Meet the Woman Behind #BlackLivesMatter — The Hashtag That Became a Civil Rights Movement

Alicia Garza and two friends first tweeted #BlackLivesMatter to spark a conversation after the death of Trayvon Martin. Three years later, their hashtag has become a movement.

Liz Pleasant, May 01, 2015, Yes! Magazine

Following the police killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, TIME Magazine hit newsstands with a cover dominated by large, block letters: “Black Lives Matter.” #BlackLivesMatter has infiltrated America’s modern vocabulary. It’s the rallying cry for a movement that began getting a lot of national attention after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

But #BlackLivesMatter began before Ferguson.

When George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges after killing Trayvon Martin, Alicia Garza of Oakland, California, turned to Facebook to express her anger and sadness. As a longtime social activist, Garza, who is now 34 years old, had been working for years to end systemic racism. She had led activist movements in the San Francisco Bay Area, from efforts to expose and end police violence to actions to secure free public transportation for youth. Currently, Garza is the special project director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where she works to protect the rights of black women employed in positions like housekeeping, childcare, and in-home aid.

Garza says that the moment she logged onto social media after the announcement of the Zimmerman verdict was eye-opening. She was bombarded with defeatist comments like “What did you expect?” or “I knew they would never convict him.” Overwhelmingly, these comments all pointed out the same thing: It’s treated as acceptable for unarmed black boys and men to be killed without consequence.

Garza knew that the criminal justice system was not going to address this problem. To fill that void, she and her friends Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi founded #BlackLivesMatter to spark nationwide discussion of the way black lives are consistently undervalued in America and what people can do to change that. “We really felt like there needed to be a space that people could relate to that didn’t blame black people for conditions we didn’t create,” explains Garza.

“When we began, #BlackLivesMatter was a series of social media platforms that connected people online to take action together offline,” says Garza. At the time, the three women were involved in Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD). Access to that national network helped their message spread quickly, and soon activist organizations across the country were using #BlackLivesMatter to shine light on underreported incidents of black people being attacked or killed by police.

Read the full article in Yes! magazine.

February 12, 2019

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Marisa Franco

Marisa Franco, FFJ Field Advisor and Director and Co-founder of of Mijente, a digital and grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing and movement building, speaks on the current political moment and how funders can contribute to movement work.

Tell us about the particular moment you are in with your work and place in the movement.

Entering into our fourth year, we are doing our best to be a vehicle to both respond to the real-time challenges our communities face and a place to find respite, connection, and replenished meaning. Given what the Latinx and Chicanx community faces, we’ve got to walk and chew gum at the same time (and hop on one leg, juggle, and balance something on our head!) but we believe that through the continued growth where organizers, healers, change-makers, designers, and disrupters feel Mijente is a place to meaningfully contribute to collective liberation means we are going in the right direction. It is my view that our most critical task at this time is growth and recruitment - millions of people are becoming exposed to the injustice and summarily wrong direction we are heading in - our organizations must be open and accessible entry points for people to contribute to moving us in the right direction.

How do you understand the political moment that we’re in? What do you think we need to do differently right now?

Ultimately I think that lots of what we reference as threats that are coming are largely here - crisis as a result of climate change is here, it’s being felt across the planet. The extreme backlash and attempt to re-entrench power due to demographic change is here, occurring in localities across the United States. Authoritarianism is a growing threat beyond Donald Trump and within the domestic United States. Given all of this, at the very least I think it’s critical we start to widen our panorama of political understanding to include outside of the United States and make the connections internationally. Rest assured, our adversaries are in coordination - we ignore our movement siblings and the struggle outside of the United States to our own detriment.

What should funders be understanding in this political moment? What should funders be doing to support organizations and movements?

What’s important to understand in this political moment is how the volatility impacts the plans, perspective, and morale of people in organizations and social movements. It has become more and more difficult to lay out plans that feel real given how normal it's become for so much to turn upside down pretty regularly. Some understanding and support of this from funders, particularly when it means proposed work is not carried out in the way it was initially described, is very helpful.

Continued support for rapid response tactics is critical, as well as funds that help convene key groups and/or leaders in this time goes a long way. In times like these, those that are able to adapt and move quickly are well positioned to make impactful changes. These folks have got to be able to do so with enough support and not too many hurdles, hoops, and paper to be able to move. So some of these existing practices around simplifying processes, making funds available for rapid response activities, and pop up convenings is something that has been helpful thus far and is important to continue.

December 10, 2018

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