Black Lives Matter Convenes in Cleveland for First National Meeting

Black Lives Matter Convenes in Cleveland for First National Meeting

Today, hundreds of organizers, activists, and people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement arrived in Cleveland for the first national Movement for Black Lives convening.

The timing is striking: two weeks after Sandra Bland was stopped by an authority-abusing Texas state trooper and was later found dead in her jail cell, and one week after Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a presidential town hall at Netroots Nation. These events have forced top Democratic candidates to rethink how they approach the movement for racial justice. In the case of Martin O’Malley, whose dismissive comments on Black Lives Matter at Netroots ignited a fierce response from progressives, this has meant apologizing for his ill-chosen response to the protesters. In the case of Bernie Sanders, it meant reaching out to activists for damage-repairing meetings and issuing a strong statement in Houston against police killings of black people. And, in the case of Hillary Clinton who avoided the protest by not attending Netroots, it meant issuing a strong statement in support of the movement on Facebook.

The fallout from the Netroots presidential candidates’ forum has even reached the Republican Party candidates, with Jeb Bush defending O’Malley, saying the Democrat should not have had to apologize for his comment that “all lives matter.” “We're so uptight and so politically correct now that you apologize for saying lives matter?” he said in New Hampshire.

What Bush doesn’t acknowledge, though, is that the statement “Black Lives Matter” has many layers of meaning. It is not simply a banal statement about respecting life, but rather a response to a systematic dehumanization experienced by people of color in countless, ongoing ways. It is a response to a situation that so many of Bush’s followers, and even white progressives, do not have to live with on a daily basis.

But despite BLM’s piercing challenge to the logic of marginalization, and despite the fact the movement’s actions are often organized around and centered around traumatic events, the convening that begins today is a way for the activists to look forward. It includes healing workshops and strategizing sessions, with the goal of confronting the challenges of their work and developing a plan for their mission. The mood in the registration hall this morning was one of shared excitement and camaraderie, with groups of attendees shouting chants and hugging new arrivals.

“[The movement] is organic and spontaneous, and it’s arisen out of conditions on the ground,” Nellie Bailey of New York City says of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I’m cautiously optimistic about whatever draws people together—because of the potential.”