DeRay Mckesson Draws Lessons From Baltimore Mayoral Bid Maybe the best-known figure to emerge from Black Lives Matter, Mckesson has struggled to turn his online following into electoral success in Baltimore. Still, he says the movement's work isn't done.

Despite Steep Odds, DeRay Mckesson Draws Lessons From Mayoral Bid

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This coming Tuesday today marks a year after the death of Freddie Gray. He's the Baltimore man whose death in police custody set off days of street protests, some violent. After those protests, the current mayor decided not to run for re-election. The vacancy has drawn 13 Democrats to the ballot for the April 26 primary, and one of those is a man whose name and face and Twitter feed are known well outside of Baltimore.

DeRay McKesson has become perhaps the most visible member of the Black Lives Matter movement, this after leaving a high-profile job in education to join and help organize protests in Ferguson, Mo. after the death of another unarmed young black man, Michael Brown. Since then, he's joined protests around the country, been invited to discuss his ideas at the White House and other high-profile venues, and picked up hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers.

But polls show he lags far behind in his quest for the mayor's office. As he is one of the first of the Black Lives Matter movement to run for public office in a year in which non-traditional candidates are capturing the nation's attention, we thought this was a good time to talk about how the movement moves on. And DeRay McKesson is with us now in our studios in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for joining us today.

DERAY MCKESSON: It's good to be here. I'm excited for the conversation.

MARTIN: DeRay, we last spoke at a forum in Ferguson, Mo., and that was just a couple of months after Michael Brown's death. And at the time, when I asked you what you thought your role was, part of what it was was to articulate, you know, what the protests were about. So where do you see your role now?

MCKESSON: You know, when I think about the movement - you know, we spent nine months helping people understand that there was not only a crisis in St. Louis, but there was crisis across the country. Now when I think about what comes next in the movement and where I fit in, I think that some of it is about can we build coalitions and create entrances for people from broad backgrounds, for people who might not have the same goals, but believe in the same outcomes?

And the second is, can we be as organized on the inside as we are on the outside? So how do we actually get into positions that allow us to do the concrete things that make people's lives better? And that is what I think my work is now. But it has always been about how do we tell the truth in public? I think that's that what protest was, that we disrupted board meetings and commission hearings to tell the truth, that people should be using their institutional power differently.

And the commitment is the same. The context is different, that I'm telling the truth about what the city can be. I know we need transformative leadership if we're going to make it that.

MARTIN: Why mayor?

MCKESSON: Because in Baltimore, that is...

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

MCKESSON: Whoa, sorry. OK. Because in Baltimore...

MARTIN: ...Does that happen a lot?

MCKESSON: I actually get very little phone calls. I get way more tweets and texts. My phone rarely rings.

MARTIN: How many tweets and texts do you get a day?

MCKESSON: Oh, a lot. A lot of tweets - like, a number I can't count. But I probably average around 350 unread text messages, and I go through them every night.

MARTIN: Every day. OK. It's interesting that the coverage of your campaign, as you would imagine, has drawn a lot of attention, in part because you are now a national figure. And it's also interesting that, you know, there is a history of civil rights activism translating into electoral politics. I mean, John Lewis, for example, a member of Congress. Julian Bond, a former Georgia state legislator. Even, you could argue, Barack Obama coming out of a social justice movement...

MCKESSON: ...Bobby Seale.

MARTIN: Bobby Seale. So what do you think other people can learn from your experience, particularly people who come out of a movement background or activist background? Obviously, the referendum isn't complete until the vote is actually cast.

MCKESSON: Yeah...

MARTIN: ...But is there something now, sitting here now, you would say is a lesson that could be learned?

MCKESSON: Yeah, I'm mindful that the movement is young. So I am one person running, there are, like, five people running in St. Louis. There are people all across the country who identify with the movement who are now starting to understand that we have to continue pushing from that, or that people have to continue pushing from the outside, but we also have to have a seat at the table formally so that we can do the work that the people and the systems that we have pushed against traditionally - they are very organized on the inside, and we have to be as well.

And I think that we will see this happen over time. I think that, you know, we will see people start to run for office. And I've already talked to people across the country and across the city who are interested in how I've been able to present the ideas in a comprehensive package.

And so many of the policy groups in Baltimore and so many activist groups have reached out, and they want to work together, you know, even after election day to think about how we talk about solutions in public differently. And I think that that is where the work is.

MARTIN: DeRay McKesson is a Black Lives Matter activist. He's one of 13 Democrats on the ballot for mayor of Baltimore city. DeRay McKesson, thanks so much for stopping by our studios.

MCKESSON: It was good to be here, thank you.

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