Why I Interrupted The Netroots Presidential Town Hall

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Image Credit: AP

I am Tia Oso, the black woman who took to the stage and demanded a microphone on July 18 at the Netroots Nation Presidential Town Hall in Phoenix, Arizona. I did this to focus the attention of the nation’s largest gathering of progressive leaders and presidential hopefuls on the death of Sandra Bland and other black women killed while in police custody, because the most important and urgent issue of our day is structural violence and systemic racism that is oppressing and killing black women, men and children. This is an emergency.

Sandra Bland and I had a lot in common. We were both black women, active in our communities and the Movement for Black Lives. We both pledged sororities: I’m a Delta, Bland was a member of Sigma Gamma Rho. I have also been harshly confronted by police during “routine” traffic stops and feared for my safety and my life. Reading about Bland, about her life and brutal killing, the accusation of suicide, I felt devastated and enraged. As a human being and a person committed to the cause of justice, I was overwhelmed with grief for Bland, her family and the countless lives taken in what amounts to a genocide of black people who are first criminalized, then brutalized by the United States’ justice system.

I was also determined that Bland’s death and name would not be ignored nor dismissed. Though the Movement for Black Lives, initiated by young people in impoverished communities across the country, has galvanized a new generation into the grassroots movement to resist police violence, black women are not always the face put forward to rally around. Organizing is often led by women, but our experiences are often minimized. I recognized the opportunity that I had to change this narrative. I, along with the 50 other black organizers attending Netroots Nation 2015, decided we would use the platform of the Presidential Town Hall to demand that former Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) #SayHerName and address the crisis of structural racism and their plans to make sure that black lives matter should they be elected president.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 11.11.46 AMSource: Mic/Getty

I felt I was the right person to open the action and shift the focus of the program, especially in the context of the conference theme of “Immigration.” I am a native to Arizona, the child of a Nigerian immigrant father and African-American mother, whose parents were migrant farm workers, aka “Okies.” I also served for three years as the Arizona organizer (and continue to work as the National Organizer) with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the premier racial justice and migrant rights organization in the U.S. As I shared in my remarks on Saturday, racial justice intersects with all progressive issues, especially immigration. Black immigrants experience a double oppression, as they must contend with both the reality of racial discrimination in America as well as its complicated and punitive immigration system.

Saturday’s action was powerful. Black organizers claimed our rightful place at the front of the progressive movement.

Feeling dissatisfied with Netroots’ framing of black issues and the narrow focus of its immigration-themed activities, I worked with Phoenix-based organizers to create #BlackRoots, a space to focus on black perspectives and connect national organizers with local black community members.

Saturday’s action was powerful. Black organizers claimed our rightful place at the front of the progressive movement. Allies from Latino, Asian, LGBT and other communities stood in solidarity with us as we called the names of black women killed in police custody, expressed our heartbreaking requests to the community should we ourselves die in police custody and looked on as respected and revered progressive leaders were woefully unable to answer our reasonable question as to how they will lead America to a brighter future.

We wanted them to first address the root of this tragic situation and the precious lives lost to senseless state violence. Our courageous and bold efforts are being applauded for changing the conversation and creating a space for a more honest and direct discourse. My action, along with those of my sisters and brothers in theMovement for Black Lives, was not done to call attention to myself, but to all black people fighting to live free.

The strength, strategies and success of African-Americans leading the civil rights movement laid the foundation for all progressive movements today. Black leadership must be foregrounded and central to progressive strategies if we are to achieve a multi-racial democracy with social and economic justice for all people. Though some don’t agree with how we went about bringing the issue to the forefront, by thrusting ourselves into the national spotlight, we shed new light and gave greater importance to this urgent issue. We hope our choice will inspire new and bold action toward dismantling systemic racism.

  • Matthew Borenstein

    All local police activity must be supervised & controlled by community boards elected directly by the public.

  • cruisersailor

    Black protestors should demonstrate at every Sanders event until Bernie wakes up and addresses their concerns. [I’m a Bernie fan.]

  • Robert Hodge

    No one mentions Matin O’Malley at this event. He was there too, right?

    Why is Bernie taking all the heat for not ‘addressing’ screaming audience concerns? While I sympathize with the plight of the BLM movement, I must express my concern that he (Bernie) didn’t ‘jump on the bandwagon’ of discontent “fast enough” or immediately without any prior warning other than shouting from the audience. Often times, from a stage, you can’t even HEAR what they are shouting and from the video, this event was no exception. Call me naive, but I thought the event was about MANY opportunities for change, this being only one of them. Give Bernie Sanders the benefit of any doubt you may have regarding his motives, try researching his positions on this issue BEFORE you paint him as “out of touch”…he is NOT. Go Bernie!

  • kevinzeese

    O’Malley was definitely there in fact he seems like he was the main target as he should be. O’Malley abused the young black community when he was mayor of Baltimore with mass arrests. He and the city were sued for arresting tens of thousands of young African American men (primarily, men) without cause, jailing them over night and discharging them without accusing them of anyhing. O’Malley deepend into the Baltimore police culture the harassment of young blacks, searches and arrests without any cause and abusive police behavior. I don’t know how anyone can support someone who abused his power like O’Malley.

  • Veri1138

    That O’Malley? Who uses the “Broken Windows” and CompStat (also used by NYPD) to target neighborhoods. If memory serves me correctly, he invited NYPD down to show them how to police in Baltimore, New York style.

  • Veri1138

    Now, how about Hillary….

    She applauded and supported her husband’s efforts to mandatory sentencing, more police, etc… that locked up lots of Black people. And supported her husband’s efforts to reduce welfare… which ended up hurting minorities.

  • stephenverchinski

    He did recently on the disgusting behavior of the policeman and the death of Sandra Bland. Now Go Bernie and help him clean up the mess at the Dept of Just Us. Like ask about Holder and the corporate democrats like Hillary who respond to building more industrial institutional prisons

  • Aquifer

    More identity politics ….More claiming their “rightful place to be at the front of the progressive movement” ……

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