Blacks Lives Matter was one of the topics President Barack Obama discussed at a Saturday youth town hall meeting in London. He took questions from young people on the United States-European trade deal, and other questions on racial profiling and transgender rights during the third day of his visit to England.
When one questioner said the president’s administration hadn’t done enough to address racial profiling at airports, Obama broached the subject of Black Lives Matter. He talked about why it’s important for members to negotiate with leaders who are in a position to bring about change, according to the New York Times.
“Once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention and shined a spotlight, and elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 24, 2016
The POTUS may have had in mind a recent event in Philadelphia earlier this month when former President Bill Clinton and a Black Lives Matter protester engaged in a heated exchange. The member called out Clinton on a 1994 crime bill he enacted. Clinton felt as though he was interrupted unnecessarily while trying to explain and shut the person down. Later, he said he wished that he had handled the situation differently, per NBC News.
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In February, another incident occurred when Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter protester, held up a sign that read, “We have to bring them to heel” as Hillary Clinton was speaking at a private fundraising event, noted Time.com. Williams’ sign was meant to bring attention to words Clinton had used about young blacks who commit crimes. Not only did Williams raise the sign, but she also interrupted a speech and was escorted out of the event.
Obama lauded the movement for bringing attention to racial profiling and social injustice. He also explained the incremental nature of social justice reform, the art of negotiation, and the necessity of compromise.
“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable —that can institutionalize the changes you seek and to engage the other side.”
Obama criticized the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement for yelling & not kowtowing to reactionary politicianshttps://t.co/s8Sq81e891
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) April 24, 2016
The president also emphasized the importance of meeting with leaders once they have heard demands and are willing to sit down and discuss them. Aislinn Pulley, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, turned down an invitation to the White House in February because she believed the purpose was a photo op — not an authentic desire to negotiate and implement change, according to Truth-Out. Obama may have had this in mind in his reference to meeting with politicians.
He also spoke on the issue of accepting partial solutions and realizing that there is more to be done. The importance of Black Lives Matter having an agenda that can be achieved and doing the work it takes to make it happen are other ideas he touched upon, added the New York Times.
“You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable, that can institutionalize the changes you seek, and to engage the other side, and occasionally to take half a loaf that will advance the gains that you seek, understanding that there’s going to be more work to do, but this is what is achievable at this moment.”
In 2014, Black Lives Matter members met privately with Barack Obama. Some members said they felt their voices weren’t being heard, and the president’s response was that they indeed had his attention as they were meeting with him in the Oval Office.
[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]