The day Michael Brown was shot and killed by police — Aug. 9, 2014 — was the day a new generation of black activists was born. Then: DeRay Mckesson was a math teacher-turned-school administrator living in Minneapolis who watched footage of the ensuing protests for a few days and then tweeted “En route to Ferguson” to his 1,000 or so Twitter followers. Now: Mckesson, who live-tweeted the protests from the scene, is one of the most prominent faces of the Black Lives Matter movement and a full-time activist and organizer. “I saw a movement be born, and that changed so much about my life and the lives of so many others,” says Mckesson, 32, who’s amassed more than 1 million Twitter followers. The Baltimore native has since moved back to his hometown, and in 2016 he even attempted a mayoral run there (he finished sixth in the Democratic primary). Mckesson works to fight oppression in myriad ways, including as host of “Pod Save the People,” a podcast featuring conversations about culture and social justice. It’s produced by Crooked Media, a left-leaning media company started by former Obama staffers. Mckesson will be in D.C. this weekend for the podcast’s first live taping.
Guests at the live show include civil rights leader Ben Jealous and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery. How do you select your guests?
I started the podcast because I wanted people to learn, and I wanted to have conversations that weren’t happening at other places. I want [the live taping] to be an experience for people — I don’t want it to simply be the podcast in person, because you don’t need to come in person to listen to a podcast. We’re going to have some surprises that help maximize having so many like-minded people in one place together. I talk to [podcast regulars] Clint [Smith], Sam [Sinyangwe] and Brittany [Packnett] every day, but we’re rarely all ever together. We record the podcast separately, over the phone — we haven’t all four ever been in one place when we record — so I’m excited to be all physically together.
What was your goal when you launched “Pod Save the People”?
I have a big following on Twitter, and Twitter has been invaluable for mobilizing and quickly sharing information. But I’m not really sure that people are learning deep content on Twitter. I made the podcast so I could talk to [Edward] Snowden and ask him about the intersection of race and security, or have a conversation with Reza Aslan about faith and social justice. We can do things with the medium that the digital platform just doesn’t allow as well, and I want people to walk away knowing more than they did before.
What has you really riled up right now?
The Koch brothers [industrialist billionaires Charles and David] investing $400 million [to promote conservative policies] in the midterm elections. So I’m particularly interested in, what do we do to combat that? That’s just an incredible amount of money being targeted in one way. What can we do to combat the resource mobilization the right will be able to do given [the investment]?
What’s your advice for someone who wants to get involved and doesn’t know where to start?
Find an issue that’s important to you, and be as curious and close to it as possible. A lot of organizers are trying to figure out: How do we create entrances for people so they can be involved in the work in a way that makes them feel is aligned to the things they’re interested in, and not the things the organizer is interested in? I think it’s an open question, and in many ways, it’s like we’re just starting.
As you do your daily work and fight for progress, do you ever — especially in today’s climate — feel discouraged or depressed?
I think hope is the belief that tomorrow can be better than today, and I don’t lose hope. I’ve seen so many people find their power and their voice over the past three years, and that gives me a lot of hope. Like the protests in Ferguson — we didn’t know they would spread across the country, right? So many people came to St. Louis uncoordinated, and the protests spread immediately, and that was really powerful. So the single biggest thing that gives me hope and courage is seeing an incredible amount of activism across the country that has been organic.
‘Bonus Pod With Edward Snowden’ (May 12, 2017)
Snowden talks about surveillance, race, government secrets and whether he’s in cahoots with the Russian government. “If I’m a pawn, I’m very bad at it,” he says.
‘When You Have to Face Yourself’ (June 13, 2017)
Katy Perry pops in for a discussion on cultural appropriation, misogynoir and the bubble her parents raised her in. “I don’t know a lot,” the singer confesses.
‘Let’s Do Better in the New Year’ (Dec. 26, 2017)
Guests Piper Kerman, author of the memoir “Orange Is the New Black,” and Georgia Lerner, executive director of the Women’s Prison Association, discuss the hardships women face in the criminal justice system.
Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW; Sun., 8 p.m., $35.
More things to do in D.C. this week: