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Saturday, 6 March 2021

Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Breaks Down Her Career

Credit: Vanity Fair
Duration: 24:55s 0 shares 2 views
Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Breaks Down Her Career
Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Breaks Down Her Career

Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, takes us through her activism career.

From her earliest days of advocating for female reproductive rights at the age of 12 to her Facebook post in 2014 that sparked a political and social movement, Alicia has built an inspiring world around her.

- It started with aFacebook post that I wrotein the middle of the nightthat I often refer toas a love letter to Black people.Patrice put a hashtag infront of Black Lives Matterand Opal helped to createthe social media platformsthat were designed toconnect people onlinewho were outraged about theacquittal of George Zimmermanand bigger than that,outraged about the conditionof Black communities andwanted to do something about itand connecting them online so thatthey could do something offline together.What is inspiring me right nowand what is making mehopeful for the future?We are in the midst ofincredible transformationand it's important to bepresent in that momentso that we can push as hard as we canfor the changes that we'vebeen needing for so long.I'm Alicia Garza and this isthe timeline of my career.I grew up in the Bay Area inthe 1980s in Marin County.I started activism at a very young age.I started being an activistwhen I was 12 years old.My school district at thetime was having a whole debateabout whether or notto offer contraceptionin school nurses offices.And I, of course, being aquite opinionated 12-year-oldthought, why not?Because my mom had me notexpecting to have me on her own,she talked to me a lotgrowing up about sexand my mom's sex talk was sex makes babiesand babies are expensive.

[laughs]So that was when I was 12.And I was doing classesand trainings with my peersabout reproductive rightsand reproductive justice,about sex, about how to use contraception,and also about how tonegotiate relationships.And that spurred me toreally want to be an assetto my community, to makesure that the peoplewho I knew and loved hadall the tools they neededto make the decisionsthat were right for them.And it also spurred me to want to do more.What I knew from growingup with my mom early onwas that women have it hard.And so ever since I was young,I've had this notion thatpeople should be able to livetheir full dreams, not wheneverybody else is asleep,but while they're fully awake.So let me tell you what happened.We did win that fight.Contraceptives were availablein school nurses offices,and much more.We actually expanded our programmingaround comprehensive sex health education.In 1998, off I went to college.I went to the Universityof California at San Diego,and I chose that school becauseit was far enough from homewhere I felt like my parents couldn't justdrop in on me unexpectedly,but it was of courseclose enough that if Ineeded my mom's home cooking,I could get home within a dayand get a hug and get a good meal.And while I was there, of course,I continued the activismthat I had been doingsince middle school.I got to college and I started to workin the student health center.I also started joiningwith students on my campusorganizing to make sure that publicand higher education was accessible,especially to students color.The thing that I'm most proud of in schoolis that I, along with it abeautiful crew of other womenorganized the first everWomen of Color Conferenceat UC San Diego.It was an international conference.We had women join us from South Africa,and we talked about all of the issuesthat were impacting studentsof color, but in particular,that were impacting women of color.Issues around access,issues around justice,issues around ourbodies, issues around ourrelationships with each other.And what I learned fromthat was two things:one, that women of colorneed a space to come togetherto learn about eachother, but also to be ableto build community.And the other thing I learnedwas that we're not alone.That the things thatwe experience every daythat feel isolating orthat create or cause griefor fear or anxiety for us as individuals,there's a high chance that other peopleare feeling the same thing.And when we come together,we have an opportunityto better understand theproblems that we're experiencingand to make plans togetherto address those problems.So I graduated in 2002and I wanted to go homeand I wanted to be ableto impact my communitywhere I grew up and where I lived.So back I went to the BayArea where I was acceptedinto a training program thathelped young people of colorlearn how to organize.We got placed in localcommunity based organizations,and we knocked on doors incommunities across the Bay Areafor hours and hours and hourshelping the host organizationwith their campaigns.It's also where I met my partner, Malachi,who is incredible.And I think at that time that we knew that16 years later we'd bemarried and, you know,ready to build a familyand building a community.The neighborhoods thatI was knocking doors inwere adjacent to the downtown area,but in particular West Oakland,which is in a prime placein terms of transportation,in terms of weather,all the things, and also is the homewhere Black folks are concentrated.Black folks migrated to Oakland, you know,many, many years ago from the Southescaping Jim Crow segregation,and really rootedthemselves and tried to makea different kind of lifefree of the stringentand dangerous Jim Crowlaws that they had fled.However years and decadesof disinvestment had made itso that so many of the beautiful homesthat are dotted all throughoutOakland are dilapidated.Families are living withoutjobs and communitiesare living without the kind ofthat they need to live well.I ended up joining thiscampaign after my internship,organizing families inEast and West Oakland.To join a campaign that waslooking at how increasingthe economic security of our familiescould also increase the community securityin the places that we lived.We thought that buildingbetter economic opportunitieswas actually a betteralternative to dealing withcrime and violence thanincreasing police budgets.I started fighting thatfight in 2003 and 2004on the streets of East and West Oakland.For 10 years, I also spenttime in San Franciscoorganizing in a communitycalled Bayview-Hunters Pointand oftentimes even thename of the neighborhoodis not on tourist maps of San Francisco.Of course it was where most Black peoplein San Francisco were concentrated.It was the largest Blackcommunity that remainedin San Francisco and Ifought in that communityfor 10 years, organizing residents againstenvironmental racism andagainst gentrificationand for the kind of community developmentthat would serve everybody,not just new familiesthat the city governmentwas trying to move in.In case you don't know whatenvironmental racism is,it is a process by whichcommunities of colorand low income communitiesare often concentratednear polluting industries.They're often concentrated towardsor around toxic dump sites.In the case of Bayview-Hunters Point,the community had developedaround a former Naval shipyard.And on that shipyard,when it was operational,there was radiological testing.In fact, there were allof these other industriesthat helped to support the Navy.What was happening while thoseindustries were functioningis that they weren't disposing of toxinsin an appropriate way.Instead of disposingthose materials correctlyso that they couldn't harm people,because it was in a poor Black community,oftentimes what they would dois just bury things underground.They would bury them incontainers that weren't correct,et cetera, et cetera.Ultimately, what that meantis that there's toxinsin the soil and in thecommunity that I worked in,I often frequented apublic housing developmentthat was just adjacent to the shipyard.Most people that I talked to had asthma,had cancer, had nosebleeds, or other kindsof respiratory illnesses.That was very different fromcommunities in San Francisco,like Pacific Heights, right,which were often wealthierand whiter communities.And so environmentalracism is what happenswhen communities of colorand low income communitiesare concentrated in places that areenvironmentally hazardousor they're more exposedto environmental hazards because theircommunities themselves areseen as dumping grounds.Working in San Franciscofor a decade with familiesin Bayview-Hunters Point,and families all overthe city and low income areas,meant that we fought a lotof campaigns that were meantto improve the quality of life,especially for Black and Latino families.One of the campaigns that I'm so proud ofis a fight that we wagedto make sure that familieshad access to free transportation.We got to this campaignbecause we had a youth programin our organization, and we learned fromsome of our students thatthe yellow school buseswere being cut because of budgetissues at the state level.The way that they were tryingto balance cuts in the budgetwas to remove services thatthey thought were non-essential.So what they did was they cut moneyfor the yellow schoolbuses that would transportthousands of studentsback and forth to schoolevery single day, and insteadthey wanted to put in placea plan where students would insteadride local public transportation,which in San Francisco is called the Muni.Well, when you ride Muni, it costs money.Riding Muni meant that you were so subjectto fare increases.Well for students fromlow income families,yellow school buses were a lifelineto being able to makesure that young peoplecould access education.But switching transportationto and from schoolfrom the yellow school busesto public transportationmeant an increased burden on familieswho were already struggling.So what we did was wefought for transportationto be free for all youngpeople who are 18 and underand after months and monthsand months of fighting,of having students andfamilies tell their stories,but also demand of their local legislatorsthat they approve thisproposal, they actually did.And so we won freetransit for young people.That program is in place today,and it's actually been expanded to seniorsand to people with disabilities.We did a lot of worktogether, and in the processof running these kinds of campaigns,trying to make housing affordable,trying to make an impact on poverty,we also were fighting police violence.One of the major cases that I rememberis a young man named Kenneth Harding,who was shot to deathby San Francisco police,apparently for evading a$1.50 fare on the T-train.He was shot in the backwhile he was running away.And similar to stories that we hear today,when the news kind of covered the case,they said that Kennethherding had shot himself.I remember this case in particular becauseit was right at the startof Black Lives Matter.After 10 years of running an organization,fighting for Black and Latino familiesin low income communitiesin San Francisco,I needed a break, so I went on sabbatical.And while I was on sabbatical,I had this vision thatI really wanted to focuson building power in andfor Black communities.I came back from sabbatical,I left my organization,and I decided that I would be joiningthe National Domestic Workers Allianceto help build out aprogram that was focusedon Black domestic workersand building their capacityto be powerful inside ofthe domestic work industry.But shortly before I joinedthe Domestic Workers Alliance,myself and Patrice and Opalcreated Black Lives Matterin response to the acquittalin the murder of Trayvon Martin.It started with a Facebook postthat I wrote in the middle of the night,that I often refer to as alove letter to Black people.who were outraged about the acquittalof George Zimmerman and bigger than that,outraged about the conditionof Black communities,and wanted to do something about itand connecting them onlineso that they could dosomething offline together.What we knew was that sharing and likingand retweeting was not going to changewhat's happening in our neighborhoods.That actually people comingtogether on the groundand organizing was theonly key to making surethat Black communitiescould live a dignified life.We also knew that itwasn't just Trayvon Martinbeing murdered by vigilantesthat were the challengesthat Black communities are facing.We know that policeviolence is a huge issuethat our communities face.And that has been truesince before any mediawas paying attention to it.But now that we have this opportunitywhere the conditions in ourlives were being broadcastall over the world, itfelt important to make surethat people were getting organized.A year after Black LivesMatter was created,Michael Brown was killedin Ferguson, Missouriby officer Darren Wilson,and Darren Wilson was subsequentlynot held accountable bya grand jury that hadbeen convened to decide if therewas going to be charges pressed.Black Lives Matter did afreedom ride to Ferguson,bringing Black media, Blackjournalists, Black healers,doctors, organizers, teachers,people who wanted to lenda hand to the rebellionthat had broken out in Ferguson, Missouri.Coming out of that, folks knewthat it wasn't just enoughto chase ambulances that we could findin every single Black community,but that it meant that we had to go backto our own communities and organize.That's how Black LivesMatter becomes a network.And it didn't just start here,it grew across the world.Black Lives Matter now haschapters in four countries.Also coming off of that,what we found was that we had createdthis little organization,but it wasn't actuallybig enough to encapsulate everything.Furthermore, there weretons of other organizationsthat were Black led and Black focused,but there was no kind of centralized hubwhere these organizations could convene,could coordinate, and have an impactthat is bigger than the sum of our parts.And that's really thegenesis of the movementfor Black lives, whichstarts in the winter of 2014,and now has become anincredibly powerful forcehelping to lead thiscountry towards the visionof what it looks likewhen Black communitiesare finally freed.One thing that I'm reallyproud of is a new billthat the movement for Blacklives is putting forward,which is called the Breathe Act.For decades, we have been talking aboutwhat it means to divest from policingas a strategy to address the challengesthat we face in our communities.The Breathe Act is the manifestationof what it means to movelegislation that does just that:divest from policingand the criminalizationof our communities andinvest in the infrastructurethat our communities need to be safe,to live dignified lives,and to live long lives.In 2016, we experienced amajor shift in this country.We moved from eight years of being ledby the first Black personto ever be elected presidentin the history of this country,to being led by somebody who hasa completely differentphilosophy about democracy,about freedom, about whobelongs, about who matters.And even though so many of us understandthat electoral politics andelectoral organizing, right,is a complicated terrain,after 2016's electionand the major, major defeatthat this movement faced,I became obsessed with making surethat Black communitiesare powerful in politicsso that we can be powerfulin every aspect of our lives.I've been voting in electionsever since I was 18.My whole life I've been told that votingis a tool to get the things that we want.I've been told that voting is somethingthat my ancestors died forme to have the right to do.But the reality is inevery single electionI've ever voted in, I'venever been engaged deeplyas a constituent.I've been engaged symbolically,but not substantively.Every single election cycle, when it comesto Black communities, we see thingslike plates of soul food,fried chicken that's uneaten,photo ops with Blackleaders, but we never quiteget around to having thekinds of town hall meetingsin Black communities thatcan talk about the waysin which the rules have beenrigged against our communitiesfor a long time and what the plans areto change those rules sothat Black communitieshave equal and fair access to thingsthat we need to livewell, like healthcare,like affordable housing,like quality schools,like teachers that deserve to get paidfor what they actually do.I get tired of this everysingle year, and I'm not alone.Millions of Americans everysingle year don't participatein the process because they don't believethat the process is for them.And when it comes to Black communities,we face a dual issue.On the one hand, there arepeople in our communitieswho don't believe thatvoting does anythingto change our lives materially.On the other hand, thereare people who fightevery single electioncycle just to be ableto exercise their right tovote, and they're being blockedby opportunistic politicianswho want to make surethat Black people are notvoting because Black peopletend to vote in such a way that changesthis country for the better.In 2017, I left the day to day operationsof Black Lives Matter tobegin a new organizationfocused on making Blackpeople powerful in politics,and it's called the Black Futures Laband the Black to the Future Action Fund.Our very first project wascalled the Black Census,where we have conducted the largest surveyof Black people in America in 155 years.We took the information from that surveyand we translated itinto a legislative agendathat legislators can use from city hallto Congress to make Black Lives Matter.We've also been organizing our communitiesaround this agenda and to date,we have more than 50,000 signersonto an agenda that is intended to improvethe lives of Black people,but certainly will improvethe lives of all Americans.It's an agenda that looks at how it isthat we improve healthcareand make it more affordableand accessible to everybody.It's an agenda that talksabout how we transformour economy so that Black Lives Matter.We're not just stopping there.This year is a pivotal election yearand probably the most importantelection in a generation.Right now we're facing alot of the same challengesthat I talked about, voter suppressionand voter oppression in Black communitiesacross the nation threatensto weaken our democracyeven more than it is now.So we are doing ourhardest work to registerBlack voters across the nation to expandthe number of people who are voting,to make sure that Black votershave the tools that we needto be powerful in politics,and to make sure that Black organizationshave the resources and capacitywe need to be powerful.One thing I'm really proud of this yearis that we also launchedour Black to the FuturePublic Policy Institute, whichright now at this very minuteis training 41 Blackfellows from nine statesacross the nation to design, win,and implement new policyin cities and states.In January of 2021, no matterwho's in the White House,those fellows will launch policy campaignsthat we will support that arechanging the rules that havebeen rigged against ourcommunities for generationsand that are installingnew rules that bringAmerica closer to whatit's always promised to be.So, Vanity Fair, I wear a ton of hats.And the reason that I weara ton of hats is becausethere are so many projectsthat I feel are importantto making sure that we all have the thingsthat we need to live well.And if not us, who?

[laughs]One of those projects is onethat I am so excited about.It's called Supermajority,and it's a projectthat I founded with Ai-jen Poofrom the NationalDomestic Workers Alliance,and Cecile Richards, formerpresident of Planned Parenthood,and it is a new home for women's activism.In September of 2020, weare launching the largestwoman to woman voter contactprogram in the historyof this country.For a year, we have beenbuilding a growing communityof women and our allieswho are coming togetherto be a political force in the mostimportant election in a generation.We've been providing womenwith the tools they needto organize where they are.We've been connecting womento learn from each othernew skills about how tobuild and sustain movements,and we are trying toreach women everywhere,women who may feelisolated by how they feelor what they want for their futures.To let each other knowthat we are not aloneand that when we areorganized, we are a forestthat cannot be stopped.I'll be honest, in March of this year,I was not excited about November,mostly because we had entered intoa major public health crisis.I can already see that we'rein the midst of a crisisin our democracy, and we havea lot to get done this year.It's a pivotal election year.But I have to say that the rebellionsof the last few monthshave re-energized me,re-inspired me to go as hard as possibleto make the kind of changethat I know we all deserve.One thing that I'm very clear aboutis that there's so muchthat we have in common.We all want to livelives where we feel safe,where we are able to live with dignityand where we're connected.If this pandemic has shown us anything,it's how deeply we areconnected and how deeplywe depend on each other to survive.And the thing that ismaking me hopeful is thatI don't think anybody wants togo back to that other normal.I think we're all pretty clearthat there's gotta besomething on the other side.And what makes me hopeful isthat we are shaping what it isthat's on the other sideright now as we speak.Years from now, I hope thatwhat we'll be talking about ishow we stepped up in this moment to changethe direction of thiscountry and to make itbetter for all of us.One thing I'm really proudof is that my mom taught mehow to survive in a worldthat doesn't want me to,but that shouldn't be limited to just me.We should all be able to not just survive,but live well and to thrive.As I said before, I believe that all of usshould be able to pursue ourdreams while we're awake,not just when everybody else is asleep.And that's the kind ofworld that I'm fighting for.My mom was very clear:she believed that everybodydeserved to live with dignity,that you were better than the worst thingthat you'd ever done.And trust me, there werea lot of terrible thingsthat I did, but my mother loved me dearlyand she loved me deeply,and she always told meto be the best that I could,not just for her, not justfor my family, but for myself.I've taken that advice todayand I've turned it intothe work that I've donefor more than 20 yearsnow, fighting to advocateand organize our communitiesthat have been left outand left behind.My mom died recently, justa couple of years ago.But one thing that I do know is thatshe's walking next tome and I'm quite surethat she's proud, notjust of the achievementsthat I've made, but she's proud of the wayin which this work isimpacting millions and millionsof people in their daily lives.She encouraged all of us to step forwardwith our kindest selves,to take care of each other,and to do it because it'sthe right thing to do.I follow that advice every single day,and I hope that whenever it isthat I get to the end of my life,that I have built havebuilt a legacy that is evena small piece of what my momwas able to build for me.Thanks so much for hangingout with me Vanity Fair.This has been the timelineof my career so far.Guarantee there's more to come.


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