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Daniel Maree: Leader of a Million Hoodies

The organizer behind the march in support of Trayvon Martin is part of a new wave of civil rights activists.

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The national news is so shortsighted and race-schizophrenic that too many unknown Trayvons often get lost in the conversation. This is yet another symptom of our society not valuing black life and the lives of young black males in particular. And that is a battle which must be fought and won at the local level. So that's where we're organizing and directing resources to affect change -- at the local level.

TR: And how do you plan to do that?

DM: We're developing a study guide with the intent of lowering the barriers to civil education. I was recently on BET's 106 and Park discussing how young people must learn to protect themselves, even against those who are sworn to protect them -- namely, police officers. It's sad that we have to begin civic education at such a basic level, but that is the only way to honestly address these issues. It's a question of civic engagement versus civic education.

I see it as a component of what Dr. Cornel West argues in his "American evasion of philosophy" theory: the idea that American society pragmatically embraces minorities but is ill-equipped in understanding their grievances with respect to discrimination and disparate treatment. I think education is the way to conquer these barriers.

TR: How has your background influenced your outlook on these issues?

DM: My mother is African American and my father is from South Africa. I was educated there with a full awareness of the legacy of apartheid. I became well-versed in critical thinking. I questioned why things are the way they are. This is fundamental to all my work, and even my outrage over what happened to Trayvon.

It seems Americans have become so used to this kind of treatment of young black males that they dismiss it as normal. That is the most dangerous thing of all. We must challenge these things. Fight against them. Organize against them. Build movements against them.

TR: Benjamin Crump, the Martin family attorney, is trying to galvanize what he coined the "Trayvon Martin voter." His premise is that since Trayvon died before turning 18 years old, the young people who organized and came to rallies wearing hoodies should take their activism to the ballot box. It seems you are doing that work.

DM: That's exactly it. We are registering young people to vote and developing something similar to MTV's Rock the Vote app -- using technology to get people involved in politics. We are supporting Florida's Dream Defenders and organizations like the Trayvon Martin Foundation in their efforts to challenge "Stand your ground" laws in states across the country.

What's most important is to tackle the root cause of the problem, and that is institutional discrimination. That is what has led to the war on drugs being fought largely in communities of color. It's led to massive incarceration rates, such that more black men are in prison than were enslaved. That alone shows you the extent of our challenge, but we are up to the fight.