Black Lives Matter Activists Force Presidential Candidates to Move Beyond Established Civil Rights Organizations

#BlackLivesMatter acitivsts at Netroots Nation presidential candidates' town hall, in Phoenix, July 18, 2015.

#BlackLivesMatter activists at Netroots Nation presidential candidates’ town hall, in Phoenix, July 18.


The Black Lives Matter movement has inserted itself into the 2016 presidential race, forcing both Democrats and Republicans to re-evaluate their positions. The Black Lives Matter movement also represents a split in the Black community between older activists, who favor a more measured approach, and younger activists, who demand more direct action, according to The Los Angeles Times.

“The group’s demands weighed heavily on discussion at a major conference of the National Urban League here (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) Friday, where candidates of both parties sparred over the best approach for improving the lives of African-Americans,” said L.A. Times writers Evan Halper and Kurtis Lee. “Hillary Rodham Clinton dove deep into the challenges of being black in America and the structural racism embedded into the country’s culture and economy. Jeb Bush tried to relate his conservative growth agenda to minority empowerment.”

In her conference speech, Clinton aligned herself with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Clinton touted her efforts to raise the minimum wage and urged Americans who have not experienced systemic racism in their own lives to show ‘humility’ and empathy toward those who have, adding that ‘black lives matter’ is a fact, not just a phrase. She received a standing ovation as she left the stage,” said The International Business Times.

The 2016 presidential candidates have tried to address Black Lives Matter issues with mixed results. Democratic candidates former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders were confronted with Black Lives Matter activists who stormed the stage at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix. Both O’Malley and Sanders were seen to have flubbed commenting on the issue by saying, “All lives matter.” O’Malley also repeated the phrase at the Urban League convention.

However, this response is seen as dismissive as Black people see daily reports of Black men and women killed in encounters with the police.

Sanders, who has been campaigning for civil rights since the ‘60s, later defended his comments on Meet the Press. His speech at the National Urban League convention talked about disparities in sentencing.

“I’m not dismissive,” he said. “I’ve been involved in the civil rights movement all of my life, and I believe that we have to deal with this issue of institutional racism.”

Sanders also tied crime and violence in the Black community to the high unemployment rate among Black youths.

“I do not separate the civil rights issue from the fact that 50 percent of African-American young people are either unemployed or underemployed,” Sanders told The Nation.

The urgency and radical activism of the Black Lives Matter movement is forcing the Democratic Party to re-evaluate how it reaches out to the Black community, who have traditional voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Democrats have traditionally worked with established civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the National Urban League. However, younger activists feel those groups are too comfortable with Democrats and aren’t challenging them.

“There is a sense that the traditional civil rights organizations have been far too cozy with whoever and not making clear enough demands,” said Fredrick Cornelius Harris, director of the Center on African-American Politics and Society at Columbia University. “They see these people as having failed them.”

However, the National Urban League is frustrated the media is focusing on the more militant tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement and ignoring the work they have done on issues such as police brutality.

“We have been talking police accountability since before these incidents occurred,” Urban League President Marc Morial said of the events that spawned the Black Lives Matter movement. “We say, ‘Look at the Urban League’s plan. This is part of our agenda,’” reported The LA Times.

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