Meant to say this a few days ago, but I will now: Barack Obama is flat out wrong about Black Lives Matter.
At a youth town hall in London Saturday, President Obama said that activists, specifically Black Lives Matter activists, need to be willing to compromise and that sometimes, the tone of the activism can turn people off to their message.
While answering questions from students and young people, Obama praised the Black Lives Matter movement for bringing to light the issues of police brutality and racial discrimination, but he says, their tone can mean that sometimes the message gets lost.
“You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” Obama said. “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable —that can institutionalize the changes you seek and to engage the other side.”
Obama brought up compromise often in his speech, imploring youth activists and political hopefuls to learn how to compromise and to not see opponents or those on the other side of the aisle as enemies.
“If you spend time with people who just agree with you on any particular issue, you become even more extreme in your convictions because you’re never contradicted and everyone just mutually reinforces their perspective,” he said. “That’s why I think it is so important for all the young people here to seek out people who don’t agree with you.
I get why Barack Obama is saying this. It’s the world he lives in. And that’s fine. At some point, compromise happens on any piece of legislation. That’s how one kind of politics works. But that politics doesn’t happen unless people are out on the streets demanding it, refusing to compromise, and causing problems for politicians until they do something about it. The recent minimum wage increases are directly connected to the Fight for $15, for instance. That sort of direct action moves the party left and takes incredibly lame insiders like Terry McAuliffe and forces them to do the right thing, increasing people’s rights. We need an electoral politics and we need a protest politics and they don’t have to be completely intertwined. Without direct action on the street demanding complete capitulation to a given agenda, the partial victories won’t happen. Obama wouldn’t even be talking about these issues in London if activists weren’t yelling in Ferguson and Baltimore and Cleveland.
You know how you get Black Lives Matter to tone down its message? Allow black lives to matter. These activists might inconvenient the president. Good. Do something about it. He should advocate for the legislation you want and then accept the inevitable compromise that at least moves the ball forward. Even then, the activists should not. This is how change takes place. Those uncomfortable with protest politics need to understand this. Including the president.