In 2015, I profiled activist and organizer Alicia Garza as part of Glamour’s “Women of the Year” issue. Garza, along with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, is credited with coining the phrase #BlackLivesMatter, popularizing the hashtag and for its quick ascendance into a nationally recognized movement against police brutality and violence. Profiling Garza in Glamour felt like a big deal—it solidified her, and Black Lives Matter, as having penetrated the consciousness of mainstream America.
Since then, Black Lives Matter has gone from a rallying cry to an organization with more than twenty chapters, which is that is part of a racial-justice coalition of over 50 other organizations. A mission statement was drawn up, demands were made.
But after the election of Donald Trump, which many in the movement see as a nationalist backlash to the core principles Black Lives Matter has brought into focus, we began to see a drop-off in the media coverage of protests and actions. But perhaps that’s not the best measure of the movement. “Protest is best used when it’s part of a strategy that involves escalating tactics that build pressure on targets,” Garza told me. Aware of in the political environment we’ve now found ourselves in, Garza, who is still one of the most visible organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement, recently launched the Black Futures Lab, a project that will be devoted to engaging in the electoral process without neglecting deeper organizing. “Our mission to engage Black voters year-round; our commitment to use our political strength to stop corporate influences from creeping into progressive policies; and our plan to combine technology and traditional organizing methods to reach Black people anywhere and everywhere we are,” its website explains. Garza’s recent efforts have been touted by Senator Kamala Harris and television giant Shonda Rhimes.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
The Nation: Does the Black Futures Lab signal the beginning of a turn toward electoral politics—for you, at least?
Garza: This is a really good question. I think that a lot of people are trying to figure out: what do we do? This is a really complicated time, politically, and not an experience that we’ve had before. This isn’t like what happened when Ronald Reagan was elected. This is not like what happened when both Bushes were elected. This is actually a new faction of the conservative movement that wrestled [with] power and won. And so I think a bunch of folks are trying to figure out what to do. However, I also think that there’s still not agreement about what arenas we need to impact in order to build the kind of power we need to change our lives. And I think that that’s a healthy debate—and it’s an old one.