Mr. DeRay McKesson can’t guarantee a victory, but his political views will change the race’s discourse.
The announcement yesterday by Mr. DeRay McKesson that he will campaign, in a crowded field, for Mayor of Baltimore, is a bold political move by a Black Lives Matter activist that the majority of Americans may categorize as surprising, while others – a small majority of elders who track the progress of the grassroots movement which started in 2013 but gained traction in 2014 and often compare it to the civil rights movement – could perceive this news as timely, necessary and, a few of them will say, overdue. Even before the movement was in the mainstream for a solid year, there was considerable pressure from a portion of the public for activists to move from protest to politics by either articulating clear demands or running for office. Demands and policy papers have long since been released by Black Lives Matter, but the narrative of aspiring to public office has been largely absent from their story arc.
In fact, when two of the three founders of the movement were in Philadelphia last month, they suggested that #BlackLivesMatter, in line with the black radical tradition, exist in part to question and challenge the two-party system. But they, too, acknowledged that the strength of the movement is its decentralized leadership structure, meaning there’s a sizable amount of autonomy enjoyed by those who are affiliated. That autonomy could explain why Mr. McKesson, who since the police killing of Mr. Michael Brown in Ferguson, has created and marketed his own intellectual properties, including The Ferguson Protest Newsletter, will be running for Mayor as a Democrat.
Mr. McKesson, though known largely as anti-police violence activist, was a former teacher and school district executive, a background that will lend itself as an asset when discussing, formulating, and challenging his opponents on education policies. And regarding the politics of education, the 30 year-old, who was born in Baltimore, is quite concise: pro union, believes school districts are the only way to go, and not anti-charter school, because they were not only founded by teachers, but were a response to people who felt constrained by the District(s) and needed an alternative, though they’re not what they used to be. According to Mr. McKesson, who grew up in poverty and rejects the notion that poor kids can’t learn, there are two primary things that should frame the discussion around schooling: a great teacher for every kid, every day, in every classroom, and a system of schools “that are high quality at scale.”
With the belief that Twitter and the classroom are the last two radical spaces in America, Mr. McKesson as a mayoral candidate, despite being the perceived long-shot and a political outsider, will bring to the field a fresh perspective on old issues and cause serious thought and debate. His views on community policing are guaranteed to differentiate from his competitors. For example, whereas most politicians think community policing means more cops walking the beat interacting with the public, learning their names and maybe even playing basketball with the young ones after-school, Mr. McKesson believes the safety of communities isn’t predicated on police presence.
“When you think about the most affluent communities in any city, they are safe not because they’re flooded with police, but because they’re resourced differently,” he argued on the campus on the University of Pennsylvania last year.
Mr. McKesson, with his last minute entrance into the Baltimore mayoral race, may not be able to guarantee his supporters a victory, but it’s certain that he’ll change, for the better, the trajectory and tone of the conversation, and that in and of itself is a win for Mr. McKesson and the movement(s) he represents.
CLICK HERE to listen to ‘Why the Black Vote Matters,’ a podcast from The Dr. Vibe Show featuring a panel of black male thought-leaders, including the co-founder of the ‘Vote or Die’ movement.
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