A lot of people forget we were demonstrating in the streets for 400 days. That’s a long time. People gloss over that when they talk about Black Lives Matter, and that’s dangerous because it hides the spirit and the energy that started these protests in Ferguson, across the country and around the world. It erases the uniqueness of the phenomenon: A group of regular folks came together and decided to rise up against the terrorization of their communities.
Now that the world is a little bit slower and I’m not out in the streets organizing every day, I look back and recognize just how many decisions I made in good faith in 2014. I’ve been able to spend more time reflecting on what I could have done differently and what I’ve learned.
A sermon I heard not too long ago resonated with me: The preacher said that if you share your story too early, people will see only the pain and not the purpose. If I had written a book two years ago, it would simply have been a play-by-play on the protests. Now I’m at a point where I can see the larger themes surrounding the movement. I can more easily connect the dots across cities and across the years in a way I wouldn’t have been able to a few years ago. So it felt like the right time to put this narrative down. The result is On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope.
Despite losing, I’m not ruling out an eventual return to politics. We need to make sure the right people are in these powerful roles.
People often criticize those who work within the system to bring about significant change, but I feel there is value in coming at these problems from both ends. When I ran for mayor of my home city, Baltimore, in 2016, a lot of people were outraged because of this pervasive idea that all meaningful activism happens outside the system. I was forced to justify my decision over and over again. (This was before Donald Trump became president; today it seems like everyone is running for office, and if you aren’t, then you’re a punk.) Despite losing, I’m not ruling out an eventual return to politics. We need to make sure the right people are in these powerful roles. For now, I feel I have a bigger influence outside politics, thanks in part to my podcast, Pod Save the People, and to Twitter.
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Something I felt compelled to tweet in the early days of the movement, particularly after a tough time out in the streets, was “I love my blackness. And yours.” Throughout everything, that remains a monumental message to me. I’m saying it as much to the world as I’m saying it to myself. Love is what actually sustains us every night. We understand that this world can be better, and we’re going to do something about it.
DeRay Mckesson’s On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope is out September 4 from Viking; find him on Twitter @deray.