Above Photo: EARL GIBSON III VIA GETTY IMAGES
Alicia Garza says a true democracy is one where every life matters.
WASHINGTON — One of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter says she wants to live in a world where all lives matter.
“Democracy is increasingly hard to define, especially in today’s political context. Not everyone agrees on what democracy is but one thing we do know is that democracy has always excluded black people,” Garza, the special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said.
This status quo has been highlighted during the 2016 presidential race, thanks to Black activists interrupting campaign rallies. Other organized efforts put America’s racial wealth gap and the fight for a higher minimum wage on the Democratic campaign agenda, and ousted prosecutors who failed to indict police officers who killed unarmed black people from office.
Garza concluded her speech with a call to continue fighting for a more inclusive America.
“Today’s Black power is transforming democracy — but we cannot do it alone,” she said. “We need the best and the brightest thinkers, strategists, coders, surveillance experts, tech geeks and disruptors to utilize all of the tools we have available to us to build the world that we want to see. A world where Black lives matter. A world where all lives matter.”
“All lives matter” is an infamously divisive term that co-opted its language from the Black Lives Matter movement and is often used to proclaim that it’s not just black lives that matter — but Garza wasn’t looking at it that way.
The Huffington Post reached out to Garza to hear more about what it will take to ensure that all lives matter and the importance of black political power — especially during the 2016 presidential race. Check out her responses below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In the keynote you mentioned that “all lives matter,” but it was in a very different context than the usual talking point. Can you explain a little more on what you meant?
The basis of “All Lives Matter,” specifically when deployed in response to the assertion that black lives matter, is deeply flawed. Of course, theoretically all lives should matter. But that’s not the context we live in. For example, every day, many of us walk by people without homes who are literally living on the streets. Black families are seven times more likely to be homeless than white families. The majority of people in prisons and jails in this country are black. One in 13 black people are barred from voting and influencing the decisions that impact their lives.
When we address the disparities facing black people, we get a lot closer to a true democracy where all lives matter.
How does Black Lives Matter intend to continue moving the conversations around black political power and racial justice forward, especially leading up to the general election in November?
Black Lives Matter is doing the work of engaging our communities around the issues that are important to us — and this will have a major impact on the elections. Many of our people are engaged in important work to help our communities understand the root cause of the violence that we experience. Some of our people are engaged deeply in making sure that the barriers to participation are removed. Still others of us are meeting to discuss what it means to build independent black political power.
At the end of the day, our movements must always be clear that in the current state of democracy, our fight is always bigger than who sits in the White House. But given that there is a fight happening for that seat, our job is to make sure that there is a base of people who can hold that person accountable for the decisions that they make here in the United States and around the world.
Do you think not voting is a viable political strategy for the black voters who are fed up with the Democratic Party and the political process in general?
There are Black people who have made the decision not to vote this year, and while that’s not a choice I’m making, I can certainly understand why people decide to make that choice. The Democratic Party has a lot of work to do to restore the trust that it’s lost. Between the choice of the current chairperson to limit the number of debates, to that same person taking donations from corporations that prey on black lives, to the lack of legitimate engagement of black communities while depending on our votes to win, I can certainly understand and experience a similar degree of frustration with the state of politics in this country.
However, for us to seize the power that exists within that dissatisfaction, it means we have to direct it towards something. Non-participation is a viable strategy in some contexts — but in my own opinion, not this one. We need to build a different and viable alternative and, in the meantime, we can direct our energy towards jamming the gears of power. Non-participation doesn’t allow us to do that. It just creates more room for the forces that we don’t want to win, to win.
We should also remember that there are state and local elections that are happening at the same time — and those matter.
Why is disruptive black power important?
It creates room to challenge the status quo, and to demonstrate our ability to stop bad things from happening. How disruptive black power is important is when it is directed strategically — disrupting institutions and corporations that prey upon our people is a great way to immediately stop harm, while also creating a political stage to win hearts and minds.
Every successful social movement in this country’s history has used disruption as a strategy to fight for social change. Whether it was the Boston Tea Party to the sit-ins at lunch counters throughout the South, no change has been won without disruptive action.
Black Lives Matter is not endorsing a presidential candidate this election cycle. But I’d still be interested in your thoughts on — and expectations of — Hillary Clinton, as well as Donald Trump.
I expect both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to play their roles. Donald Trump will continue to try and move a fascist agenda that preys on people’s fears and insecurities in order to amass more power for the one percent. Hillary Clinton will continue to use dog whistle racism as a way to try and move the people who would vote for Donald Trump to her side. And the rest of us who are not millionaires will continue to be impacted by not having the things we need to survive.
I personally find it close to impossible to expect anything else from either of them. I personally think that it is critical that Donald Trump not become the president of the United States. And, at the same time, I am not supportive of another Clinton presidency.
What are your thoughts on President Barack Obama and his effect on black America? Mainly his critique that activists “can’t just keep on yelling” at public officials and must find a compromise.
I have a lot of respect for President Obama, and while I deeply disagree with some of his actions or lack of action on issues I care about, I still recognize the significance of the first black presidency and the challenges that come with that. Even still, I find it really unfortunate that the first black president that this country has ever had spends so much time chastising black people who have done more in three years to place structural racism front and center than he himself has done in eight years of being president. It’s fascinating to watch President Obama be subjected to blistering prejudice and racism from members of Congress and their supporters, and yet to then watch him chastise black activists and organizers for not wanting to play their version of politics. It’s not a coincidence that an upsurge in a fairly nascent black freedom movement emerges during the administration of the first black president this country has ever had.
It is our civic duty to continue to push as hard as we can for real change, not politics as usual. Our lives depend on it.Alicia Garza, Black Lives Matter co-founder
If President Obama were paying closer attention, he would recognize us staffing members of Congress, meeting with elected officials about policies we care about, organizing our communities to be engaged in the process of social change. This narrative that black organizers and activists just want to yell at elected officials is disingenuous and dangerous. When elected officials want to meet and have photo ops with black activists rather than fighting like hell to move legislation through Congress that would positively impact the lives of black people, we know we have a major disagreement on what kind of politics and compromise will change the quality of life for black people. I’ve been to a dozen meetings at the White House — but what has been the result of those meetings, beyond photos of us with the president?
And certainly, Mr. President, when it comes to our lives, the lives of our families and the lives of our children, there is no compromise. It is our civic duty to continue to push as hard as we can for real change, not politics as usual. Our lives depend on it.