Yesterday, activists from #BlackLivesMatter Boston showed up at a Hillary Clinton campaign event with the intent of disruption, but they arrived at the venue too late to get through security and gain access to the main room, so Clinton held a private meeting with them afterwards:
The group – affiliated with Black Lives Matter organizations in the Boston area — told reporters afterwards that they asked Clinton about "her and her family's history with the war on drugs both at home and abroad, and how she felt about her involvement in that violence that has been perpetuated, especially against communities of color and against black folks," said Daunasia Yancey. "We wanted to know her reflections on her involvement as first lady, as senator, and as secretary of state."#BlackLivesMatter Boston tweeted the first question they asked Clinton, about her role in perpetuating violence associated with the War on Drugs and how she plans to reverse it, with a promise to release video of the entire exchange as soon as they are able. They also published a couple of pictures of their meeting with Clinton.
Clinton's response, which they declined to detail, was not a reflection on "her part in perpetuating white supremacist violence," Yancey said. "I heard a reflection on failed policy."
"She did acknowledge that there have been policies that she has been part of promoting that have not worked," Yancey added, without detailing which policies specifically she meant.
While the group was initially not let into the event — a community forum on substance abuse at Keene Middle School — the campaign let them into an overflow room, where they watched on live stream.
Reporters were not allowed into the group's meeting with Clinton, but the activists said they had recorded the exchange and plan to publish it.
"What we got was a Hillary Clinton who was willing to delve into the issues given her platform constraints, but she was not willing to take responsibility for or give much voice to the anti-blackness current. She validated some of the points that we offered, but she didn't offer many of her own," said Julius Jones of Worcester, Mass. "She was intentional about meeting us. She got something out of the meeting, that much is certain. What I feel like I got out of the meeting was to press her in a very real way and probably in a way that she hasn't been pressed in a long time."
...The activists said Clinton understood their problems, but that her answers were similar to what they've heard from other candidates.
"It rings similar in that it is a political response, right? They're politicians, and that it's a conversation about, again, policy and about drafting new legislation and those things, without, I think, the deep underlying conversation around how those policies were drafted in a way that supports white supremacist violence," Yancey said, before clarifying later that she felt good about having had the exchange.
...The group had initially told The New Republic that they had planned to interrupt Clinton's event and ask her about her drug platform, and campaign staffers inside the room were aware of those intentions due to the magazine's publication.
Because the former secretary of state and first lady has Secret Service protection, her events are typically sealed once she enters the building — and the group of activists apparently did not make it to the event by that time. They were standing under a tent outside the school doors as the event began, but eventually made it into the building to watch in the side room.
It sounds to me as though the activists had hoped primarily for two things from Clinton: 1. Personal accountability for the policies she's championed that have resulted in disproportionate state violence against black people; 2. To be heard.
They got the latter, but the former not so much. Politicians reflexively substitute policy for personal accountability, partly because it's a deflection for uncomfortable questions, but also because they're genuinely not used to being asked for personal accountability. The media fails utterly to hold politicians to personal account for failed and harmful policy. Even when politicians are asked about failed foreign policy votes, they aren't usually asked how they feel about it, even when their support resulted in people dying; they're just asked if they can admit they were wrong.
I hope Hillary Clinton gets that they were asking for personal reflection and accountability, and I hope she's thinking about how to talk about that, outside of and wholly separate from policy.
This is something every one of the white Democratic candidates should be doing: Talking about their own white privilege, about what it means to govern in a white supremacist culture, and how they feel and what they will do about dismantling that culture.
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley et. al. need to understand that their personal accountability is important, because what people are asking for when they ask for it isn't self-flagellation; it's evidence of meaningful reflection and personal investment in expecting more. They are being asked if they can be trusted.
And, frankly, the jury is still out on that.