BlogHer Nails What Netroots Nation Fails: #BlackLivesMatter

BlogHer BlackLivesMatter

Opening Keynote at BlogHer15

The BlogHer women’s blogging conference put Black Lives Matter on center stage, while politically progressive Netroots Nation couldn’t center them. How is that even possible?

What happens when a woman’s blogging conference is more tuned in to issues impacting the Black community these days then a traditionally progressive political conference? I only attended the blogging conference, so I’ll begin there.

BlogHer 2015 was supposed to begin at 6 p.m. on July 16th with the opening of the Expo Hall, where we bloggers meander around and meet sponsors of the event, drink wine, grab swag and generally relax. Leading up to that day, though, the brains behind BlogHer teased us on Facebook with hints of an added event before the Expo, and finally dropped the news that BlogHer would actually begin one hour earlier with an added Opening Keynote.

At 5 p.m. on July 16th, BlogHer was to begin with a keynote that included an extended discussion hosted by Essence Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Vanessa De Luca. She interviewed two of the three creators of the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. I was thrilled (as were the other attendees, if the social media reaction was any indication) because I write a lot about race relations, and am always looking to learn and do better as an ally.

It didn’t disappoint. It was chilling:

And enlightening:

And honest:

And hopeful:

About halfway through BlogHer, I started seeing tweets and hearing snippets of conversations about comments that were being made by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, almost completely oblivious to the fact that the annual Netroots Nation (the nation’s leading progressive conference) was going on at the same time. I read some Elon James White’s tweets and knew the two candidates had done something racially clueless, but I wasn’t aware of the specifics.

I dismissed it and went on to a BlogHer session led by the amazing women behind the hashtags, #YouOkSis (a tool to end street harassment,) #WhyIStayed (to enlighten about domestic violence,) and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen (insisting the feminist movement be intersectional.) Feminista Jones, Mikki Kendall, and Beverly Gooden were going to discuss this activism on Twitter and tell the stories behind those hashtags and their huge impact. This session, alone, was worth the price of admission for me.

Ava DuVernay (director of the move Selma) delivered the closing keynote, during which she inspired and chuckled while dropping Oprah’s name here and there…and floored us with statistics about the lack of female directors in Hollywood. The numbers are more ridiculously stark when you consider the imperceptible percentage of minority female directors. Yet, she gave us hope, made us laugh and think, and became a personal hero to me when she declared, “I don’t do pitches. I don’t pitch.” She has discussions, after which she decides if it’s a project she’ll take on.

This year, from beginning to end, BlogHer hit hard with a focus on gender (of course,) but also race, inclusivity, and intersectionality.  Intersectionality means that a person can experience disadvantage from a number of different angles, and that it’s crucial to acknowledge and address each of those angles. (A white woman faces gender disadvantages. A Black woman faces gender AND race disadvantages.) In between were all the other business, technical and artistic educational opportunities that characterize BlogHer, but I was very impressed with the conference’s emphasis on what I consider a national imperative – improving the state of race relations.

Others disagreed. Saturday night, at the closing party, I was talking to a close friend who said she’d heard some dissatisfaction among some white attendees, along the lines of, “Enough already, with the #BlackLivesMatter.” “This is all for Black women.” Right, because, WHEN-ARE-BLACK-PEOPLE-GOING-TO-STOP-COMPLAINING-ABOUT-NOT-HAVING-THE-SAME-RIGHTS-AS-WHITE-PEOPLE??? We ALL know things are just SUPER-DUPER for them and they enjoy ALL the privilege and opportunity we do!

Just ask Sandra Bland. Oh. Wait. We can’t, now, can we?

(Okay, well, in that case, ask my friend, Ijeoma Oulu. She was stopped a few days ago for going five miles an hour over the speed limit, and came away with a souvenir in the form of a $100 ticket. If her account of her behavior and her brothers’ behavior during that stop does not simultaneously infuriate you and send chills up your spine, check your pulse.)

Once home on Sunday, I was able to finally focus a little on what had happened at Netroots Nation, and the #BlackLivesMatter activists who had disrupted the presidential town hall during Martin O’Malley’s and Bernie Sanders’ interviews. They chanted, interrupted, and were eventually invited onstage to participate in the town hall. I have to be honest, here – after watching video of each candidate’s interview in its entirety, I wasn’t nearly as disgusted with the candidates as I thought I’d be. I thought (may the Twitter gods have mercy on my soul) Sanders, O’Malley, and Jose Antonio Vargas (the moderator) handled the disruptions reasonably well. However – and this is a BIG however — I am still left with the following questions:

For Martin O’Malley – Perhaps you were, as you said, unaware of the negative significance of your “All lives matter” response to the activists. (I’d find that surprising, but possible.) I know you apologized and met with Black Lives Matter organizers soon after. Good for you. But I must ask you why it is so very difficult to simply AGREE with the statement, “Black Lives Matter” unconditionally. With no “other lives matter, too!” attached to it. What would you be sacrificing compared to the affirmation you’d be giving?

For Bernie Sanders – Yes, you were understandably peeved. You’re not used to being talked over, and by all means, you should be afforded great respect for your history as an active supporter of Civil Rights. Props to you for not coming back with the all-too-familiar “All Lives Matter” refrain. What might have happened, though, if when the activists chanted “Say her name!” you actually…and stay with me on this…said her name? Sandra Bland.

You see, I watched most of THAT entire video, too – the obviously doctored, poorly edited, (“glitches” say the police. A new one has been uploaded…) dashcam video of Sandra Bland’s outrageous traffic stop and arrest – it made my blood boil and heart break. Seeing THAT, and remembering the #BlackLivesMatter co-founders at BlogHer made Governor O’Malley’s and Senator Sanders’ responses seem even MORE tone-deaf.

It’s unconscionable that Netroots Nation – our country’s MOST LIBERAL political gathering – is so lacking in racial diversity, there is now an offshoot, called Blackroots Nation. It’s ridiculous that to be heard on the main stage at NN, Black Lives Matter activists had to disrupt the town hall. Not just any BLM activists, either. Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder who had two days earlier spoken at BlogHer as an honored guest, opening the entire conference. At Netroots Nation, she had to protest her way to be heard on the main stage.

Broad Side contributor Veronica Arreola, creator of the #365FeministSelfie, explains it this way:

“BlogHer put Black Lives Matter on center stage while Netroots Nation couldn’t center them… BlogHer is a feminist conference. Despite the hyper consumerism that is necessary to pull it off, BlogHer is [also] intersectional. Netroots Nation was unable to do the important intersectional work prior that prompted Blackroots to emerge.”

Is it possible that radical social change is more embedded in the DNA of a women’s blogging conference than the foremost Progressive political one? It may be hard to believe, but based on last weekend, I’d have to say yes.

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Purple Clover, and before that, in Catonsville Patch and Kveller. She has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.”  She has won BlogHer Voice of the Year awards in 2013 and 2015. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.

Image courtesy of BlogHer

  • alexandra

    You took every single wonderful thing about BlogHer and the people that run it, and put it front and center right here. Change begins with opening your mind. Hoping that the ones that said “all lives matter” will spend the time, quietly, that is needed to understand that black lives matter doesn’t mean others don’t. It means, we want an equal chance at survival.

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