Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza

The Birth of the America We Were Promised

Alicia Garza
Alicia Garza
Why Black Lives Matter, presented by Alicia Garza –

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.

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.

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.

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.

Our generation of black resistance and black organizing says that we aim to exercise power with rather than power over. 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.

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. 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.”

From a speech given by Alicia Garza at the 2016 Citizen University Annual National Conference.


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