BLM Co-Founder Alicia Garza: ‘Black People Need to be Organized’

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization has been nominated this week for the 2021 Nobel peace prize for its call for systemic change around the globe. Norwegian MP Petter Eide nominated the organization and said BLM forced several countries to confront racism in their own societies.  

“[BLM has]been able to mobilize people from all groups of society, not just African-Americans, not just oppressed people, it has been a broad movement, in a way which has been different from their predecessors,”  Eide told The Guardian.

ESSENCE spoke with Alicia Garza—co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, Principal at Black Futures Lab, and Author of The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart—about her passion for ensuring that Black people get organized in order to make a difference. 

Tell us about your organization Black Futures Lab. 

ALICIA GARZA: The Black Futures Lab works to make black communities powerful in politics so that we can be powerful in every part of our lives. In order for that to happen, Black people need to be organized. The fact of the matter is we are not organized, and so that means we have less power than we should have. What we do every single day is think about creative ways to engage our communities in the political process so that we can get something out of it. That is something that has huge consequences for everybody, for people who don’t have health care, for people who don’t have housing, for people who are being targeted by the criminal justice system. We have to be sure we have vehicles that can help us translate protests into policy. We all know that racism is very much about rigged rules. Rules are policy. So, if we change the rigged rules, we will change the way our lives operate. 

What advice would you give someone in the Black community who doesn’t understand why they need to be involved in or educated about policies? 

GARZA: Here is what I say to us all of the time: Every single day there are rules being made about you without you. We deserve not just to be at the table, but to set the menu. It does impact our lives every single day. I think it’s important that people understand you don’t have to be a protestor to impact change. The most important thing is that you get involved in the things that you care about. We should be asking ourselves, are those rules for us, or are they against us. If they are against us, how do we change that? It is important for us to be engaged and stay engaged. 

You’re the author of The Purpose of Power: The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. What was your motivation behind writing the book? 

GARZA: When I started writing, I really thought it was going to be a book about Black Lives Matter. But when I sat down to actually write, it ended up not being a book about BLM. It’s really a book about how we create the kinds of movements that can see lasting change in our communities. One thing I know about traveling around the world and talking with activists and leaders is, some people always have some of the same questions. How do I turn a hashtag into a movement? How do I get started? How do I deal with conflict within my organization? I decided what could be really helpful is to offer a look behind the curtain of how change happens. So many of us think that the only way change happens is through protests, and that’s just one part of it. Many of us don’t understand what happens in between, what is the connective tissue that helps change the things that we don’t like and can’t stand into things we do like and that can improve our lives. This book draws on lessons that I’ve learned for more than 20 years from activism. 

What advice would you give to a young Black boy or girl struggling with their identity and feeling like their life doesn’t matter? 

GARZA: The best and most effective movements right now are being led by young people who have stepped up to change what’s happening right now. They’re not willing to wait and we shouldn’t either. If you’re trying to figure out how to get started, the number one step is to figure out what you’re passionate about. Is it climate change? Criminal system reform? Is it making sure people have food on their tables? Is it what’s happening in your schools? What do you care about the most? Find people who care about the same things you do and join them. 

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