Activist DeRay Mckesson Stresses Protests, Voter Engagement

DeRay Mckesson
Civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson urges political engagement at a Political Action Fair at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson spoke about police brutality and civic engagement Tuesday evening to students gathered at the Institute of Politics for National Voter Registration Day.

Mckesson came to prominence as a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement and a co-founder of the police reform advocacy group Campaign Zero. In addition to his activism, McKesson produces a weekly political podcast, “Pod Save the People."

Mckesson began his talk by condemning a string of fatal police shootings of black Americans.

“I don’t know much. But I know that Anthony Lamar Smith should be alive today. Michael Brown should be alive today. Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice—they should be alive today,” Mckesson said. “I start there because I think about the response of those situations, about the protests. And for me this is a fundamental question about what power looks like.”

Mckesson went on to commend protests in Ferguson and St. Louis, Mo., arguing that while protests are not a full solution to police brutality, they offer a place where “people can think about what the world should be like.”

Mckesson's brief appearance was part of the IOP’s efforts to ensure that every eligible Harvard student is registered to vote in the lead-up to National Voter Registration Day Tuesday. Mckesson was preceded by former Connecticut Secretary of State Miles Rapoport, who encouraged civic engagement.

Mckesson also stressed the importance of voting, urging students to use their votes to empower others.

“If you care about the country, then you will vote,” Mckesson said. “I think about hope as the idea that you can think about tomorrow as being better than today,” he added in conclusion.

Hank Sparks ’21 said he was particularly motivated by Mckesson's words.

“It’s been an honor to hear from him. I’ve been listening to his podcasts for a while, and he’s definitely one of the most amazing organizers that I have ever heard of,” Sparks said. “One thing that he mentioned is that voting isn’t the only way of building up power, about how protests, social justice, and taking to the streets are also other ways to build up power and that was really inspiring and uplifting to hear.”

Zack Steigerwald Schnall ’21, another attendee, said voter registration efforts were an “ongoing process.”

“I think the speakers were all really impassioned and moving about why it’s important to stay involved and get involved,” he added.

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