Members Of Black Lives Matter Gear Up For Trump's Administration
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Donald Trump's election has mobilized activists around this country, and that includes members of the Black Lives Matter movement. Some are concerned that the Trump administration will push back against their calls for more police accountability and also in other issues. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang recently checked in with some Black Lives Matter activists. This is part of our project with NPR's national desk looking at how Americans from all walks of life are moving forward from the election. And Hansi joins us on the line. Hey, Hansi.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: So who exactly have you been talking to?
WANG: Well, I talked to two of the women who actually came up with the name Black Lives Matter three years ago, and they've since started the Black Lives Matter network. It's more than 40 chapters in and out of the U.S., and they're calling Donald Trump a, quote, "white supremacist." They think his rhetoric has been harmful to communities of color, and it's led to more reports of hate crimes since the election. And one co-founder told me that they don't plan to work with Donald Trump. This is Patrice Kahn Colors. She's based in LA, and here's what she said.
PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: We're not going to be taking meetings with Donald Trump (laughter). We're not going to be sitting with his attorney general. What we will be doing is protesting. What we will be doing is calling for an end to white nationalism and fascism.
WANG: Now, during the campaign, David, Donald Trump called the Black Lives Matter movement a, quote, "threat."
WANG: But it's really hard to say exactly what is Black Lives Matter because there is no one Black Lives Matter. They're a decentralized movement. There's no agreement in terms of tactics, strategy or priorities. For example, you know, some groups want to see more alignment with other marginalized groups, while others are committed to prioritizing issues of the black community first. So there's really a range of visions, depending on which activist you're talking to.
GREENE: And this is exactly what some people who are involved in protest movements say can be the real problem - if there's no central mission or central organization, right?
WANG: Well, the co-founders of the movement that I talked to see decentralization as a strength of the movement. It allows local activists to really run with the ball and focus on local issues. And I spent time with two different groups that have a better understanding of that. The first one was in New Jersey at Rutgers University, and this is a group that, this summer, they've organized a march against a police shooting of a black man in New Jersey.
They've protested for a black professor to get tenure on their campus. And they recently held a post-election strategy meeting they let me sit in on it. And, David, we were in a conference room at Rutgers' black cultural center. There are about a handful of mostly students in their early 20s, and there was an intense discussion about what it means now that Trump is president-elect with Republicans still in control of Congress.
EMONY JOHNSON: Now that Trump has a majority in everything, I don't know how, if you are not a white American, you are not scared at night.
WANG: That was 20 year old Emony Johnson. The meeting was led by Taqwa Brookins. She's 20 and the chairperson of Black Lives Matter Rutgers. And she was especially worried about Trump's nominee for U.S. attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, because he was once denied a federal judge position after lawyers testified that he made racist comments.
TAQWA BROOKINS: If the local police departments decide that it's justified when it's really not, who do we go to? We go to the federal government, and we ask that the attorney general opens up an investigation. And so for me, personally, I think it's probably going to be more of an issue going forward simply because he's just not on our side.
WANG: The group is trying to do more outreach to the community by inviting older members, like Roseanne Thomas, who's 63.
ROSEANNE THOMAS: I brought with me tonight a book which I purchased just for Black Lives Matter. It's "Organizing For Social Change." And the chapter that I Xeroxed for everyone is recruiting.
WANG: Thomas is a Rutgers alum with a lot of community organizing experience, and she sees Trump's election as an opportunity because it's been so divisive.
THOMAS: I feel that the time has now come for all of these different minorities to gather together and to do something. There is a lot of groups who refused to unite with black people in the past. They will all come to you now.
WANG: But Thomas says organizing is still key.
THOMAS: Going out, knocking on doors, talking to people, pumping palms. You know, it's not all social media. You have to get people interested to get to the social media. We need more people from the community to be involved with the students so that we can maintain continuity of Black Lives Matter Rutgers.
WANG: So that's a snapshot from one group that's an official chapter of the Black Lives Matter network. And again, it's important to remember that there are other activist groups using the same label, Black Lives Matter, but they're not necessarily coordinated in their messaging and strategies. I met up with an independent group called Black Lives Matter Greater New York. They recently worked with high school students to organize a march in Manhattan.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)
WALTER NEWSOME: When I say black lives, y'all say matter. Black lives.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Matter.
NEWSOME: Black lives.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Matter.
WANG: This was a protest in honor of black and Latino men and women killed at the hands of police. But the main organizer - his name is Walter Hawk Newsome - he was calling for support not just for more police accountability, but also for protests by Native American groups against the oil pipeline at Standing Rock in North Dakota and for immigrants who may be facing deportation once Trump is in the White House.
NEWSOME: We stand, and we say, no more injustices to our native people, no more injustices to immigrants.
WANG: But before the election, Newsome organized a campaign calling for African-American voters to not vote. It was supposed to be a protest of both Democrats and Republicans for not prioritizing criminal justice reform, but now his group is focusing on local elections.
NEWSOME: We taking over New York City politics. I guarantee you nobody will become mayor of New York City unless Black Lives Matter says so.
WANG: So this campaign in New York comes after another independent Black Lives Matter activists in Baltimore, DeRay Mckesson, lost a primary race for mayor. So we may see more Black Lives Matter groups moving beyond street protests next year. And another possible shift is more groups partnering more prominently with other activists based in the immigrant and Muslim communities, for example.
GREENE: Hansi, it's safe to say, I mean, it sounds like this is a group that is still very angry, sort of finding its next step, open to different partnerships, as you just said, maybe with immigrant, Muslim communities, but not totally settled on one mission yet.
WANG: They're not because it's a very, again, decentralized, disparate group of activists that are under this umbrella called Black Lives Matter. But if you talk to the co-founders of the movement, they're really aiming for a coalition of activists to help drive the Black Lives Matter movement. I talked to Alicia Garza through Skype. She's based in Oakland, and here's what she said.
ALICIA GARZA: It has to be a multiracial movement that understands the role that anti-blackness plays in dividing us, in keeping us separate and in making sure that we don't all have the things that we need to survive.
WANG: You know, David, Garza told me she sees a potential for a - essentially, a wider Black Lives Matter tent. But how that happens is going to be complicated because different groups may have to compromise on their priorities if they're going to move forward together.
GREENE: OK, talking to my colleague, Hansi Lo Wang, about the future of the Black Lives Matter movement under Donald Trump. Hansi, thanks.
WANG: You're welcome, David Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.