As part of our election series focusing on the 2016 political issues that have been underreported by the mainstream media, we asked Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, to weigh in with her thoughts on issues related to race and racism in America today.
Black Lives Matter started as a hashtag in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. It has since grown into a global organization with dozens of chapters and other affiliations. In August, the Movement for Black Lives, a collective of 50 racial justice groups and individuals working under the Black Lives Matter umbrella, revealed its in-depth policy platform, “A Vision for Blacks Lives.”
In this email exchange, Garza talks about the challenges facing the movement, Donald Trump’s recent outreach to black voters and how people of all races can best support the goals of Black Lives Matter. But first, she responds to the latest deadly police shootings of black men.
Karin Kamp: Can you start by giving us your reaction to the recent police shooting deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte?
Alicia Garza: My reaction to the shootings of Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott is one of complete dismay and disgust. My prayers go out to their families and loved ones, who are having to watch the death of their loved one over and over again on multiple news stations. I am also heartened by the response. This Black Lives Matters movement is alive and well, and working together, I believe we can build a world where no other family has to deal with this kind of trauma and violence.
Kamp: The Movement for Black Lives recently unveiled its policy platform. What are you demanding?
Garza: We are demanding an end to the war on black people, in this country and around the world. The platform is centered around ending the seemingly endless onslaught facing black communities globally. The policy platform clearly states what we want — reparations, an end to the war on black people, economic justice, an investment in our futures and a divestment in our destruction, community control and political power.
Kamp: As Black Lives Matter has evolved from hashtag to movement to a full-fledged political advocacy organization, what challenges are you facing?
Garza: I think our challenges now are building and sustaining infrastructure for the long haul. One big challenge is that there are more than 50 organizations and even more individuals and institutions that comprise the Movement for Black Lives, and yet still everything and all of the very powerful and diverse work get “invisibilized” under Black Lives Matter. I’m concerned about that because it signals to me that even though this powerful movement is growing and evolving more than three years after its emergence, the media still isn’t doing enough to understand the diversity of the movement.
Another thing that feels important here is that Black Lives Matter’s evolution is not as simple as hashtag to movement to advocacy. Black Lives Matter evolved from a hashtag to an online social network to an on-the-ground political network that now spans the globe. Again, the simplification of Black Lives Matter is problematic because it demonstrates that there is a lot of work to be done for both the media and the public to understand the facets of this movement. Political advocacy has been present since the beginning. Whether it was the Dream Defenders and Power U taking over the Florida state capitol [and] demanding an end to “stand-your-ground” laws, or leaders from Ferguson meeting with President Obama to demand action on racial and economic justice, that has been happening for quite some time.
The biggest misconception about Black Lives Matter is that BLM is just one entity; Black Lives Matter is an organization and a network. We are a part of the movement, but we are not THE movement. This movement is diverse and flourishing, and there is a lot of important work inside of it that people need to know about. We need the media that is reporting on the work we do to be more careful and nuanced in its descriptions of who we are and what we do.
Kamp: What do you think of Donald Trump’s recent efforts to win over black voters?
Garza: Donald Trump is involved in a lot of stunt work right now to appeal to black voters — but in doing so demonstrates his racism. He consistently refers to black people as “those people,” or otherwise “others” — black people as being different from him and his supporters. All in all, Donald Trump appeals to people who want to be seen the way that Donald Trump sees them. But overall, I would say that Trump has not been and will continue not to be successful in winning over black voters.
Kamp: Some in the Black Lives Matter movement say they will not vote to show dissatisfaction with presidential choices. Do you agree with that decision?
Garza: One of the beautiful things about a movement is that there are many strategies and many tactics contained within it. Not every participant in a movement is required to do exactly the same things. I completely understand why some say they won’t vote because they are dissatisfied with the presidential choices. That’s not the decision that I’m making, but I understand why people feel dissatisfied with the so-called choices in front of us. And, while I understand that position, I see it differently.
I think that building political power has to come from the outside and from within. Meaning, we have to build political alternatives to the existing system, and we have to try to impact what is happening in the existing system. For me, the existing system is not what we ultimately want, nor will it ever substantively meet the needs of black people. Nonparticipation in a system doesn’t automatically mean that it will crumble. Work has to be done to make sure those systems are transformed, or that new systems are built. In the meantime, while we build what we ultimately want to see, millions of our people still participate in the existing system. So our work is to make sure that our people influence and impact what happens — in the system that exists and in the systems we are building as alternatives. So my approach is a both and, not an either or.
Kamp: Black Lives Matter has been described as “not your grandfather’s civil rights movement,” to distinguish its tactics and its philosophy from those of 1960s-style activism. How is your movement different?
Garza: These are much different times than those of the last period of civil rights. That doesn’t mean that we abandon the ideas, the tactics or the strategies of that period. We reject strategies and tactics that left some people behind — women, queer people, trans people and even poor people in some regards. Yet I think many of us embrace and have helped to advance the vision not just from the last period of civil rights, but from the generations of movement building that black people have been at the forefront of.
Kamp: In April a Gallup poll found that 35 percent of Americans are worried about race relations in the US, up from 17 percent in 2014. What would you like to see people of other races do to support the movement?
Garza: I would like to see people of other races avidly support this movement by pushing their legislators to take action on the Vision for Black Lives, to actively uproot racism, homophobia and transphobia in their homes, workplaces, schools and places of worship. That would do a lot to help advance this movement.