Matter movement, the important work of historic civil rights organizations, the coming together of everyone around criminal justice reform, voting right act advancement and an economic opportunity agenda is really the issue. For our times. Thank you so much. I appreciate you. Mark [UNKNOWN], [UNKNOWN] Jones, thank you for joining us. I'm Lauren Williams, you've been watching Essence [UNKNOWN] Live. 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