Who is Alicia Garza? Here's how Black Lives Matter icon started movement in 2013 after Trayvon Martin's death
Aside from the Black Lives Matter movement, Garza, who is queer herself, is also a noted activist for the LGBTQ community
When George Zimmerman was infamously acquitted in July 2013, in the murder case of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, activist Alicia Garza famously wrote on Facebook: “The sad part is, there’s a section of America who is cheering and celebrating right now. and that makes me sick to my stomach. We GOTTA get it together y’all. stop saying we are not surprised. that’s a damn shame in itself. I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter. And I will continue that. stop giving up on black life. Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter."
Her powerful post soon sparked a revolution across the world as she coined the phrase 'Black Lives Matter'. Together with fellow activists Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, Garza is credited to be the founders of the worldwide movement. Her Facebook post was shared and reshared all over the internet, especially following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a White cop in Ferguson, Missouri. Ever since, Garza has played a significant role in guiding the course of the Black Lives Matter movement in USA and beyond. Belonging to the LGBTQ community herself, Garza is also hailed for her contributions towards the queer community and activism for transgender rights.
Who is Alicia Garza?
Born on January 4, 1981, in Oakland, California, Alicia Garza was raised by a single mother. She spent the first four years of her life in San Rafael with her mother and her mother's twin brother. Later, she resided with her mother and Jewish stepfather in a mixed-race and mixed-religion household. She identified as Jewish and grew up as Alicia Schwartz.
The family shifted to Tiburon in California, where they managed their antiques business. Meanwhile, as a teenager, Alicia became vocal about certain issues in her school, promoting important causes like sex education and birth control. She later attended the University of California, San Diego, where she pursued a degree in anthropology and sociology. Alongside, she continued her activism efforts through the student association. Her notable works during college include the movement demanding higher pay for janitors at the university. In 2002, during the graduating year of her college, Alicia helped organize the first-ever Women of Color Conference. She graduated later the same year.
In 2003, she met 24-year-old Malachi Garza, a fellow community activist who was a transgender man. The following year, Alicia came out to her family as queer. She married Malachi Garza four years later in Oakland and adopted the surname, thus identifying herself as Alicia Garza from then on.
Garza rise to prominence as an activist
After Garza's Facebook post on July 13, 2013 gained a massive response across USA, it was shared by Patrisee Cullors with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Garza's post struck a personal chord with everyone since she pointed out the similarities between the young Black victim Trayvon Martin and her own brother Joey, who she felt could also have been the victim of the racial brutality in place of Martin.
Soon afterward, Garza and her co-founders officially launched the Black Lives Matter organization. They protested against the police brutality and killings of Black people, the racial discrimination in the existent ciminal law system of USA, mass incarceration, over-criminalization and police militarization. In 2015, Garza led the Freedom Ride to Ferguson movement, which marked the large-scale popularization of Black Lives Matter across the USA and the world. Though Garza is credited for harnessing the power of social media to mobilize the masses in USA, she refrained from taking any personal credit. Rather, she believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is a manifestation of the continued resistance by Black Americans.
In December 2014, Garza carried out a unique protest on the Bay Area Rapid Transit Train for 4.5 hours — signifying the exact duration for which 18-year-old Michael Brown's body was left in the streets after his killing by police officer Darren Wilson. During the protest, on Garza's directions, the protesters stopped the train for one and a half hours by chaining themselves to the sides of the train. However, the event ended when police intervened and dismantled a part of the train.
Before the 2016 presidential elections, Garza expressed her views in politics by criticizing Donald Trump. However, she was also critical of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, accusing the latter of using Black people for votes and photo-ops, but not actually doing something for Black communities. She notably voted for Bernie Sanders and led a noteworthy movement against Donald Trump.
Garza's 2017 speech for the graduating batch of students at San Francisco State University has become an iconic event in the history of Black Lives Matter. She especially highlighted the persistence and contribution of Black women for laying the ground for modern-day activism. A stirring excerpt from her speech is often reiterated, as Huffpost reports:
"Were it not for Black women, there would be no Underground Railroad, no one to campaign against black bodies swinging from trees like strange fruit, there would be no protest songs like the ones that came from the toes, through the womb up, through the lungs and out of the brilliant mind and mouth of Nina Simone. There would be no Black women voting like the 96 percent of us who did vote and said hell no to this administration. There would be no America were it not for Black women. This is an ode to Black women — because Black women are magic. [...] We, I, you and me — we owe everything to black women. [...] Yes — all lives, all contributions. But this? This is bigger than all that."
Alicia Garza's work for the LGBTQ community and in politics
Apart from BLM, Garza has been an active activist for the LGBTQ community, and often known for representing the confluence of both the communities. In 2015, Alicia Garza was appointed the Member's Choice for Community Grand Marshal at the Pride celebration. In the Pride parade, more than twenty organizers and activists of Black Lives Matter movement marched behind Garza. In her hometown Oakland, she is considered a true hero for her work for the local LGBTQ community.
In the domain of politics, Garza played a significant role in 2018 in launching the Black Futures Lab — aimed for engaging with advocate organizations for stronger policies about black communities. The BFL conducted the Black Census Project — deemed to be the largest survey on Black people since the Reconstruction era. In the census, Garza included separate studies on the Black LGBTQ community and the involvement of the Black community in American politics. The results of the survey are being analyzed and assessed by BFL to focus on pressing legislative issues and policymaking.
In 2019, Garza started the Organization Supermajority together with Cecile Richards and Ai-jen Poo, to focus on empowering over 2 million American women with political education and power, and foster a 'multiracial, intergenerational movement for women's equality'. Most notably, Supermajority focuses on issues like voting rights, gun control, paid family leave and equal pay.
In the 2020 presidential elections, Black Lives Matter played a significant role in the Democratic campaign, especially in the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd. Garza endorsed senator Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primary. She also gave a notable speech during the celebration of the Black History Month, where she highlighted the misinterpretation of the BLM movement as anti-White, anti-law and even as a terrorist movement.
Awards and recognitions for Garza
At 40, Garza had already been felicitated with multiple honors for her exemplary work. She was listed on the Root 100 list of African American achievers between 25 to 45 years, as well as on the Politico50 2015 guide to 'Thinkers, Doers, and Visionaries'. The San Francisco Bay Guardian bestowed her with the Local Hero award and the Harvey Milk Democratic Club honored her twice with the Bayard Rustin Community Activist Award. She also won the Jeanne Gauna Communicate Justice Award from the Centre for Media Justice.
In November 2017, Garza was jointly awarded the Sydney Peace Prize along with BLM co-founders Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors.
Fortune magazine named her in the '40 under 40' list in 2020 and Time Magazine included her in the list of 100 Most Influential People of 2020. Garza was also listed among BBC's 100 Women in November 2020. Garza has published a book 'The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart' in October 2020, which was dubbed as an 'essential guide' for activists.
She is currently involved with Black Futures Lab as the principal and also directs Special Projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance.