Boston Black Lives Matter Gives Thumbs Up to Elizabeth Warren Speech
On Sunday afternoon, just as Tom Brady had finished demolishing the Jaguars and as the Pope stepped up to the podium for a public mass in Philadelphia, Elizabeth Warren delivered a triumphant sermon of her own. Speaking at the newly opened Edward Kennedy Institute in Boston, Warren delivered a major policy speech on the historic import of the Black Lives Matter movement—making connections between BLM and the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century. In the speech, she dug deep into the history of racial oppression in American—noting the “long and spiteful list” of ways in which economic and social injustice have intertwined. “The tools of oppression were woven together, and the civil rights struggle was fought against that oppression wherever it was found,” she said, before segueing into a crescendo that tied together a call for body cameras and de-escalation training for police with an overhaul of laws to protect voting rights and curb predatory loans.
Warren is still not running for president (last we checked) but her speech was more insightful than anything any actual candidate has said on the subject—at least according to Daunasia Yancey, an organizer with the Black Lives Matter Network, the group that lends it name to the larger BLM movement. (For more on Yancey, read my profile of her from the February 2015 issue of Boston.
Yancey, you may recall, was among the BLM activists who grilled Hilary Clinton on her race-politics bonafides last month, in an exchange captured on video and later broadcast on national television. Reached the day after Warren’s speech, Yancey said the junior Senator form Massachusetts showed an understanding of the movement’s background that no presidential candidate has seemed to grasp. “I thought it was a really strong statement,” she said. “[Warren] said what a lot of Black Lives Matter folks have been saying but we haven’t heard from a politician [until now].”
Maybe that’s what you’d expect a BLM supporter to say. But throughout the summer, the Democratic Party has struggled to connect with the BLM movement. Activists interrupted candidate Bernie Sanders’s speech in July; Sanders responded by adding measures to curb police brutality to his campaign platform, but his supporters continued to alienate black voters on social media. In August, the Democratic National Committee issued a statement in support of BLM, but the organization responded by disavowing affiliation with the party: “Resolutions without concrete change are just business as usual … Promises are not policies.”
The message activists such as Yancey have been sending to candidates has been clear: Black lives require more than lip service. For decades, BLM supporters argue, it’s been enough for the Democratic Party to be the lesser of two evils—compared with a GOP that seems to vaccilate between open and lightly-veiled racism. BLM activists are telling Democrats they need to do better: If anti-police-brutality and racial justice do not become major planks for the party, Democrats shouldn’t count on votes next November.
The timing of Warren’s speech couldn’t be more conspicuous: Both of the Democratic candidates for president are due to arrive in Boston this week—Clinton will make a campaign fundraising stop here on Thursday, and Sanders holds a big-tent rally in town on Saturday evening. By getting in an early word, Warren has set the bar high.
More to the point, Warren’s making the point that if Democrats want to make progress with BLM supporters, they need to stop watching Hillary or Bernie, and start watching Elizabeth Warren.