By Ann Marie Galvan
On Tuesday, April 25, social activist, writer and community organizer Alicia Garza visited the Mission Campus to deliver a talk on social justice and equality in the United States.
The event was co-hosted by three departments: the African American Studies Department, the Labor & Community Studies Department, and the School of Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Ethnic Studies and Social Justice. The event drew a crowd of students and community members, and Garza’s speech was a powerful call to action for greater justice and equal rights.
Born in Oakland, Garza co-founded Black Lives Matter (BLM) in 2013 along with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. BLM was created in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and gained national attention following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York — both at the hands of police officers.
Garza’s criticism of the criminal justice system and advocacy for Black communities has earned her recognition as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2020.
Now, Garza works with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Black Futures Lab, an organization dedicated to advancing policies that improve the lives of Black Americans.
The City College library had a table at the event, and librarian Lisa Velarde was there to help students check out books. There were a variety of print books for checkout on social and racial justice topics, including Garza’s own book, “The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart.” There were also printouts of book QR codes that could be scanned so students could instantly access a digital copy of a book.
City College also had an outreach table, with promotional materials and informational fliers for interested people who are considering enrollment.
In her speech, Garza emphasized the power of collective action to bring change, and the importance of community solidarity in fighting for equality.
“We all have power, and together we can build the kind of power that transforms how power operates, not just in the city, but in this country,” Garza said.
She also spoke about the relationship between culture and policy. “I’ve started to think that culture wars actually are a nice, beautiful smokescreen for policy wars,” she said. “It’s a smokescreen for policies that are moving to change our ability to live full and dignified lives.”
Using the example of the recent attacks on transgender people’s rights to dignity and healthcare, she said that debates about which bathroom transgender people should use are not really about bathrooms, but about who gets to belong and who doesn’t get to belong in society.
“Woke” is not a real thing, she said, but “code for attacks on yet another Black-led movement that dares to challenge the idea that some people in our society can kill without consequences, and that dares to affirm the dignity of all human life.”
Historically, San Francisco has been a home for people who couldn’t find a home elsewhere, Garza said, and she encouraged the audience to think about the role the city can play in the larger resistance against fascism and systemic racism.
“I think we should consider that different places in the country can play different roles that contribute. So the thing I would implore us to think about is: What is San Francisco’s role in the resistance?” Garza said.
Joining a movement isn’t just about “marching up and down the street with picket signs and boards. Joining a movement is about joining the people in your community, that you know and you don’t know, and learning how to work together,” she said. Even small acts of solidarity, such as showing up at an event, can be important. “It’s not performative. It’s connective tissue.”
Garza’s message urges San Francisco and its people to be active participants in the fight for social justice and equality, both locally and on a larger scale.
“What is your role?” Garza asked, “How do we move forward, not backwards? And what place is San Francisco going to take in a movement to fight back against fascism? You get to decide.”