How Black Lives Matter Boston Got Hillary Clinton to Open Up About Race
On Tuesday, Black Lives Matter Boston—in the persons of Daunasia Yancey, Julius Jones, Vonds Duboisson, and their allies Britni de la Cretaz and MJ Malisz—found themselves shut out of a Hillary Clinton campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire. The event was billed as a “community forum on substance abuse,” and the group had driven up from Massachusetts to publicly question the candidate about her stance on drug laws they describe as “anti-black.”
But when they arrived at Keene Middle School, the Secret Service wouldn’t let them in.
“They said [the event] was filled to capacity,” Yancey recalls.
Stuck outside, the group tried to decide what to do. Just then, CNN producer Dan Merica caught sight of them from inside the building.
“He tapped on the window and beckoned me over,” Yancey says. Then, she says, he pulled up our profile of Yancey on his phone. He pointed to the screen, then her: Is that you?
When Yancey confirmed her identity, he started tweeting: “The doors to HRC’s event have been closed by USSS due to capacity, per an aide. That means the #BlackLivesMatter protesters won’t get in.”
Shortly thereafter, the five activists were escorted inside.
Yancey, a local activist since 13, grew up as a Hillary fan.
“When I was younger, I respected her as a political leader, as a woman and a feminist,” she says. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to see beyond ‘Oh my god, she’s a woman in the White House.’ She’s actually advocated for some extremely harmful policies”—such as draconian drug laws, harsh welfare policies and a hawkish foreign policy, Yancey says.
Still, she says, Clinton’s stature is undeniable, and her opinions have weight.
“Hillary Clinton’s feelings about black people matter a lot,” Yancey says. “A lot of white peoples’ feelings don’t matter—you can legislate your way around them. But Hillary Clinton’s feelings about black people and anti-blackness and white supremacy matter a lot … more than most people in the world.”
On Tuesday, as Yancey’s group watched Clinton’s panel discussion from an “overflow room,” an aide approached them and asked if they wanted to speak with the candidate during a photo session afterward. This hadn’t been the group’s plan; they had intended to question Clinton publicly, Yancey says. And they definitely didn’t want a grip-and-grin photo op. But because of how tight security was, “We decided the most productive route was to take the opportunity being offered and talk to her.”
They had only a few moments to discuss their strategy before they were face-to-face with Clinton. The discussion that followed surprised them in its frankness, Yancey says.
“She clearly went off-script,” she says. “She engaged.”
The discussion started with the Black Lives Matter activists asking Clinton about her previous support for tough drug laws that have lead to disastrously high incarceration rates for people of color. Clinton has distanced herself from these policies since then. But Yancey says the group still wanted to sound Clinton out to see if she was sincere.
“What we were looking for was a personal reflection on where she has moved on those issues,” she says. “We wanted a personal, emotional side.”
Clinton freely conceded that 1990s-era tough-on-crime policies hadn’t worked, Yancey recalls. But when Jones pressed her further on her personal feelings, “her body language changed, her voice changed,” Yancey says. “Boom! It was powerful, energetically. You could feel that she got upset.”
Clinton’s argument, Yancey says, was for pragmatism and realpolitik.
“What she said was partially true, that we’re not going to change all hearts and minds about anti-blackness and white supremacy,” Yancey says. She remembers Clinton saying, “I have to be able to package it and be able to sell it in politics.”
“It was weird for me that she said that out loud,” Yancey adds. “It was almost like a white person being like, ‘Oh no, I get the f—kery, but I can’t tell America that they’re racist as f—k.’ I think we got a very different conversation than if media was there.”
Yancey said she was glad to hear Clinton speak so plainly, even if they don’t see eye to eye.
“Our action was directly about her personal impact, beyond the politics,” she says. “But she’s played that game for a thousand years.”