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DeRay Mckesson

Get to know American civil rights activist, podcaster and former educator DeRay Mckesson

Dominic Ellis
Sydney Opera House

Beyoncé follows 10 people on Twitter. Mariah Carey, Usher, Solange, Destiny’s Children, her stylist, a couple of fan accounts and charities, and… DeRay Mckesson. Such is the extraordinary online impact of the civil rights activist, whose work with Black Lives Matter and the movement against police violence has his name continually pop up on lists of the world’s greatest Leaders and Thinkers.

Ahead of his appearance at Antidote, here are the essential things you need to know about influential activist-cum-friend of the stars, DeRay Mckesson.

Black Lives Matter

In 2014, Mckesson, then a Minneapolis school administrator, spent his weekends travelling down to Missouri to take part in the Ferguson protests. The protests were sparked by the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police offer Darren Wilson, and the hundreds of other similar cases involving unarmed young black men and trigger-happy police. Having committed his life to working with kids, the murder of Brown pushed him over the edge.

“There are a lot of great things we can do for kids around opportunity, especially kids from low-income communities,” he said. “But you have to be alive to learn.”

A year later, Mckesson quit his six-figure job and became a full time organizer for Black Lives Matter protests, tweeting, texting and emailing a drove of followers. He has since been “teargassed, sued by law enforcement … surveilled by private companies hired by city governments” and even evacuated from a movie theatre following a death threat.

Campaign Zero

Teaming up with fellow BLM organisers Brittany Packnett, Samuel Sinyanwe and Johnetta Elzie, Mckesson created the Campaign Zero police reform campaign in 2015 as an answer to critics demanding specific policy proposals from the BLM movement. The campaign consisted of ten proposals aimed at ending police violence (see below), most of which pertained to protocol changes within police departments – and some of which have already been adopted by existing departments in the US.

“Campaign Zero’s founders are taking ideas long embraced by on-the-ground protesters and using the power of social media to persuade politicians to embrace those ideas, too,” Wired explains. Mckesson and the team met with Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ahead of the 2016 Presidential campaign.

The Blue Vest

He wore it over his Tux on the Red Carpet, he wore it on Late Night Talk Shows, he wore it to meet Obama at the White House and he wore it all 400 days he marched in Ferguson to protest police brutality.

Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images North America

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

The Blue Tick  

A large part of Mckesson’s emergence was his judicious and untiring use of the internet. More specifically, Twitter. With over a million followers, including – somehow – Beyoncé, his impact has stemmed from his willingness to “to put these things into the public space that had not been there before, with a goal of pushing systems and structures to change”.

For more insight into his relationship with the web, read this interview between Mckesson and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Pod Save the People

With an unsuccessful Baltimore mayoral campaign under his belt, as well as appearances on Steven Colbert and Trevor Noah’s late night shows, Mckesson took his growing profile to the airwaves, with the help of Crooked Media, the company of former Obama aides Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor. The fruits of that high profile arrangement is ‘Pod Save the People’, a weekly political podcast that’s had guests like Edward Snowden, John Legend and Katy Perry, among others.

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