Alicia Garza is an engaging speaker with a sense of humor and intelligence that draws listeners to her. She is best known as a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) along with Opal Tometi and Patrice Cullors. I recently had the honor to attend her speech about social activism and a renewed civil rights movement. I was not disappointed!
She began her talk about growing up in the San Franciso area and learning about the black liberation movement from those who had been actively involved. Speaking to a crowd of young women and men at University of San Diego she encouraged students to learn from and form relationships with their elders. “We’re living in different times, but facing similar issues.”
Already active in the Domestic Workers Alliance and conscious of being a black queer woman in a racist society, the inspiration that prompted Alicia to start Black Lives Matter was watching the trial of George Zimmerman; a racist vigilante who killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old youth in 2012. Alicia said “I hoped for something different to happen, for an apparition in the system…I felt like I got punched in the gut.” As the media criminalized Trayvon she wondered how she would tell her younger brother that his life is not valued and how racist fear could take it away.
So she went to social media searching for support and words, but was not appeased by the cynics stating the “system is broken”. What she saw was lots of blame on black citizens, because in these times having darker skin makes you automatically guilty. So she wrote her own message stating that it doesn’t matter if you vote, are educated or pull up your pants because we do live in a racist society. instead she encouraged people to do more than Tweet about issues. Her friends added the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, her words spread swiftly and they inadvertently started a movement that has been growing for 3 years.
She asks that we work together because in 2015 we have such advanced technology yet no “full humane dignity of all people.” She continued to speak on how we need to be inclusive and include everyone in the conversation; LGBT, Native Americans, Asians, those living with disability, foreign workers, immigrants and those incarcerated. We must make space for the voices of ALL who have been marginalized because yes all lives matter. “If we wanna live in a society where all lives matter, we have a lot of work to do… we have an incredible opportunity right now to rehumanize a society that’s been poisoned.” says Alicia.
Not one to shy away from the importance of all lives, she spoke of the need to protect the Trans women who are killed and whose murders are so often ignored, of the jail cells overcrowded with black males, of the harmful stereotypes of black women and the list goes on. She also said that “There’s a lot of different ways to solve problems that doesn’t mean putting people in jail.” A statement I agree with whole heartedly. We have a higher number of human beings living in cages than most other countries in the world and that is a shining example of how disgusting and inhumane our ‘Great Nation’ has become.
There have been many adaptions of BLM, such as Native Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matter, Womens Lives Matter, etcetera. While she played it cool in regards to her work being so popularly repurposed she was quick to state that these other hashtags must not be allowed to erase the underlying issue that it is still a crime to be black in America. In regards to Police Lives Matter she was honest about how the large majority of officers sign up for a job that is NOT what they thought. Yes there are a few cops who sign up to kill, but they’re the minority. Suddenly these officers, as human as you and I, are thrust into an environment of fear, pathology and corruption. This changes people.
She also brought up important points that you might not expect. These are important to not just oppressed, but everyone’s right to freedom, liberty and justice.
-Our taxes are paying for police brutality, harassment and corruption. This means our non-white sisters and brothers are literally paying our government to be harassed and killed.
-We allow local police to militarize forces which are then used against PEACEFUL protesters.
-The internet cannot become a pay-to-play game! Without the freedom and range of the internet BLM would not exist. Luckily the FCC recently struck down an opportunity for those in power to silence us, but we must stay alert..
-Realize that we are living in an ‘anti-terrorism’ time period that criminalizes activism. We cannot let our right to free speech and the right to gather in public be taken away.
So what can you do?
1. Learn how power functions.
2. Talk with other people about how it works.
“Figure out how to build power together to change what we don’t like.”, Alicia Garza.
4. Have a relationship with your elders.
5. Create ongoing engagement with those who are marginalized.
6. Listen and support people. Don’t tokenize. If you feel you might be tokenizing you probably are. Most of us are all guilty of it.
7. Be open to learning.
8 Give resources to those who can build.
I found myself nodding along and hanging on to her words, ferociously scribbling any quote I could catch in my notebook. Like many strong women before her Alicia Garza is a leader we can all learn from. She is the embodiment of individual empowerment. If you’re carrying the weight of oppression on your shoulders or seeing it on your neighbors, if you’re tired of waiting for something to change and feeling like you can’t breathe than join in, be the change, and we can as Alicia says “breathe together”.
During her talk, Alicia recommended the following books as resources and motivation. “Roads to Dominion” by Sara Diamond and “There’s a River” by Vincent Harding.
Get involved and learn about the goals of the #BlackLivesMatter movement at Blacklivesmatter.com/demands
If you want change you have to get involved. So what are you waiting for?
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