Spotlight: Today’s Activists Talk Back

One of the moments that opened my eyes to injustice was back when I was a kid and my mom came out [as a gay woman] and my grandparents disowned her. And I was like, why don’t you love your own family? Being in New York in the 90’s and being the child of a parent that comes out at the height of the AIDS crisis, that was enough. And then in 2008, I was one of those people who saw the message of hope and change and said I’ve got to do something, let me try to create change. And that was what kind of got me in the doorway. Especially hearing [Obama’s] story. They talked about Obama being a community organizer and being from the people and moving his way up. And I thought maybe we could change things.

Tell me about the difference between the first Civil Rights Movement and today?

The difference today is that there is not just that one leader, or just a few charismatic leaders like Dr. King, John Lewis, Stokely, Malcolm X. Individuals today aren’t acting as if they represent one movement. People want there to be more leadership, the media keeps asking for it. But that’s just not how this is happening.

Do you think having a Movement without designated leaders in the sense of a Malcolm X or Dr. King makes people nervous and concerned we won’t achieve anything long lasting?

I do. But look at what people did between Occupy and Black Lives Matter. People thought the Movement was dead. We weren’t in the park any more. But yet, many of the talking points of the democratic debates were based on issues people in Occupy had raised. So at the end of the day, we are influencing the national conversation. The reality is that the impact of these movements will last far longer than just seeing people on the streets or sitting in a park or on television.

Do you have a prediction about how this Movement is going to evolve?

Every time I’ve been a part of a movement outcry there are things that I learn. For instance, Freedom Side was a network that was built in between and with some of the groups forming post Occupy Wall Street and post the Trayvon Martin protests. After that we had a unified network of young people of color talking to one another. Then when Ferguson happened, we were able to mobilize in other cities because we had contacts there so we were able to amplify what came out of Ferguson into a larger movement. We were able to speed up the process and learn by building those relationships beforehand. I think the reality is that in between the more visible protests, we are building our base and our network. One thing I can predict moving forward is that we are going to continue to learn. We are just building and building, and this isn’t going to stop.