Alicia Garza Early Life
Alicia Garza was born on 4 January 1981. During her childhood, Garza and her family lived in the North San Francisco Bay area. Her mother worked a number of jobs – for the US Postal Service, in a department store stockroom, and as a housekeeper. Her days were long, and by the time she got home from work, it was usually too late to cook. On the dinner table many nights were takeaway containers and microwave meals. Garza woke early on the weekends and made breakfast (eggs, cinnamon toast, bacon) while her mother slept. In the the search for the perfect multicultural metaphor, Alicia Garza says, “There was this whole thing around multiculturalism and a real effort to infuse our schooling with these frameworks. But part of who we are is that we are a bunch of people who come from different places, and we converge in America, under the promise of liberty and justice for all. My framework, before I was an activist, was “Everybody should be treated the same.” I grew up in Marin County, which is a wealthy suburb of San Francisco. Incredibly diverse, but not where I lived. Liberal and conservative all at the same time. And my family is a mixed family in a whole bunch of ways, meaning my parents are a mixed-race couple, so my dad is a white, Jewish man and my mom is a black woman from Toledo, Ohio.
Growing up in a school that was majority white, my understanding of the world was that I was different, but that differences shouldn’t be talked about because it’s uncomfortable. In my community that’s certainly how a lot of people thought: That individual achievement is a result of hard work and perseverance, and also that it’s actually okay for resources to be concentrated in particular places because you earned it.
“When I was 12 I got really involved in the movement for reproductive justice, because there was a debate happening in my school district about whether or not to provide condoms in the school nurses’ offices, which contributed to a larger national conversation around family values. Were we going to support comprehensive sex health education that talked about a range of experiences and lives? Or were we just not going to talk about it at all? And in this little, wealthy suburb of San Francisco that was generally liberal, people got real conservative, real quick. “I don’t want my kid to talk about sex at school.” Well, why not?”
Alicia Garza founded the Black Futures Lab to make Black communities powerful in politics. In 2018, the Black Futures Lab conducted the largest survey of Black communities in over 150 years. Alicia believes that Black communities deserve what all communities deserve — to be powerful in every aspect of their lives. An innovator, strategist, organizer, and cheeseburger enthusiast, she is the co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter and the Black Lives Matter Global Network, an international organizing project to end state violence and oppression against Black people. The Black Lives Matter Global Network now has 40 chapters in 4 countries.
Alicia serves as the Strategy & Partnerships Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s premier voice for millions of domestic workers in the United States. She is also the co-founder of Supermajority, a new home for women’s activism. She shares her thoughts on the women transforming power in Marie Claire magazine every month. Her forthcoming book, tentatively titled How to Turn a Hashtag Into a Movement will be published in 2020, and she warns you — hashtags don’t start movements. People do.
Alicia Garza Biography and Profile
Alicia Garza, born 4 January 1981, is an Oakland-based organizer, writer, public speaker, and freedom dreamer who is currently the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States. Garza, along with Opal Tometi and Patrisse Khan-Cullors, also co-founded Black Lives Matter, a globally recognized organizing project that focuses on combating anti-Black state-sanctioned violence and the oppression of all Black people.
BLM Powerful Voice
Since the rise of the BLM movement, Garza has become a powerful voice in the media. Her articles and interviews have been featured in Time, Mic, The Guardian, Elle.com, Essence, Democracy Now!, and The New York Times.
Black Lives Matter
The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. Our members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
As organizers who work with everyday people, BLM members see and understand significant gaps in movement spaces and leadership. Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men — leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition. As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people. To maximize our movement muscle, and to be intentional about not replicating harmful practices that excluded so many in past movements for liberation, we made a commitment to placing those at the margins closer to the center.
As #BlackLivesMatter developed throughout 2013 and 2014, we utilized it as a platform and organizing tool. Other groups, organizations, and individuals used it to amplify anti-Black racism across the country, in all the ways it showed up. Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Mya Hall, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland — these names are inherently important. The space that #BlackLivesMatter held and continues to hold helped propel the conversation around the state-sanctioned violence they experienced. We particularly highlighted the egregious ways in which Black women, specifically Black trans women, are violated. #BlackLivesMatter was developed in support of all Black lives.
In 2014, Mike Brown was murdered by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. It was a guttural response to be with our people, our family — in support of the brave and courageous community of Ferguson and St. Louis as they were being brutalized by law enforcement, criticized by media, tear gassed, and pepper sprayed night after night. Darnell Moore and Patrisse Cullors organized a national ride during Labor Day weekend that year. We called it the Black Life Matters Ride. In 15 days, we developed a plan of action to head to the occupied territory to support our brothers and sisters. Over 600 people gathered. We made two commitments: to support the team on the ground in St. Louis, and to go back home and do the work there. We understood Ferguson was not an aberration, but in fact, a clear point of reference for what was happening to Black communities everywhere.
When it was time for us to leave, inspired by our friends in Ferguson, organizers from 18 different cities went back home and developed Black Lives Matter chapters in their communities and towns — broadening the political will and movement building reach catalyzed by the #BlackLivesMatter project and the work on the ground in Ferguson.
It became clear that we needed to continue organizing and building Black power across the country. People were hungry to galvanize their communities to end state-sanctioned violence against Black people, the way Ferguson organizers and allies were doing. Soon we created the Black Lives Matter Global Network infrastructure. It is adaptive and decentralized, with a set of guiding principles. Our goal is to support the development of new Black leaders, as well as create a network where Black people feel empowered to determine our destinies in our communities.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network would not be recognized worldwide if it weren’t for the folks in St. Louis and Ferguson who put their bodies on the line day in and day out, and who continue to show up for Black lives.
Black Lives Matter and abolition of the police
When we sit and think about what the world needs to looks like in order for black lives to actually matter, there is a debate: what is going to make our communities safe, how do we deal with harm, how do we solve problems that come up in our communities? I saw a piece in The Nationthat said we should abolish the police, which was awesome and in some ways is forcing questions that we have been afraid to talk about for a long time. The point to me is to be able to dig into these questions as opposed to being prescriptive about what the answers are.
In the same way, we are living in political moment where for the first time in a long time we are talking about alternatives to capitalism. Socialism became this weird household word partially because right-wingers call Obama a socialist, which he is the farthest from. It is a political moment that’s opening up opportunities to envision a world where people can actually live in dignity. So whether that’s abolishing a criminal justice system that feeds off the labor and the lives of black and brown people, whether that’s abolishing an economic system that thrives on exploitation, poverty and misery: this is the time for us to not just dream about what could be, but also start to build alternatives that we want to see.
Quite honestly I’m not sure we can have both [policing and the valuing of black lives]. That’s me personally. Right now we have a really harmful set-up where the police police themselves. They act as judge, jury and executioner, usurping democracy. That’s how we can get a situation where a white man in Wyoming or Montana can stalk and shoot a black chief of police and still be alive. Where people like Cliven Bundy can openly call for an uprising against the government and still be alive and holding property and land—but a little black kid can’t go into a store and get Skittles and an iced tea and live to see the next day. Another little black kid will lay bleeding out for four and a half hours in front of his mother’s home because he is walking in the middle of the street.
I’m not sure that the way that we can have policing where black lives matter because the institution of policing is rooted in the legacy of catching slaves. But what we can do in the interim is make sure that police departments don’t get tax dollars for tanks, for bazookas, for flash grenades and things like that. We can make sure that police departments that have been shown to exercise a pattern and a practice of discriminatory and quite frankly racist policing don’t get resources to do that.
The other thing we can do immediately is insist on more oversight over police departments—oversight that is accountable to the communities the police purport to serve. What this looks like is civilian review boards that actually have teeth. In the worst cases, review boards are still constructed by the police. People who are not going to raise questions or rock the boat are handpicked to play a role. Then we see amazing things like in Los Angeles, where activists just won permanent civilian oversight of the Los Angeles sheriff department, which has not happened before. They are fighting to ensure that there’s teeth and accountability and a redistribution of resources from militarization to community needs, so that we don’t need to put people in jails and prisons.
Alicia Garza Awards
In addition, her work has received numerous recognitions, including being named on The Root’s 2016 list of 100 African American achievers and influencers, the 2016 Glamour Women of the Year Award, the 2016 Marie Claire New Guard Award, and as a Community Change Agent at the 2016 BET’s Black Girls Rock Awards.
Queer Black woman
Most important, as a queer Black woman, Garza’s leadership and work challenge the misconception that only cisgender Black men encounter police and state violence. While the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown were catalysts for the emergence of the BLM movement, Garza is clear: In order to truly understand how devastating and widespread this type of violence is in Black America, we must view this epidemic through a lens of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Alicia Garza: “I tell people that I could’ve been Condoleezza Rice, and then I found the movement and I’m so glad that I did. [Laughs.] I came up at a time in this country, and particularly in California, where there was a lot of conversation happening about, “Are we a melting pot or are we a salad bowl,” you know?”
Having the presence of elders in my life who lived through some of the most turbulent moments in this country really helps to give me perspective around that. So people who were part of the Black Panther party and people who helped lead the third world women’s liberation movement and people who were a key part of the anti-war movement against the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Their clarity and their perspective is so helpful personally because it makes me understand that things change slowly and there are moments of eruption that disrupt how we do things now. But to cement or make permanent those disruptions takes time. People take time to change how they do things and we make a lot of mistakes along the way. And so part of it is how do you train yourself to be a long-distance runner as opposed to trying to sprint everywhere and getting winded all the time?
I am driven by wanting to see change in my lifetime. As I was coming up in organizing, people would say things like, “We’re fighting even though we may not see it in our lifetime.” And I’m like that’s BS, like why would you do that? [Laughs.] That doesn’t feel worth it. I mean, if it’s going to come at some point three generations from now, then why am I working so hard?
It’s about being bold and creative and innovative so that new opportunities are unlocked along the way, and we don’t have to keep banging our heads against a wall trying to solve the same old problem. I don’t want to keep having this debate about whether or not black lives matter. I want to solve different kinds of problems. And so that’s how I focus and prioritize: I want to work on things that get us closer to that. Like, can we put the KKK to bed already? Why are we still fighting these people? Not that we shouldn’t fight them, but wouldn’t it be great to take on different challenges?
Momentum up for Black Lives Matter
Alicia Garza worried about her brother’s safety every day—but never so much as after July 13, 2013, when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, was found not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. “My brother is six feet tall and has a huge Afro,” Garza says, “and I thought, That could have been my family.” The night of the acquittal, all three women were devastated. But as they mourned, they turned their sorrow and outrage into action, creating a powerful civil rights movement that, in just three years, has transformed the way Americans think and talk about race. Garza and Cullors had met at a conference for activists nearly a decade earlier. (“We just fell in love instantly,” recalls Garza. “We call each other ‘Twin.’”) The night of the verdict, they texted, sharing their grief. “When I woke up in the morning,” says Garza, who is the special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in Oakland, California, “I wrote a love letter to black people.” Her now-famous Facebook posts are a lament, an exhortation, and a praise song. “I continue to be surprised at how little black lives matter,” she wrote. She ended with, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”
The reason that we created Black Lives Matter in that way is because we wanted to build a sense of empowerment and self-determination. Early on in the development of Black Lives Matter, we set up some social-media pages that we intended to offer information about anti-black racism and state-sponsored violence, so people really understood what it looked like concretely in our present time. And we would get lots of inquiries — every day — from people who would say “I’m a white teacher in Louisville, Kentucky and I want my students to know that their lives matter and I’m wondering if you know how to do that.” And I’m like, I’m not a teacher. But here are all these teachers that are contacting me. Why would I not just remove myself from the center of that and put y’all in relationship to each other so that teachers can figure that out with teachers? That’s your lane.
That’s what you know how to do.
Before [Black Lives Matter] I was hearing people not want to talk about race, even black people. They would say, “When we talk about race it sets us apart from everybody else.” I’m like, “We are different and that’s OK!” It’s actually OK to be unique and have your own contributions, to celebrate what it means to be black, how we’ve survived and thrived through the worst conditions possible.
After Trayvon was killed and when George Zimmerman was acquitted, I was in a public place with a lot of other black people. I felt like I got punched in the gut, but it was like we couldn’t look each other in the eye because on televisions across America that court said black lives don’t matter.
We carry that in our shape. We carry that in our physical body. So what’s profound to me about this moment is the way that black folks are looking at each other in the eyes, the way I was taught to by my mother, who came up in really different political conditions. She told me any time you see black person, you say, “What’s up.” I don’t give a fuck who they are, what they’re doing, what they look like. That’s a culture that we created to survive, a culture of solidarity. It’s what has kept us alive.
I’m really feeling that right and I see it. People come up to me and say, “I’m having a hard time sitting with the fact that I didn’t think this was going to happen again in my lifetime and I just resigned myself to it. Now I’m so hopeful and I don’t know how to feel about how hopeful I am because I’m also scared. I’m scared for what the backlash will be. I’m scared that you all will have to hold what we had to hold and you will have to watch your movement be dismantled.” They say, “We are rooting for y’all.” I’m like, no, “We are rooting for us.” It’s profound.
I don’t know how to wrap my head around what’s happening with Black Lives Matter right now, but what I can say is that I’m so in awe of how bold and brave people have been. I’m so in awe of the folks in Ferguson who are still fighting, no cameras. They are out there every day at the police station doing direct actions, calling out the mayor. They are in it. I’m really honored to be a part of this moment. This is a moment I have dreamed of my whole life. Growing up, I learned about the black freedom struggle and the Black Liberation Movement and was told that this was a “lull period” or that it wasn’t possible to have black liberation in our lifetime. So I’m just grateful to be alive in this moment where more and more people are saying: we believe it can happen and we’re gonna to fight for it.
Given the facts of American history, it was all too predictable that Martin’s would not be the last widely reported killing of an unarmed black person. And when a new case hit the headlines—the August 2014 death of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri, at the hands of a white police officer—Black Lives Matter roared into action to create a “freedom ride,” so protesters from around the country could get to Ferguson. The three women also made a key decision: To keep their group decentralized. Today the Black Lives Matter Global Network is a coalition of 42 autonomous chapters, each doing its own work. The Chicago chapter, for example, helped oust the police superintendent after video footage of an officer shooting a black teenager was withheld for more than a year. In addition to protesting racism and unlawful killings, Black Lives Matter groups have taken on inequality, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Garza, Cullors, and Tometi are earning their place in history—notable, since too many black women have been little more than a footnote in civil rights textbooks. “They’ve brought the necessary ‘street heat’ to drive change and hold elected officials accountable,” says Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D–Calif.). “This movement, largely driven by young people, is really the civil and human rights struggle of our time.”
And while creating a movement is never easy—they’ve sacrificed family outings and weddings and relationships—all three say they find strength in one another.
Alicia Garza Family
Alicia Garza has a mixed-race background; her father is white and Jewish, while her mother is black. Alicia Garza’s Spouse: Malachi Garza (m. 2008).
Alicia Garza Biography and Profile