Co-founder of Black Lives Matter: "It's not about Black Supremacy"

By John Frame, Class of 2017

By John Frame, Class of 2017

"If we want to get to a place where all lives matter, we have to acknowledge that black lives are a part of that,” said Alicia Garza, a prominent co-founder of Black Lives Matter (BLM), one of over 50 organizations that make up the international Movement for Black Lives.

In an enlightening conversation, hosted by The University of Chicago Institute of Politics on Wednesday Evening, Ms. Garza spoke with postdoctoral scholar Eve Ewing (AB ’08) about the relationship between reform and abolition, her organization’s rapid growth, and an inclusive vision for the movement’s future.

Ms. Garza, an activist and editorial writer, began by challenging the audience to envision a society without police, a notion she concedes is difficult given the prominent role police play in society.   

Ms. Ewing added, “There are imaginative steps that have to happen.” When slavery was legally abolished in the 1800s, “privileged people had a very difficult time imagining who will do all of the work that slaves had done up until that point.” Rooted in this same mindset, detractors have trouble envisioning a world without police.

Ms. Garza has some words for those folks: “What do police do [now] when people are harming each other? You get shot or you go to prison. We have stripped resources from jails, there is no rehabilitation. People are forever pariahs. Why do we sanction a small number of people to carry guns and enforce the law unequally?”

When asked about her thoughts on the rapid growth of the movement, Ms. Garza said she was extremely grateful and added, "It's hard. I think we are all trying to figure it out, we are all struggling. People are doing incredible work.”

Alicia Garza (left), co-founder of the Black Lives Matter organization, and Eve Ewing (AB ‘08), a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, engage in a deep discussion hosted by the Institute of Politics. Photo courtesy of the Institute of Politics

Alicia Garza (left), co-founder of the Black Lives Matter organization, and Eve Ewing (AB ‘08), a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, engage in a deep discussion hosted by the Institute of Politics. Photo courtesy of the Institute of Politics


So what does Ms. Garza envision for the future? For starters, she pointed the audience to the BLM website and warned against equating every protest with BLM: "This conflation with everything being Black Lives Matter is problematic... Many are part of the movement for black lives. Start to understand the nuances among the many organizations...It’s beautiful.”

Next, she challenged the audience to do more than sit behind a computer screen. “We started by connecting people online so that they could make change offline. Liking things and sharing information isn't enough.”

Moreover, Ms. Garza warns against being fooled by steps to solutions versus real, viable solutions of change. "It’s not about do we reform or not, but do we stop there? So many things are steps, not solutions. Body cameras are not a solution; they're a step toward the solution."

And finally, she believes it takes a unified voice, no matter the complexities of individual identities, to be successful in changing our broken system. “There are class dynamics in this movement because there are a lack of political organizations where we can engage with ideas in a rigorous way. We bring our alienation from [traditional educational] institutions into our movement work… [This movement is not] about identity politics… Isolationism leads to conflating respectability politics with identity politics."

While some proponents believe the queer agenda is disenfranchising the straight agenda in the movement and detractors think it’s about black supremacy, Ms. Garza says it’s actually all “about experiences.”

“We have to be committed to making sure that everyone is powerful... We are still developing in the practice of making room for everybody… We need to change the rules so that people don't aspire to want what someone else has."

John is a proponent of ending excessive violence against black and brown men and women by police. He hopes you will take a stand and demand change by reaching out and getting involved at school or in the community.

(Update 10/4/16, 11:33PM: An earlier version of this article (as well as the print version) identified Ms. Ewing as a "postdoctoral candidate." She is, in fact, a "postdoctoral scholar." We apologize for the error.)