Our Open Dialogue Deray Mckesson

Frank Leon Roberts

On September 18, movement activist and Baltimore native Deray McKesson (co-author of Campaign Zero) joined us for a rousing discussion about Ferguson, Baltimore, millennial activism, and the movement for black lives. McKesson generously walked us through each of the policy points undergirding his Campaign Zero initiative; and shared his thoughts on the state of the movement.

Deray’s visit was colored by cameo appearances from Ferguson activist Johnetta Eliza as well as his two adorable baby cousins who routinely blew kisses to the audience and proclaimed, “I love you.”

Mckesson began by sharing his thoughts on strategy, emphasizing the importance of what he called “getting a win” (i.e. defining a clear policy goal, fighting for it, then capturing it):

Moments later, he and instructor Frank Leon Roberts debated divergent approaches to the question of movement-strategy. Roberts pushed back on what he believes is Campaign Zero’s somewhat myopic focus on police violence/police reform—a focus which, he argued, tends to reinscribe narratives of black male patriarchy. He suggested that rather than reduce the movement for black lives to a movement about police reform—-we need to be willing to broaden our foci to a variety of forms of state violence that do not necessarily coalesce under the umbrella of the prison industrial complex. The specter of HIV/AIDS, housing discrimination, catastrophic unemployment, educational inequity, and institutionalized misogyny (none of which Campaign Zero attempts to address in any way) are all forms of state sanctioned violence that do not generally fall in the category of “police reform.” Therefore, he suggested, if our movement work (or more specifically the strand of movement work that McKesson’s Campaign Zero represents) continues to focus exclusively on liberating black people from “police violence”—-we do our movement a radical disservice. Freedom, he suggested, has to mean more than simply the freedom to survive the police.

For McKesson, Campaign Zero’s exclusive focus on the police state reflects the populist sentiment of the masses and is therefore not only justified but also imperative. He also pushed back on the idea that police violence is primarily a “male” issue, citing the many ways in which cisgender women and people of trans experience are routinely and uniquely effected by the issue.

While he and Roberts agreed to disagree, students interpreted the debate as a reflection of diverse perspectives within the movement for black lives.

Watch the exchange below:


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