State of Emergency: A Movement Grows in Cleveland
A few weeks ago, activists with Black Lives Matter surprised the attendees of Netroots Nation, completely hijacking the Presidential town hall between Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders with chants including “Say My Name” and “If I Die in Police Custody”. Tia Oso, from the National Coordinator for Black Immigration Network, and Patrisse Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, both gave speeches after being invited on stage and given a mic by host, Jose Antonio Vargas. Cullors gave an impassioned speech about why we are living in a state of emergency:Following the disruption, MoveOn released a statement criticizing both Sanders and O’Malley, and Democracy for America immediately changed their endorsement process to include how candidates will address racism. Hillary Clinton also released a response during a Facebook chat later that day and Bernie Sanders has been discussing structural racism and Sandra Bland more frequently in his recent speeches. However, not all progressives approved of the action, and made their frustration known both at the event and over social media. Some activists and organizers felt that the disruption should have occurred at a Republican conference, as many attendees of Netroots Nation were already supportive of the movement, citing that Bernie Sanders has been fighting for civil rights since the 1960s.
While these people were likely well-meaning, they didn’t seem to understand what the disruption was really about. These activists weren’t expecting a back-and-forth conversation with either Bernie or Martin, and weren’t singling out progressives. Rather, they were reclaiming a space that even if considered progressive, still isn’t inclusive enough to fully address the constant loss of black life in America. Think of this as the conflict between those who passionately scream “Black Lives Matter” and other progressives who feel that “All Lives Matter” is more appropriate, despite the evidence that black lives are by far the most devalued in the United States on an everyday basis, and the fact that saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t devalue the existence of others.
Patrisse Cullors was exactly right, we are in a national emergency. On the night before the Netroots Nation town hall, Sam Dubose was killed by a University of Cincinnati officer during a routine traffic stop. Just since Sandra Bland died two weeks ago, five black women have been found dead in their jail cells, including Kindra Chapman, Ralkina Jones, Raynetta Turner, and Joyce Curnell. This crisis can no longer be considered a background issue in progressive spaces. Fortunately, as Black Lives Matter activists continue to disrupt political and social life in America, they have also evolved into a unified movement, very capable of creating their own spaces to organize against the daily oppression of black and brown bodies.
This past weekend, over one thousand activists attended the first Movement for Black Lives National Convening, which took place in Cleveland, Ohio, sponsored by a broad coalition of local and national organizations including Black Lives Matter, BYP100, Ferguson Action, Million Hoodies, Ohio Student Association, Organization for Black Struggle, and Project South. Cleveland State University was the host for three days of events which featured a diverse range of topics including “#BlackWorkersMatter: The State of Black Worker Organizing in the U.S”, “Solidarity is a Verb, Collaboration is a Practice”, “Street Dance Activism in the Black Lives Matter Movement” and “Bone-Weary and Cried Out: Healing Space.” Here are a few uplifting images from the weekend of love, peace, and unity:
READ: Blk labor leaders issue solidarity statement on #m4bl nat’l convening http://t.co/FiggTWDxom #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/aRQaBZkY7w
— CBTU (@CBTU72) July 29, 2015
U.N.I.T.Y. #M4BL #BlackPower pic.twitter.com/zisnhRdj5s
— Asim Johnson (@AsimJ5) July 28, 2015
The #M4BL Convening opened my heart, straightened my spine, & strengthened my resolve. Thank you. #thisiswhywefight pic.twitter.com/dAZqrJEH0W
— malkia a. cyril (@culturejedi) July 27, 2015
We stand w/Mike Brown’s & Jordan Davis’ dads, Oscar Grant’s uncle, RaMarley Graham’s dad #M4BL @BLMLA @Blklivesmatter pic.twitter.com/QnwICQkTU8
— SEIU Local 99 (@SEIULocal99) July 27, 2015
As the weekend of solidarity was winding down, some participants witnessed a situation outside the venue, where according to reports, a 14 year old was pulled off of a bus and slammed to the ground by police for not having a bus ticket:
They body slammed a 14 year old over a bus ticket. Let them know that’s fucked up. @CLEpolice page has this number up: 216-621-1234. #M4BL
— Matthew (@mattdpalm) July 26, 2015
Members of the Movement for Black Lives flooded the streets in defense of the teenager, who was released to the EMTs following the altercation. After activists surrounded the scene, the officers finally let the teenager out of custody, but not before pepper spraying the crowd. This minor incident demonstrates exactly why this powerful movement is needed in America:
We are holding the street because Cleveland PD has a 14 year old child. They have released him in EMT custody. #M4BL
— BrownBlaze (@brownblaze) July 26, 2015
Moment when the child was being put into EMT #M4BL “TAKE THE CUFFS OFF” #Cleveland pic.twitter.com/ufNIXe1N0P
— rooney (@pettydraper) July 27, 2015
They just let the teenager go. “This is what community looks like.” #M4BL pic.twitter.com/bqhA8N9v9m
— Mvmt 4 Black Lives (@mvmt4bl) July 26, 2015
#happeningNow #M4BL protesters pepper sprayed in #Cleveland @mvmt4bl pic.twitter.com/9JyFCp2vMq
— Kenny (@KentaviousPrime) July 26, 2015
It has been almost one year since Michael Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, sparking a nationwide movement which built on the anger of the Trayvon Martin verdict the year before. This event was a clear indication that the struggle for the sanctity of black and brown lives has now become much stronger and more unified. With a whole weekend of actions coming up for the one year anniversary of the spark of the Ferguson unrest, and the everyday realities of systemic racism, frequent police brutality, and incidents like the Charleston shooting, it’s clear that this is just the beginning. Black Lives Matter!
For more pictures and videos from the weekend, check out this fantastic photoset on ColorLines, as well as our Storify: