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Politics

What Black Lives Matter Is Learning From Edward Snowden

#CampaignZero's DeRay Mckesson on Snowden and the media.

Originally posted on
Updated on

WASHINGTON — One of the leading figures in the Black Lives Matter movement, DeRay Mckesson, says he's interested in what the Black Lives Matter movement can learn from Edward Snowden.

In particular, he said, he was struck by one factor: The extent to which Snowden's story was shaped by, and through, a media that the Black Lives Matter movement has viewed with deep skepticism.

"I didn't know that Snowden gave over the information to journalists who made decisions about what to publish," he said. "In my head, it was a simple [narrative] in the sense that he just put it all online somewhere." In reality, Mckesson said, "there was a level of nuance to the way it all happened that had been completely foreign to me."

He said it reminded him of how in the movement "a single narrative can get out there that becomes so real to people."

Mckesson, one of the activists behind the new police violence prevention platform Campaign Zero, said he'd just watched Laura Poitras' CITIZENFOUR, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and John Oliver's popular segment and interview with Snowden.

To him, it illustrated the extent to which a master, single narrative has the power shape public perception.

In recent weeks, the movement has reckoned with attempts to brand Black Lives Matter a hate group over the shooting of Deputy Darren Goforth was shot and killed at gas station outside of Houston.

Activists have rejected those characterizations, and Mckesson tweeted after the officer's death, "It is sad that some have chosen to politicize this tragedy by falsely attributing the officer's death to a movement seeking to end violence."

Black Lives Matter is rooted in Twitter and has primarily relied on, in this situation and others, social media to shape the movement's narrative.

But Mckesson said he's increasingly interested in the growth that comes from taking advice and learning from people whose ideas they wouldn't ordinarily encounter.

Whether or not he takes the advice, Mckesson said, he wants to be open to it.

Mckesson said he's also eager to take lessons from Snowden and his allies on government surveillance.

"As people who are working to confront and disrupt a system that is killing people, are there any lessons we can learn from the information they exposed or from him?" he said.

Though he said he isn't much concerned about keeping his own secrets.

"I just assume that they're reading everything," Mckesson said. "I know that they want it to have a chilling effect and I'm just not feeding into it. All we're doing is telling the truth and I'll never be afraid to tell the truth.

If the government, for instance, needs to look at the tweets before he tweets them, Mckesson's resigned to the fact there's little he can do about it.

This post has been updated to reflect Mckesson said confront and disrupt, not "destruct."

Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Darren Sands at darren.sands@buzzfeed.com.

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