In an on-going effort to keep its authors in the public dialogue during this pandemic, One World editor-in-chief Chris Jackson held a virtual public conversation with social activist Alicia Garza, cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement, and author of The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. The book, which will be published in October, chronicles her education as an activist.
Held June 4, the virtual public conversation between Jackson and Garza is part of Ideas X Action, a series of online events launched in April by One World in partnership with the Apollo Theater, Mijente, and Color of Change. The series is moderated by One World editorial staff and has featured discussions between One World editorial staff and authors Quiara Hudes, Karla Villavicencio, Heather MCGhee, Ta-Nehisi Coates and others.
Jackson told PW that more than 12,000 people have registered for the series of events, which take place on Zoom with an overflow on the Random House YouTube channel. Upcoming events are scheduled for Wes Moore and Valarie Kaur.
Born in Los Angeles, Calif., Garza has been an activist since she was a teenager. Her 2013 Facebook post in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin included the phrase “Black Lives Matter” which became a hashtag and, then–together with activists Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi–grew into a movement. Garza is also principal at the Black Futures Lab; strategy & partnerships director at the National Domestic Works Association; co-founder of Supermajority; and host of the Lady Don’t Take No podcast.
This event took place on the seventh day of nationwide protests in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis. The conversation began after a moment of silence to honor those lost to the pandemic and to racially motivated violence.
Jackson began the conversation asking Garza what ignited her interest in activism. It wasn’t race or politics that sparked her interest in activism; it was reproductive issues, Garza replied. She grew up, she said, hearing the message that “young people couldn't make good decisions about what to do with our bodies. At 12 years old, I decided to tell different stories: teenagers are not running around having sex like crazy.” She didn’t become politicized around racial justice until she was in college, protesting events such as the notorious 2009 police shooting of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station three blocks from her home.
Jackson noted that the Minneapolis city council was debating the possibility of disbanding the current police department and rebuilding the force into something new, a development that Garza praised. “It's a conversation that organizers and advocates have been pushing for the better part of 20 years. We should remember that when we see things like this, it is the result of organizing. It is the result of the pressure that protests build on people to have the political will and courage to examine new ways of operating, and that is fundamentally what movements can accomplish,” Garza said.
Asked to explain how the Black Lives Matter movement grew from a series of social media platforms into a social activist network with chapters all over the world, Garza described its development as both a science and an art. “We relied on instinct and relationships, and paid attention to what was going on in the world,” she explained.
“That's the secret sauce: who you're in relationship to, what they're working on, and what you're working on.” An example she cited was the organization’s experience in Ferguson, Mo. after the 2014 murder of Michael Brown, Jr. Garza said the organization was about ready to leave but stayed because the people of Ferguson wanted to keep organizing, “they actually forced us to form chapters.”
Garza also admitted that at one point she hated politics and believed mainstream electoral politics were rigged. But she said her views shifted after hearing elder members of her community voice their support for elections and voting. “Elections help us choose the terrain that we want to fight on, and the people that we want to fight,” she said. Garza cited Black to the Ballot, a BFL program, which is setting forth a black voting agenda for 2020. “We’re using that to motivate our communities to register and to vote. We have a hunch that if we don't focus it so much on candidates but on what we need, maybe participation will be more robust, because we're united around not just talking points but around the rules that we want to shift.”
The talk ended with questions from the online audience and Garza was asked what to say to people who have police in their family, or who are police themselves. Gaza said that most law enforcement people lament that they have to intervene in social problems such as domestic violence or mental health, situations that the police are ill-equipped to handle. “This erodes their sense of effectiveness. Law enforcement doesn’t want these roles,” she said.
“We’re asking the police to solve problems they cannot solve and it creates a situation that is a powder keg,” Garza said. “Most law enforcement officers that I’ve talked to say, ‘I wish those things were not my role. I wish we were able to address the needs that people actually have.’ I believe that policing is not the way to solve problems. I've got law enforcement members in my family too, like many black people do. Even my family members understand what I'm saying and what we're doing across this country; we want to see the profession get better.”
Garza said, “how do we keep from getting to a place where people have to take to the streets during a global public health pandemic just to assert that our lives matter? That’s the most important thing for us to address. All the other symbols, taking a knee, are just symbols unless we get to the deep core of what is putting America in so much anguish right now.”