Recently, the Eastern Connecticut State University Intercultural Center and Women's Center sponsored a talk by Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Opponents of the movement expect rowdy hostile crowds and troublemakers ready to riot. The university had multiple police officers stationed near the auditorium in full uniform. I was seated near the outer edge of the auditorium and could occasionally hear the police radios. This only added to the necessity of this talk. The audience was respectful and quiet, but there was urgency in the air. Garza spoke passionately, but still appeared friendly and gracious. She honestly seemed to care about the students there to hear her speak, which I found remarkable,
The talk opened with Garza asking the crowd to volunteer current world events, a really great way to start on an inclusive note and to see what the audience was thinking about. Then, Garza began to address how #BlackLivesMatter was tied into almost all of them. This allowed for the transition into why #AllLivesMater was unnecessary. Garza addressed that, yes, obviously, all lives matter on a fundamental level, but right now, clearly all lives don't matter, and that we as a society need to focus.
Garza spoke about wanting to "ensure that the world we live in is a world that's equatable' and that #BlackLivesMatter was partially a response to the general violence against black males and partially a response to a social context where black lives don't matter. Garza urged to stop perpetuating the amnesia, remember every single tragedy that has lead us to where we are. This acknowledgement will address the majority/minority culture we have created and the uneven power structures that service the white heteropatriarchy. This will allow for people to see that a good amount of that power is unearned and undeserved.
Garza presented the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a perfect example of privilege in the face of a disaster, an 'unnatural disaster.' So many lives were lost because New Orleans was one of the most segregated cities in the United States. There were at least 25% of black people living in poverty. The United States Government cut costs by neglecting the levies, which lead to over 50 breeches. Economic disparities matter, they cost lives. It seems impossible that the racial climate in New Orleans had nothing to do with the level of neglect the infrastructure was left in.
Next, Garza began to list off some of the 'ruptures in the consciousness of this nation,' highlighting Sean Bell, Cece McDonald, Marissa Alexander, and the New Jersey 4 (and then some.) These examples show the minimization and erasure of violence against people who aren't white cisgender straight males. When examining the history of the United States, Garza pointed out that "anti-black racism is in the DNA of this nation, and [this violence occurs] in a context where we live in a nation that suffers from great amnesia.'
One of the more obvious examples here is George Zimmerman. The media referred to this as the Trayvon Martin trial. Garza pointed out that Trayvon Martin wasn't on trial, Trayvon Martin was dead. George Zimmerman was the one on trial. This small change in phrasing allowed the media to frame the case in a way that questioned if a dead child was guilty. These tailored narratives reveal privilege. This lead back to #BlackLivesMatter because these 'ruptures in the narrative around who's life is worth living.'
When the jury said that Trayvon's life didn't matter, Garza said she felt she needed to re-inject this community with humanity. Garza didn't want this to be a verdict on everyone's lives. Garza said she 'want[ed] humanity for our people, and that when black lives matter, we have a better shot at all lives mattering, and that black people are deserving of humanity.'
For example, more than 20 trans women of color have been murdered so far in 2015, and that doesn't even scratch the surface of the trans women of color who were murdered and then misgendered, or weren't even reported. We can't advocate for these women, and the trans community if we don't 'create space to have critical conversations of what our world can and should look like.'
Garza urges us to talk about race, come together, develop a vision together, creating and shifting the power, changing the power dynamic by exercising collective power in order to see the changes we want to see, noticing the discomfort when things begin to shift. Garza compared the civil rights movement to a river than ebbs and flows and nodded towards all the people doing work that isn't seen.
Garza allowed the audience to ask questions and share stories, and a young girl volunteered that she and her sister had deep mistrust in the police after an incident where she alleged that they used unnecessary force and violently took her and her sister down. Garza acknowledged how difficult it is to have faith in the possibility of change and addressing this change in a dynamic where trusting the police, especially as a woman of color (with deeply troubling experiences with (alleged) police brutality) is hard. Garza said definitively that #BlackLivesMatter is not an anti-police movement, but calls for accountability and a new system. Garza tapped into the old cliche that 'when good people say nothing, you can't tell the difference.' Garza urged the good people to speak up, calling for 'justice for the wronged and harmed and to force change or else there is no incentive to change.' And yes, in a power structure that serves those at the top, why would there be incentive to change and lose some of the power (and money) you have?
In order to 'reverse generations of structural discrimination,' obviously, in plain terms, something's gotta give. Applauding those in power who start to acknowledge and attempt to address these disparities is a start. As yes, I realize that we shouldn't have to applaud them, that this is what they should be expected to do, however these people face great personal loss coming forward, and we need to recognize this.
Another student asked Garza how it was possible to practice such deep self control in the context of such deep and systematic injustice. Garza laughed and noted that time for the self was key, and to also practice being regenerative rather than destructive, as well as reconnecting yourself to your purpose and remembering your vision, what your endgame is.
After the talk, Garza was practically ambushed by students with hugs, and selfies, and craving a chance to tell their stories to someone who cared. Garza is a bit of a personal hero, so I hung back, letting everyone else take their moment. We ran out of time but I was able to walk and interview on Garza's way out. I was nervous as hell and word-vomited (sorry about that, but like come on, the co-founder of a giant social justice movement? you'd fangirl too) a little bit, but I was able to ask how other oppressed groups could take #BlackLivesMatter's lead. Garza said that #BlackLivesMatter was the key, when social change happens, if we push hard enough, it's for everyone.
So now this leaves you to ask yourself, as Garza asked, 'which side of this do you want to be on?'
Follow Garza on Facebook and Twitter, tweet with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, follow Black Lives Matter and begin to question the narrative you've been fed.