Susan Walsh / AP
Joe Biden removes his face mask as he arrives to speak Wednesday during an event to announce his choice of retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to be secretary of defense at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware. (Susan Walsh / AP)
Published December 10, 2020, at 8:39 am
Amid internal fissures, the official Black Lives Matter movement erupted Wednesday after none of its leaders were invited to a high-profile meeting with presumptive President-elect Joe Biden.
“Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Rep. Cedric Richmond met with several civil rights groups yesterday. @blklivesmatter — as the largest social and justice movement in history — was not invited,” the organization vented on Twitter, following that up with complaints that BLM was vital to Biden and therefore deserved to be invited.
“The night of their victory, we sent @joebiden and @kamalaharris a letter requesting a meeting. It has now been 32 days and we have yet to receive a response. To set up a meeting with civil rights leaders, without BLM, is unacceptable,” the group tweeted.
“The civil rights movement of the 21st century involves BLM. To leave us out is to ignore the millions of people who brought the Biden Harris victory home.@JoeBiden @KamalaHarris we are watching, we are waiting, and we are tired of waiting.”
The group was miffed not to be part of a meeting in which Biden, joined by presumptive Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who Biden has chosen to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, met with activist groups.
The virtual meeting focused in part on filling potential administration positions with black appointees, particularly at the Cabinet level, according to Politico.
“You cannot respond by not having an attorney general that has a background in civil rights,” Rev. Al Sharpton said he told Biden. “My preference, I said to him, is to have a black attorney general. … I said, however, the least we could have is someone that has a proven civil rights background, not someone that’s gonna handle this heightened, racist, bigoted atmosphere with on-the-job training.”
Sharpton also said a waiver to allow retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to become the first black defense secretary was essential. Should Biden take office, the waiver would be needed because Austin, who the presumptive president-elect has picked for a post usually held by civilians, is less than seven years out of the military.
“It is interesting to me, I said to the president-elect, that we hear about him needing a waiver. Well, we had two waivers in American history to make a Department of Defense secretary who had been in the military,” Sharpton said. “We will not accept getting to the black guy and all of a sudden we’re going to change what we’ve already done twice.”
He said black nominees “should not be held to a different standard than anyone else in American history.”
Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, said Biden’s attorney general should be focused on the civil rights of black Americans, noting he wants a nominee in the mold of Eric Holder, who served as attorney general during the Obama administration.
“You cannot move the needle when it comes to racial justice in this country unless you have people at the table, at the highest levels, who have had the lived experiences, and, yes, the professional qualifications, to be able to impact public policy,” Morial said he told Biden.
“In today’s America, there are black people qualified for every single position in the government.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said questions of passing the confirmation process are a distraction from what really matters.
“Restoring the integrity of the Justice Department will be no easy task, and watered-down nominees will not be acceptable to our community,” she said. “Whoever is selected for this most critical job must have a clear and bold record when it comes to civil rights and racial justice, and the idea that Senate confirmability should serve as a measuring stick to the person who occupies this most central role is deeply troubling and unacceptable.”
Ten local chapters are breaking away from what has become known as the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which is what the movement’s national leadership calls itself. The catalyst for the break, the outlet reported, was the decision by co-founder Patrisse Cullors to unilaterally name herself executive director of the group.
“There’s been intentional erasure” of local groups, Sheri Dickerson, lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City, told Politico. “People assume that that money is distributed to local chapters. That is not the case. People also assume that when actions are made, that national [leadership] has the support and agreement from this collective that what they’re saying is representative of us. And that’s certainly not the case.”
Some local organizers said there has been a disconnect between national and community leaders.
“What [supporters] see is national folks talking about trying to get a meeting with Biden, while kids are literally outside of my door asking for food,” April Goggans, lead organizer with Black Lives Matter D.C., told the outlet.
Omar Wasow, a political science professor at Princeton University, said the fracturing of Black Lives Matter is no surprise.
“It’s almost a truism that movements will [fracture] over time,” Wasow said. “It’s exceedingly hard to hold movements together over the long haul.”