The dynamic, passionate ascendancy of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was felt in Chicago from the NFL Draft to the more intimate setting of the Chicago Humanities Festival April 30.
That afternoon, BLM co-creator and Special Programs Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) Alicia Garza took the stage at the Chicago Athletic Association for a beautifully candid discussion with New York Times reporter and columnist Jenna Wortham.
Less than a mile away from the Chicago Humanities Festival event, the relentless insurgence for justice which Garza helped to nurture was exemplified by a group of equally fierce women comprised of BLM members, the Black Youth Project (BYP100) the grassroots collective Assata's Daughters and F.L.Y.
They chained themselves across the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Boulevard and stood with defiant fists raised in a demand for accountability in the 2012 slaying of Rekia Boyd by Chicago Police Department officer Dante Servin and recent budget cuts designed to hamstring Chicago State University (CSU)
The women, in hardened disregard to the pouring rain and the deafening chorus of impatient horns as traffic came a standstill, remained in locked solidarity until the CPD arrested and forcibly removed them.
"Decision makers at the local and state levels have made it clear where their financial priorities lie," organizers said in a statement. "We continue to receive cuts to the institutions that keep Black women safeinstitutions that continue to be replaced by terrorist cops who brutalize and murder Black women without penalty."
Before Garza and Wortham took their seats at the Humanities Fest, the capacity audience rose to their feet and chanted "Black Lives Matter."
"What we are seeing here in Chicago is an incredible direct action," Garza said in response to Wortham's question about the style of the movement. "That is a style to me around intersectionality and understanding that we don't live single-issue lives and therefore the work that we do in our communities cannot be siloed into single issues."
"There is definitely a relationship between the ways in which we fund law enforcement at the expense of other really pressing needs of our communities," she added "We deserve to have communities that are full and rich. There is a real focus on intersectionality, which is an 18-letter word just to say 'three-dimensional people'. So our movement must also be three-dimensional. We have continued to lift up the fact that culture change and policy change go hand-in-hand."
"Dante Servin murdered Rekia Boyd because he felt he could," read the statement from the Lake Shore Drive protesters. "Lawmakers refuse to give CSU the funding it needs because they feel there will be no repercussions."
"Our continued resistance serves as the penalty for destroying Black Lives," they asserted. "There will be no uninterrupted NFL Draft Town when Black women die without justice. There will be no silence while Mayor Emanuel and the City Council are cutting a $302,000 deal for an event worth $3.2 million at the same time that we cannot afford to fund Black education."
"We choose to #RememberRekia by demanding that Dante Servin be fired without a pension and instead that decision makers commit full, permanent funding to Chicago State University," the protesters concluded.
At the Humanities Fest, Garza took on the subject of social media.
"We get talked about a lot as a hashtag," she said before noting that the hashtag which precedes Black Lives Matter was unintentional. "It started as a love letter to Black people. Then my sister Patrisse put a hashtag in front of three words that then allowed other people to be a part of the conversation and to help shape it."
"One thing I think is really important for people to know is that I am a person who made a statement on social media in response to being outraged by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin," Garza added. "That doesn't make me the keeper of the movement. It makes me somebody who is involved in this period of movement building, who had something to say that resonated with other people who then co-created this moment with me."
As the action on Lake Shore Drive was in progress, Twitter users created their own narrative around it.
"looks like the girl scouts came out to protest in their best @2chainz cosplay," one user said.
"Black women & femmes got in formation today and shut down #Chicago's #NFLDraft2016," wrote another.
"When we tell our stories on social media, the formats we have are often truncated," Garza acknowledged. "Because we are connected so immediately, it's great because we can follow things in real time, but it can also mean that we truncate the nuances of the stories of what's happening right now. Who is involved in [this movement]? Is it just Black Lives Matter or is it dozens and dozens of organizations and thousands and thousands of people all over the world? Retweeting and sharing is great for getting out information but it's not building power and that's ultimately what we're trying to do."
"Fierce Femmes of @StopChicago, @BYP_100, @BLMChi led this shutdown!" The tweets continued.
"For us, our narrative is not about one charismatic leader," Garza said. "Our narrative is very much rooted in the nuances of our community which means that it's important to us that queer Black women get our due. Black communities are not monoliths. We aim to break that narrative that being gay is a white thing, that we're all out in the streets to save the lives of cis Black men, that we only focus on police violence. We are so many thingseducation justice, economic justice, racial justice, gender justice; you name it, we're doing it."
Garza firmly addressed the tension and division that has occurred within any community fighting for change.
"Even though we say the same things, we don't all agree," she said. "Those divisions become more distinct the more visible this movement becomes. Something about living in a Capitalist society makes us yearn for visibility and recognition. Something about the way our celebrity culture works makes us yearn for access to 'celebrityness'. These are not new problems. The infrastructure that was built in the last period of civil rights was so intentionally decimated that it has left huge gaps. One of them has been political homes for Black people to learn how to be movement actors and social change agents. I would rather have a conflict about political vision verses who gets the mic and how many times you've been on T.V."
Garza had a message to those people who have co-opted Lives Matter with their own prefix.
"Stop doing that," she insisted to applause. "Black Lives Matter is our art. It's our creation. It's really painful to watch as the content of the baby that you birthed gets mutated and erased. What does it mean to take the Black out of Black Lives Matter and replace it with something else? That is a replication of colonialism and imperialism. You can't just come somewhere because you like it and say 'this is mine'. It doesn't work that way. How do we navigate how we understand anti-Blackness and the erasure of Black people from every landscape?"
"All Lives Matter is probably the most egregious," she continued. "Yeah, no! Black people have been saying 'All Lives Matter' for 400 years while chained and shackled and made to labor for free and build all kinds of wealth that we still don't have any access to. We live in a culture where all lives don't matter. If they did, we wouldn't have people living on the streets, we wouldn't have one million Black people behind bars [and] the average life expectancy of a Black trans woman wouldn't be 35-years-old."
Daylight faded and a Twitter video showed the last of the protesters being released from CPD custody.
As she concluded her Humanities Fest appearance, Garza reflected about the successes and failures of the movement and its objectives moving forward.
"One big failure has been that we still do not have a way to generate resources independent of corporate philanthropy," she said. "The models that philanthropy funds often mimic corporate models and that limits our political imagination because it is more about profit than it is about long-term sustainability, vision and innovation."
For Garza, the current election is emblematic of just how much organizing there is to be done.
"By and large there's a lot of people that are going to sit out in November because we're handed false choices," she said. "People are going to say in response, 'you're never going to get everything that you want.' What I'm going to say in response to that is 'that's not enough.' We are on the verge of a breakthrough but we're not there yet. We need to be able to use organizing to build our muscle so that we can build independent political power that is not led by corporate lobbyists, that has a bigger vision for what democracy can and should be."