Alicia Garza , the Co-Creator of the Black Lives Matter movement wrote her new book ‘The Purpose of Power’ to give her followers an insiders view of how to make change happen.
“People only see the protests,” she said in an online interview with radio presenter Leah Davis, screened as part of the Southbank Centre’s autumn programme named, ‘Inside Out’.
What is not seen, Garza continues, is the years it takes to learn the craft of empowering ”people to go from thinking they can’t make a difference to believing they can.”
In the case of Ms Garza, it took fifteen years to perfect the art of mobilising people to effect change. She recounted the early years. When she started as a graduate, fresh out of college to join a training programme for young organizers of colour. Ms Garza cites this experience as being the most transformational in guiding her away from a path of anger and cynicism to one of hopefulness and a belief in the collective power of people.
Yet ‘change is hard’ she admits. Much of the training ground was spent knocking on doors only to have many of them slammed in her face. ‘You had to develop a touch skin’ she laughs. Those years also taught her about human beings. She remembers the many positive moments when real connections and relationships were made – the building blocks of a strong movement.
Other tools gained over time include the importance of creating safe and ‘nurturing’ spaces which inspire and allow people to become engaged. “People come together in spaces where they feel safe, trusted and nurtured.” Garza explains that the organisers created places that represented the type of world she wanted to live in. For single mothers that meant providing quality childcare that reassured mothers and activated the children’s interest. For refugee or immigrant groups it meant hiring translators to ensure that everyone had equal access to language.
Reflecting on the growth of the movement, Alicia Garza says she was humbled by the “whirlwind response’ and the way’ Black Lives Matter had taken ‘off like a comet.’ But by the time the 2016 elections ushered in the new political era of Trump, the author wanted to step back, reflect and document events. It also coincided with the passing of her mother, whom she credits for teaching her ‘everything she knows about building movements.’
Commenting on the strength of the female leadership of Black Lives Matter global network, Garza notes that historically women’s contributions have been overlooked by the big movements. “Women were seen as the supporting actors,” she said. “The stories got told about men being at the centre. In fact it was the women who were the wind under the wings.” Garza highlights women such as Diane Nash, the core strategist of the civil rights movement of the sixties. Others include Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Claudette Coleman and Rosa Parks. Their stories and others from the LGBTQ communities were sidelined.
So to build an inclusive movement Garza adds, one must create “leaders from different communities,’ representing the different platforms of power. The leaders must be equipped ‘to make and shape the rules’ that allow everyone access to the resources they need to flourish.
She points out that, “the story of Black Lives Matter is not yet finished…..It is not enough to focus on change,“ she says. One needs to expand political power. That is why she is investing in two projects closed to her heart called Black Futures Lab and Black to Futures.
Garza is excited to be building the infrastructures that have been missing to extend that power base. One of the projects has involved implementing the biggest census of approximately 70,000 black voters to gain views on putting together a legislative agenda.
“We depend on each other to survive.” She concludes while urging her audience to remain hopeful and keep taking small steps towards change. Out of the many victories Garza has won, it is the appreciation by Trayvon Martin’s Mum that the Black Lives Matter movement had made a difference to her life, that touches her the most. “To hear Trayvon Martin’s Mum say she felt less alone that we were fighting for her son makes it all worth while.” It keeps her steadfast in her mission. Grounded in the truth of Dr Martin Luther King’s quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
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