Beyond the Hashtag #BlackLivesMatter: Hashtags don’t start movements

The Beyond the Hashtag #BlackLivesMatter event cemented the idea that being vocal and staying active in the community are the two best solutions in striving for equality and empowerment.

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, two of the three creators of the #BlackLivesMatter movement came to UC Riverside and uplifted the crowd of students and staff expressing their passion and dedication for all black lives. These two women were Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors and their messages were received very well by the over 700 people in attendance. The title of this article refers to a quote from Garza which encapsulated one of the most profound messages of the evening: People need to start organizing and being proactive rather than being passive and reactive. Her rhetoric was so necessary, especially with the ludicrous actions that the “45” are committing (“45” is Cullors’ reference to President Donald Trump and his staff). In addition, Cullors mentioned that we, as organizers, are good at “tearing shit down,” but we need to focus on what the restructuring is going to look like too. The energy of both speakers resonated with the large crowd in HUB 302 and created an empowering environment for the audience to truly connect with Garza and Cullors.

One of the strongest statements that Garza made during the talk was how she did not feel connected to the Women’s March (a massive demonstration of women’s rights that occurred in part to Trump’s overtly sexist and degrading comments) because she felt that it was “white women getting angry,” while her anger is layered. Her anger is not seen as equal to a white woman’s anger in America. Garza continued to make her point by asserting that “white women make 77 cents to every dollar of a white man, but black women make 64 cents to those 77 cents and Latina women make 58 cents to those 77 cents.” The crowd echoed with strong snaps of approval and thunderous claps as Garza’s bluntness toward the overt disparities in America for women of color was giving life to the audience members. The room, which contained a diverse group of people, but mostly people of color, seemed to really connect with the economic disparities that Garza listed out. It was almost as if Garza and the audience members were on the same wavelength. As Garza spoke, everyone in the audience exuded an unrelenting desire to make changes to the current injustices of our time.

Cullors, one of the women who created the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter,” made a lot of impressive points throughout the discussion, such as redefining how we look at allyship and asking ourselves how we are going to show up for this movement. In regard to allyship, Cullors offered, “Allyship does not actually mean that you are going to be there for me.” Cullors continued by explicating that the idea of allyship should evolve into “accomplices vs. allies or ride-or-dies” in order to demonstrate that in all situations, allies will be there for you.

Additionally, Cullors took the time to educate the audience members about certain things that will hinder this movement, such as “big egos and the lack of open-mindedness.” Both Cullors and Garza stressed the importance of community in this movement and how as organizers, we need to be able to speak with the most “woke” people, as well as individuals in the community who don’t know a lot about these issues.

Allyship does not actually mean that you are going to be there for me.

When Garza and Cullors were asked about where they find inspiration, Garza stated that she prays “a lot to Harriet Tubman” because of her relentless passion to free her people regardless of all the hurt she went through in her life. Cullors echoed that sentiment but stated that she finds inspiration from her ancestors and all those who suffered before her that enabled her to have the freedom she does now. As the event was coming to an end, Garza and Cullors had some major takeaways for the audience members, such as to study power and for everybody to read the newspaper and become more conscious about current issues. In regard to power specifically, Garza stated, “Power sets the table, decides where the table goes and if there should even be a table at all.” This statement struck a deep chord with the crowd and caused an immense amount of noise to erupt from everyone in the room.

After the discussion ended, Garza and Cullors took some questions from the crowd. One of the questions voiced was about the tactics and strategies of the #BlackLivesMatter movement being “too extreme” for positive results to come from it. To this question, Garza responded, “There were people during the Civil Rights Movement that called Dr. King ‘too extreme’” and Cullors chimed in, “And then they killed him.” This response epitomized the raw and authentic nature of these two speakers and epitomized why they have been able to take #BlackLivesMatter and create a movement that is now globally recognized for fighting for the humanity of all black lives.

Finally, after all the questions had ceased, Cullors led the crowd in the famed Assata Shakur chant which went like this:

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.” The crowd responded back with passion.

“It is our duty to win.” The crowd responded back with a strong increase in volume.

“We must love each other and support each other.” The crowd overflowed with the desire to fight back and resist.

“We have nothing to lose but our chains.” The crowd exploded into robust cheering and then the essential “Black Lives Matter” chant ensued following the Shakur chant.

The crowd continued with the “Black Lives Matter” chant as the whole room became one indestructible mechanism against the systematic oppression of all black lives. Once the cheering became quiet, the crowd recognized that the struggle continues and the journey is not over yet, for we will overcome and eventually win equality for all people.

Read the rest of our Beyond the Hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter event coverage here and here.

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