WASHINGTON — A leaked memo advising Democratic congressional candidates on how to interact with Black Lives Matter activists has stoked anew tensions between Democrats and the movement.
Early Wednesday, a memo detailing strategy on how candidates should engage Black Lives Matter organizers leaked online, revealing a set of barebones recommendations about how candidates should engage with activists. The email was released by the hacker Guccifer 2.0.
“If approached by BLM activists, campaign staff should offer to meet with local activists. Invited BLM attendees should be limited,” the memo read. “Please aim for personal or small group meetings. Listen to their concerns. Don't offer support for concrete policy positions. Frontline district staff should meet with activists.”
A spokesperson for the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee said the organization “highly respects and values” the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"We will not allow this hacking to distract from our common goals nor disparage the BLM movement," DCCC spokesperson Meredith Kelly said in an email to BuzzFeed News. "We continue to welcome further engagement with activists and BLM leaders nationwide."
The line in the memo advising Democrats involved with House races not to “offer support for concrete policy positions” has become a specific point of contention.
A DCCC official said that the policy is not BLM-specific, and that the committee widely recommends that candidates take meetings with advocates but not commit to individual policies during the meeting, and does not prevent them from taking policy positions in the future.
But to a movement hesitant to engage in electoral politics, the memo seems more like a window into optics-driven politics system prone to try to co-opt activists.
Before they react to the leak, prominent organizers are said to want to speak with Troy Perry, who was formerly the DCCC director of diversity and inclusion but now works for the Clinton campaign. But founders of the Black Lives Matter network, through a spokesperson, said they are “disappointed” by the memo saying, “We deserve to be heard, not handled."
"Whether Republican, Democrat, or otherwise, our elected officials have an ethical and democratic responsibility to make legislation that reflects the needs of their constituents — especially black people facing life-threatening challenges because of racist, failed policies," a BLM spokesperson said.
Leaders said Wednesday they hoped Democrats would engage over a policy platform released this summer.
"We demand and are fighting every day for a radical transformation of American democracy where all black lives are valued," the spokesperson said. "We expect that our elected officials will stop pacifying and take us seriously."
Brittany Packnett, Campaign Zero activist and member of the President’s 21st Century Policing Task Force, said the memo is further evidence that authentic political engagement is what's needed to bridge the gap between Democrats and a key voting block: young black Americans.
Charles Preston, a young organizer from Chicago with the Black Youth Project 100, a prominent grassroots group, said he wasn’t sure why Perry deleted his Twitter account instead of addressing it head on. The last time he believed in politics was when he voted for Obama in 2008, but distrusts Democratic politics because they signal a lack of authenticity.
"One thing we hear all the time is how youth don’t have [policy positions] or any real goals, and once we do voice things here’s Troy Perry saying ‘Don’t take these things seriously,’ So who are you supposed to trust?"
Packnett believes it's imperative on the DCCC to improve proactively with its outreach.
"I think they can't afford not to and still expect to be relevant to young voters of color as we grow older," Packnett said in a phone interview. "The lesson is that proactive engagement with respect that leads to real policy and leadership outcomes is always preferred over reactive tactics. We don't need to be 'handled.' Our issues and our leadership should be empowered from the beginning by those in seats of power."