Robert Draper, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE
WASHINGTON (The New York Times Magazine) — Last Friday, during a speech before a virtually all-black audience at the National Urban League Conference, the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lauded the young African-American protesters who “have taken to the streets, dignified and determined, urging us to affirm the basic fact that black lives matter.” Clinton’s two Democratic opponents, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, spoke at the same event; they, too, invoked the hashtag slogan.
These recitations have been a compulsory ritual for Democratic candidates going on three weeks now, ever since Black Lives Matter activists interrupted an onstage interview with O’Malley at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix on July 18, confronting him with questions like “As leader of this country, will you advance an agenda that will dismantle structural racism in this country?” O’Malley’s faltering answer — “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter” — was met with boos, as was Sanders’s combative appearance after O’Malley left the stage.
The subsequent scramble to mollify African-American activists with rote incantations has prompted derision from conservatives. Still, beneath the Democrats’ fawning overtures lurks a reality that both parties understand well: In 2016, black votes matter, perhaps more than those of any other electoral group.