DeRay Mckesson on Black Lives Matter, the X-Men and That Blue Vest

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The Cooler is back for Season 4! And because we're extra, our first episode features civil rights activist and Pod Save The People host DeRay McKesson! We talked about his powerful new book On the Other Side of Freedom, what it was like to spend 400 days protesting in the streets, everything he's learned from the X-Men, and why that vest means so much to him.

Interview Highlights

On the importance of his signature blue vest

"I continue to wear it because it reminds me that what we went through happened. I think about what it was like in St. Louis when it was illegal to stand still. I think about the nights that I hid under my steering wheel. I think about the night we ran from tear gas and rubber bullets and pepper spray. You can get a little removed from those actual experiences and forget that they happened, like they become these sort of distant things that you remember, and I just never want to forget. That was so real to me and it changed my life and the lives of so many other people. The vest keeps me grounded and keeps me whole in that way."

On the difference between an ally and an accomplice

"Both love you, right? Allies love you from a distance; accomplices love you up close. There are people who get it. They're like, Injustice is bad. Let us figure out what to do. And that's sort of basic; that is 101, I'm at the party. What accomplices do is say, Here's actually what I'm willing to put on the line so that we can get to a different sense of justice on the other side of freedom... I know a lot of allies who show up to the random rally, they go to the brunch, they are back row at the talk, and then you're like, Well, what are you going to do about it? and they're like, What do you mean 'do'? I came here. That's not it. That is Awareness 101.


On his complicated feelings around social media

"I'm actually not convinced we're designed to get as much feedback as those platforms give. Sometimes it's just too much. And what does that mean for the way you think about yourself, the way you think about the world? ... I'm hopeful that we're able to figure out how to pivot this so that we don't get stuck in these awareness cycles but we actually get stuck in action cycles. Like you realize something really bad happened. You can turn that into action. You go do something, get an outcome... I worry that so much is happening, especially in the specter of Trump, that people are just shocked every day. That's not a productive place to be stuck in."

On what some get wrong about protesting

"Telling the truth is hard work. We tell the truth so we can change the conditions so we don't have to tell this truth anymore. And there are people who forget that part of it, that we protest not to protest but to create space for change. I know protest is not the answer. Protests create space for the answer. And people forget that part."

On how the X-Men taught him about leadership and what it means to be strong

"Storm specifically was always so fascinating to me because she always showed up first, but she never ever needed the shine. She controlled the elements. Storm could have shut it all down—froze everybody, wind, lightning—but she would do enough to create space for other people to do really great work. She would do enough so people wouldn't die. And then in comes Cyclops, or in comes Professor X, or in comes somebody else... That changed the way I thought about what it meant to be a leader and what it meant to be strong. There are so many images of what it means to be strong, which is like you do all the work, and that just wasn't Storm. I still carry that with me to this day."

To hear all these moments and so much more, listen to the full episode:

Want even more DeRay? Catch him on his book tour! For dates and tickets, head on over to

Until next week! Subscribe and rate us five stars in iTunes! And find us on Facebook and Twitter!