Eric Liu: Alicia Garza, as many of you know, is one of the cocre­ators of #BlackLivesMatter, and for rea­sons I imag­ine she will elab­o­rate on, choos­es her lan­guage very pre­cise­ly when talk­ing about her role in this move­ment, her job title” in this move­ment. She has—I don’t know how she does it—she has a day job also, as the Director of Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, found­ed by our friend Ai-jen Poo, who spoke this very evening last year. 

But Alicia is to me one of the great embod­i­ments of, let me put it this way— Alicia is one of the rea­sons why, for all the rea­sons there are today for us to be pes­simistic and fear­ful and anx­ious and ner­vous about how we’re going to keep the bile lev­els down, and fear­ful about the con­ta­gions of hate that are spread­ing through our com­mu­ni­ties— In spite of all of that, I’ve got to tell you, I’m opti­mistic. I’m real­ly opti­mistic. Because I believe we are in what may be an extend­ed and maybe an extend­ed, painful, peri­od that is called birth.

We are expe­ri­enc­ing the birth of the America we were promised. We are expe­ri­enc­ing the birth of a dif­fer­ent kind of coun­try that does­n’t equate white­ness with Americanness. That makes a more com­plex dia­logue about who is us, and how we define our­selves and define the very idea of American. And Alicia Garza in her voice, her work, her bear­ing, and her impact, is to me an embod­i­ment of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of this moment and one of the great rea­sons why I still do believe in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of this coun­try. Please join me in wel­com­ing Alicia Garza.

Alicia Garza: It’s great to be here. Thank you so much for hav­ing me.

I would like to start off by acknowl­edg­ing the indige­nous nations whose land we’re on right now. And to say thank you for con­tin­u­ing to stew­ard this land that we’re on. And thank you for con­tin­u­ing to push all of us to be bet­ter stew­ards of this land that we’re on. Thank you for push­ing us to remem­ber that indige­nous peo­ple are still here and still very much on the front­lines of what it means to save not just this nation but this world from disaster.

I also want to appre­ci­ate you, Eric, for invit­ing me here. And for the civic col­lab­o­ra­tive for invit­ing me here.

It is impor­tant to us that we under­stand that move­ments are not begun by any one per­son. That this move­ment actu­al­ly was begun in 1619 when black peo­ple were brought here in chains and at the bot­toms of boats. And cer­tain­ly we should be remind­ed that it is the com­bined effort of so many incred­i­bly coura­geous and bold and fear­less and wise peo­ple that some, you will nev­er know their names. But you should know that they too are cocre­ators of what it is that we are expe­ri­enc­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in today.

With that being said our role has been to remind us of our human­i­ty. To remind us that black lives mat­ter, too. To remind us that we are still liv­ing in a time when that is a con­test­ed state­ment. And it should not be. 

When I was in high school, I was required to take a civics class, where I learned about my respon­si­bil­i­ties as a cit­i­zen of the United States. My civics class taught me about how our sys­tem of democ­ra­cy works. It taught me about where that sys­tem of democ­ra­cy comes from, and it taught me that cit­i­zen­ship was a priv­i­lege earned only by active participation. 

And yet what civics did not teach me, and black peo­ple like me, was that my cit­i­zen­ship is con­di­tion­al. This is the harsh real­i­ty for black peo­ple in America today. That we are expect­ed to par­tic­i­pate in democ­ra­cy while receiv­ing con­di­tion­al cit­i­zen­ship in return.

In 2005, black people—many of them poor—waved white t‑shirts on tops of roofs in the Gulf Coast, wait­ing for relief that still today has nev­er come. Stuffed in sta­di­ums, aban­doned in jails, shot as we were attempt­ing to cross bridges to find safe­ty, we were called loot­ers and riot­ers while white fam­i­lies were called find­ers and survivors.

This was also the year that Stan Tookie Williams, a prod­uct and ulti­mate­ly a vic­tim of the cir­cum­stances that cre­at­ed him, was exe­cut­ed in the prison where my moth­er was once a cor­rec­tions officer. 

In 2009, Oscar Grant was shot at a BART sta­tion plat­form just three blocks from my home on New Year’s Day. His last words to the world were, You shot me. I have a daugh­ter.” Tatiana is now an 11-year-old girl liv­ing with the lega­cy of her father, who has now become an icon, mur­dered when she was just four years old.

In 2011, an inno­cent man named Troy Davis was put to death in Georgia.

In 2012, Jordan Davis was exe­cut­ed in Jacksonville, Florida for being guilty of play­ing his music too loud in a gas sta­tion. His killer imme­di­ate­ly after­wards went home and ate piz­za with his girl­friend. That same year, CeCe McDonald was jailed for defend­ing her­self against a racist and trans­pho­bic attack­er. Also that year, Rekia Boyd was shot and killed by Chicago police. 

In 2013, George Zimmerman was acquit­ted in the mur­der of Trayvon Martin. 2013 was also the year that 19-year-old Renisha McBride was shot when she went onto the porch of a man that she did­n’t know after she had got­ten into a car acci­dent, ask­ing for help. She was shot in the eye through a locked secu­ri­ty door. That hap­pened today, in 2013.

In 2014, Michael Brown was mur­dered just steps from his moth­er’s home in Ferguson, Missouri. And just two months lat­er, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police offi­cers in Cleveland while play­ing alone in a park.

We’ve been liv­ing in an era where every­thing and noth­ing is about race. Where expec­ta­tions of the events that I just described are often cast aside as the result of a few bad apples, or an unfor­tu­nate con­se­quence of what hap­pens to peo­ple who don’t try hard enough to succeed. 

We emerge from an era where talk­ing about race and racial inequity and sys­temic racism has been deemed racist in and of itself. In fact, in 1992 even Rodney King, whose bru­tal beat­ing by Los Angeles police offi­cers in 1992—one of the first that was caught on video­tape and broad­cast­ed around the world—Rodney King respond­ed to the rage that many poor black and brown peo­ple felt, and that erupt­ed in Los Angeles in the form of an upris­ing, Rodney King respond­ed by say­ing, Can we all just get along?” As if it was just as sim­ple as peo­ple being nicer to each other.

You see, a caul­dron has been bub­bling under the sur­face for a very very long time, occa­sion­al­ly express­ing itself in instances of upris­ing. But none as sus­tained as what we are expe­ri­enc­ing today. Indeed, the last decade of pos­tra­cial­ism, and the neolib­er­al assault on black com­mu­ni­ties, has prompt­ed a beau­ti­ful upsurge in black resis­tance. And it is a resis­tance that has result­ed in a new polit­i­cal order.

Each year, there are more than one thou­sand fatal shoot­ings that occur by on-duty police offi­cers. Each year, less than five of those shoot­ings on aver­age result in a charge of mur­der or manslaugh­ter against those offi­cers. Now, in the last few years the num­ber of offi­cers who are being held account­able has tripled, but let’s put this into con­text: from five to fif­teen every year. It’s nowhere near close to enough. It is in no way the solu­tion to police vio­lence and police bru­tal­i­ty. The solu­tion to police vio­lence and police bru­tal­i­ty is not to lock up killer cops. The solu­tion is to reimag­ine what kind of safe­ty do we want and deserve.

Even still, even though it’s not enough, and even though it is not the solu­tion, those con­vic­tions would not have hap­pened were it not for the orga­niz­ing and dis­rup­tions of the last few years.

Were it not for the orga­niz­ing and dis­rup­tive direct action in Oakland, Oscar Grant’s killer would not have been charged in his mur­der, nor would he have been con­vict­ed. And I believe he was one of the first offi­cers in the his­to­ry of California ever to have been held account­able for a crime.

Were it not for the orga­niz­ing efforts in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, Ted Wafer would not have been charged in the shoot­ing of Renisha McBride. And he would not have been con­vict­ed in her murder.

Were it not for the courage and tenac­i­ty of young peo­ple who occu­pied the state capi­tol in Florida for thirty-one days and thir­ty nights, demand­ing an end to stand-your-ground laws after George Zimmerman was acquit­ted in the mur­der of Trayvon Martin, many of us would­n’t have known that the laws that are designed to uproot struc­tur­al racism have been under con­tin­u­ous assault by these oth­er kinds of laws that give vig­i­lantes the pow­er to be judge, jury, and executioner.

Were it not for the com­mu­ni­ty of Ferguson, Missouri who’ve refused to go home, who refuse to let the sys­tem work, Darren Wilson would still be patrolling that com­mu­ni­ty. And the cor­rupt nature of polic­ing and debtors’ pris­ons, and all of the oth­er things that we have learned about what’s hap­pen­ing in Ferguson, Missouri would still go unchecked.

Were it not for the years of orga­niz­ing in Chicago to fire the offi­cer who killed Rekia Boyd, to expose the col­lu­sion between the Mayor and the pros­e­cu­tor, we would­n’t have seen the recent unseat­ing of Anita Alvarez, who was com­plic­it in the cover-up of the shoot­ing of LaQuan McDonald, who was shot six­teen times in the back by Chicago police.

Were it not for the orga­niz­ing that did­n’t get nation­al atten­tion, pros­e­cu­tor Timothy McGinty, who refused to bring charges against the offi­cers who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice play­ing alone in the park, would still have a job.

You see, black peo­ple, black resis­tance, and black orga­niz­ing, has changed the land­scape of what is polit­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble. Whether or not you call it Black Lives Matter, whether or not you put a hash­tag in front of it, whether or not you call it The Movement for Black Lives, all of that is irrel­e­vant. Because there was resis­tance before Black Lives Matter, and there will be resis­tance after Black Lives Matter.

What’s more impor­tant to acknowl­edge is that black peo­ple today are deter­mined to make the impos­si­ble pos­si­ble. And that that work can­not be cred­it­ed to either polit­i­cal par­ty. When we say no more busi­ness as usu­al,” it is an indi­ca­tor that we aim to trans­form this democ­ra­cy into some­thing that sup­ports all of us, not just some of us.

Black peo­ple have been at the cen­ter of the fight to force this coun­try to live up to the val­ues and ideals that it espous­es. The very ideals and the very val­ues that under­pin our ver­sion of democ­ra­cy. From Nat Turner’s revolts, to Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, to white suf­fragettes, to Fannie Lou Hamer being sick and tired of being sick and tired and call­ing for inde­pen­dent black polit­i­cal pow­er, black resis­tance and black orga­niz­ing have con­sis­tent­ly shaped the way that we under­stand and the way that we expe­ri­ence civic participation.

Black folks have con­sis­tent­ly been denied the rights to priv­i­lege that come with cit­i­zen­ship that so many of us take for grant­ed. And that’s why so many of us are no longer sat­is­fied with the com­pro­mis­es and nego­ti­a­tions that hap­pen behind the scenes, that con­tin­ue to leave out too many peo­ple whose lives depend on the abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in the deci­sions that impact their lives.

Too many of us, but not enough of us, are no longer con­tent with the same old tac­tics devoid of a larg­er strat­e­gy that stares trans­for­ma­tion direct­ly in the face. What is pos­si­ble in pol­i­cy and pol­i­tics has been facil­i­tat­ed in large part by black orga­niz­ing and black resis­tance. It is a resis­tance that chal­lenges the notion that only pol­i­cy change will get us to where we are try­ing to go. It is a resis­tance that calls us all to the mat, to live the val­ues that we espouse. It is a resis­tance that says, No, we are not hap­py with the less­er of two evils. We are not sat­is­fied with the process as it stands.”

This gen­er­a­tion of black resis­tance says that we are not sat­is­fied with the crumbs that may fall from the table of pow­er, and we are not sat­is­fied with mere­ly sit­ting at the tables of pow­er. This gen­er­a­tion of black resis­tance, of black orga­niz­ing, says that we aim to com­plete­ly trans­form the way that pow­er is dis­trib­uted, the way that pow­er func­tions. And that we aim for a new kind of pow­er that is in col­lab­o­ra­tion rather than in com­pe­ti­tion. [applause]

Our gen­er­a­tion of black resis­tance and black orga­niz­ing says that we aim to exer­cise pow­er with rather than pow­er over. [Laughs qui­et­ly.] Y’all don’t hear me. Our gen­er­a­tion of black resis­tance and black orga­niz­ing says that we aim to exer­cise pow­er with rather than pow­er over. [applause]

Our gen­er­a­tion of black orga­niz­ing and black resis­tance under­stands that in order to have any kind of mean­ing­ful pol­i­cy change, we must equal­ly val­ue the role that cul­ture change plays. Said more sim­ply, the bat­tle to win hearts and minds does not begin nor does it end at the pol­i­cy table. It is the work that is nec­es­sary to ready the ground for new agree­ments about how we inter­act with one another.

Now, the last few years have giv­en us much to con­sid­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly as it relates to the assump­tions that we hold about how change hap­pens, what type of change we seek, and what gets in the way of us obtain­ing the type of change that we want. To be clear, this move­ment is not just engaged in an exter­nal strug­gle, but also an inter­nal one, as it aims to clar­i­fy what it stands for and what it stands against. We too are nav­i­gat­ing the ten­sion between allow­ing a thou­sand flow­ers to bloom, while at the same time dis­tin­guish­ing between what are flow­ers and what are in fact inva­sive weeds that may threat­en to con­sume the entire ecosystem.

From my perspective—and it is just my perspective—there are three crit­i­cal lessons that we have learned about how social change hap­pens. The first les­son, and this may be the most impor­tant one, is that orga­niz­ing works. And that we must remain clear that orga­niz­ing and protest are not the same thing. Protest is an impor­tant tac­tic, and it rais­es the stakes. But protest alone will not accom­plish all that we seek. 

The hard work of build­ing a base that is an ongo­ing dia­logue with one anoth­er can­not and must not be under­es­ti­mat­ed. It is the work of build­ing rela­tion­ships, not just with the peo­ple who agree with you, but build­ing rela­tion­ships across dif­fer­ence, for the sake of our col­lec­tive trans­for­ma­tion. It is the work of plac­ing sus­tained and esca­lat­ing pres­sure upon those who refuse us access to the deci­sions that impact our lives. It is the work of align­ing our­selves delib­er­ate­ly with oth­ers in motion, in order to cre­ate a more coher­ent whole.

The work of orga­niz­ing has been some­what dis­tort­ed in the age of tech­nol­o­gy. It is pos­si­ble in this age to move thou­sands of peo­ple online to accom­plish a task. It is not, unfor­tu­nate­ly, what is suf­fi­cient or required for long-term movement-building. We are learn­ing that our online pres­ence is not the total­i­ty of who we are. It’s not even the best of who we are. It is the way that we want to project our­selves. Our care­ful­ly curat­ed pro­jec­tions are no match for the nuance and hard work that movement-building requires. What is required is an orga­niz­ing mod­el that is three-dimensional, know­ing that each of us exists at the inter­sec­tions of many dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences and that it is those expe­ri­ences that can help us unlock the poten­tial of what a new world can and should look like.

At the same time, those of us who seek to upset the table of pow­er can­not and must not con­tin­ue to assert that some­how dis­rup­tion is destruc­tive to the aims that we seek. Frederick Douglass expressed this in a speech he deliv­ered in 1857:

If there is no strug­gle there is no progress. Those who pro­fess to favor free­dom and yet dep­re­cate agi­ta­tion are men who want crops with­out plow­ing up the ground; they want rain with­out thun­der and light­ning. They want the ocean with­out the awful roar of its many waters.

This strug­gle may be a moral one, or it may be a phys­i­cal one, and it may be both moral and phys­i­cal, but it must be a strug­gle. Power con­cedes noth­ing with­out a demand. It nev­er did and it nev­er will. Find out just what any peo­ple will qui­et­ly sub­mit to and you have found out the exact mea­sure of injus­tice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will con­tin­ue till they are resist­ed with either words or blows, or with both. 

Disruption is the new world order. It is the way in which those who are denied pow­er access pow­er. And in the con­text of a larg­er strat­e­gy for how we con­tend for pow­er, dis­rup­tion is an impor­tant way to sur­face new possibilities.

Now, the final les­son here is actu­al­ly one of fore­shad­ow­ing. It is the reminder that move­ments are not reserved sole­ly for those of us who see our­selves on the left. In fact, for the last thir­ty years, many of us have been con­tend­ing with a pow­er­ful move­ment that has left a last­ing impres­sion on every aspect of our soci­ety. That move­ment has worked dili­gent­ly to unrav­el many of the gains that my ances­tors, my fam­i­ly, and my com­mu­ni­ty have fought and con­tin­ue to fight so hard for. It is a move­ment that aims to rewrite his­to­ry in order to deter­mine the future. A move­ment that has had incred­i­ble impli­ca­tions on the lives of all of us. 

Now, that move­ment has offered us valu­able lessons about what it means to main­tain coali­tions and alliances of groups of peo­ple who do not agree on how to get to where they’re going, but they cer­tain­ly agree about where they’d like to end up. They’ve taught us valu­able lessons about the kinds of pow­er that are nec­es­sary to reshape soci­ety. They’ve taught us that nar­ra­tive pow­er and polit­i­cal pow­er and eco­nom­ic pow­er and dis­rup­tive pow­er, in coor­di­na­tion with one anoth­er, mat­ter. And yet that same pow­er­ful move­ment is fac­ing its own dis­rup­tion from with­in, much like the dis­rup­tion that I’m expe­ri­enc­ing in the move­ment that I see myself as a part of.

Now, I’ll be hon­est with you that I am ter­ri­fied about the cur­rent and even­tu­al impacts of that move­ment. It is a move­ment that seeks to deny many of us our fun­da­men­tal human­i­ty. What we know today is that a new way of orga­niz­ing, of con­nect­ing across dif­fer­ence, of artic­u­lat­ing our val­ues and what we stand for, and what we will absolute­ly no longer stand for, is imper­a­tive if we are to survive. 

This is no longer about ide­ol­o­gy or worse yet, polit­i­cal par­ties. We know this because nei­ther Democrats or Republicans have been able to stop the tide of frus­tra­tion and dis­il­lu­sion­ment and hatred that is wash­ing over our coun­try today. It’s up to us to take seri­ous­ly the task of mov­ing dif­fer­ent­ly. We can no longer afford to con­grat­u­late our­selves, espe­cial­ly those of us who self-identify as pro­gres­sives, when there is a back­lash against the move­ments that are set on sav­ing us.

We can­not con­tin­ue to con­grat­u­late our­selves as we are large­ly non-responsive, or respond­ing in ways that are inef­fec­tive and dan­ger­ous. You can­not—we cannot—tell com­mu­ni­ties who are expe­ri­enc­ing the brunt of this kind of racist vio­lence that the solu­tion is to vote for a Democrat. [Laughs.] And sim­i­lar­ly, you can­not tell us that the Republican Party is the only one that is buoyed by racism. It’s unfair, it’s untrue, and it’s disingenuous.

We are in the midst of a moment where mass shoot­ings have increased. Where attacks on the cen­ters that pro­vide women much-needed health care, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to abor­tion, have increased. We are in an era where the num­ber of peo­ple who are dying at the wrong end of a gun is increas­ing rapid­ly. And our faith in the sanc­ti­ty of the polit­i­cal process is erod­ing before our eyes. 

We must acknowl­edge that what we are expe­ri­enc­ing is a pow­er­ful back­lash to pow­er­ful move­ments in the mak­ing. That means that we must acknowl­edge and active­ly dis­rupt the process­es that divide us. It means we should get com­fort­able not in same­ness, but in dif­fer­ence. It means we should get com­fort­able know­ing that while we are not all the same— (And that’s okay. It’s okay, y’all. It’s okay.) While we are not all the same, we are all impact­ed by the dan­ger­ous sys­tems like white suprema­cy. It’s not Donald Trump that we need to be afraid of. It’s the sys­tem and the soci­ety that cre­at­ed him. 

I believe deeply in our abil­i­ty to suc­ceed. I believe deeply in our cre­ativ­i­ty, in our courage, in our deter­mi­na­tion. Let us build the move­ment that says, Not in our name.” Let us build the move­ment that unites mil­lions of us, bril­liant and wise in our dif­fer­ences, and con­vict­ed in the belief that we are exact­ly what we need to free ourselves.

As our sis­ter Arundhati Roy once said, Another world is not only pos­si­ble, she is on her way. On a qui­et day, I can hear her breath­ing.” Thank you. 

Further Reference

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