Alicia Garza Speaks on Building Power to the AMC2017 Opening Ceremony

The 19th annual Allied Media Conference kicked off with energy, vision, and joy. It featured performances by Kristy la rAt, Mona Haydar and Al Ta’wam, Scott Kurashige, and Sacramento Knoxx, and a keynote address from Alicia Garza of National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter.

“For this year’s AMC, we felt it was particularly important to uplift Alicia Garza’s call for bold collaboration, both across difference and beyond cynicism,” says AMP executive director Jenny Lee. “Alicia shared an expansive vision for not only surviving this current political moment, but building collective power for the long term in ways that transform us and grow our humanity.”

We’re excited to share Alicia’s full remarks below, as well as the video recap of the that follows.


Alicia Garza

Opening Ceremony Keynote for AMC2017 by Alicia Garza

June 16, 2017

“Thank you to the Allied Media Conference for asking me to speak tonight, but more importantly, thank you for this space that you’ve created. Thank you Detroit for hosting me. Thank you to the indigenous people of this land, the Anishinaabe or the Three Fires People for hosting me on this land, and thank you for being stewards of this land for thousands of years. Justice for Philando Castile, whose killer was acquitted on all charges today. Justice for all those who have been killed by the state. Safe haven for Assata Shakur and all political prisoners. Justice for all of us.

I came here today with power on my mind. After the upset that was the most recent presidential election, I’ve become obsessed with what it means and what it takes to build the kind of power we need to transform our own conditions.

I'd like to take the time we have together to talk about the movement we can build that will help us build power, and transform power.

Indeed, I would hope that we are all obsessed with what it means to build power and what it will take to build the kind of power we need to have the communities we deserve. Because without power, very few of the changes that we pursue will ever come to fruition.

For me, power is the ability to determine your own circumstances. This is bigger than personal power or individual agency. Waking up in the morning feeling powerful is wonderful, but that’s not the kind of power I’m talking about. I’m talking about the power to make decisions over your own life. The ability to reward and punish. The ability to shape the narrative--to create and maintain the story of who we are, the ability to define who is the “we.”

People build power. We do that through being organized. Through collaboration and coalition, alliance and alignment. When people are organized, they build power. When people who are organized come together to build and realize a broader vision for what is possible, that is the underpinnings of a movement. And when a movement is clear about the outcomes it desires, and is organized across silos and differences, that movement can translate into power--political power, economic power, social power.

For some, power is a dirty word. Understandable, because the way that power has operated in this country since its very inception has been destructive. But power is a catalyst for change. Don’t believe me? Just look at the conservative movement. They have built a powerful movement over the last few decades, across difference, and they've taken power. They now hold the White House, Congress and two thirds of state legislatures. As we speak, conservatives and extremists are changing the rules to expand their power and conversely, weaken and eventually eliminate ours.

Here, at the Allied Media Conference, we fight to ensure that the power to communicate belongs to everyone. Stories are sites where power can be built and contested. The stories we tell about who we are shapes everything around us--our cities, our economies, our democracy. They shape our vision, they shape what we do in the world and how we understand why we do it. Which brings me to an important point about building movements: how we build movements matters.

Sanctuary is an example of a story that is contested –from within and from outside. Sanctuary demands safety for people who are unjustly being persecuted. Many of us relate sanctuary to a particular story about immigration – but consider how powerful the sanctuary movement could be if it was willing to identify all of the places in our society that people need sanctuary from. When we demand the humanity of Black and Brown people be acknowledged and upheld, the state responds by intensifying its gaze, creating virtual borders to keep our families apart, using Stingray cell phone interceptors to track those whose civil and human rights are at risk now.

Sanctuary isn't simply something we demand from the government--it is something we as a movement must provide and create. It is our refusal to cooperate with unjust laws and systems, our refusal to leave our people hanging out to dry. Security begins with relationships, it starts with organizing.

To protect and expand our power to communicate, we must expand the stories we tell, we must pay attention to how those stories are produced and we must challenge ourselves to tell stories that cast a wider net.

Sanctuary is an example of a story that is contested. We are here to create, weave, and communicate new stories. Here we have come together to learn from one another, to support one another, and to collaborate to build the world we dream of. We are here to build our power and build the power of a world that is interconnected, that values all of us, that discards the broken promises and realizes a new promise.

Here's another point: the movements of tomorrow must commit to organizing that transforms us, movements that call us back to our humanity.

It won't be easy. We will disappoint each other. Make each other mad. We will hurt each other and we will make mistakes. We will disagree.

Building a movement across difference for the sake of our collective transformation is that task of our generation and the generations that we will fight for to succeed us. Knowingly and unknowingly we will be tempted to replicate and perpetuate the same systems that have harmed us. We will fall back on outdated ways of being. We will seek solace in the people who already agree with us, safety in remaining disconnected.

But I think we must resist that, at all costs. And for me, a part of what that means is figuring out how to make this movement, grounded in love, hope, innovation, principles, values, care and connection, much more vast.

Earlier this year after attending the Women's March I wrote a piece about the dangers of skepticism. I talked about the places where I'd been challenged to interrogate my vision, my politics, the places where I'd had to investigate what I believe it takes to be human. There was grumbling and there was shade. There’s no way I’m joining with my oppressor, we said. Fuck white women, we said. They’re not really here for us, they’re here for themselves, we said.

I get it. It's hard to imagine a world where those of us who have been hurt, who have hurt one another, all get to fit. It's a challenge to imagine what it might look like to heal our humanity in the face of such intense brutality and violence. It's infuriating when those who have hurt us expect us to have amnesia.

The Women’s March wasn't perfect. In fact, there were elements that were deeply flawed. But it was there, even if just for a moment, that I saw a glimpse of what was possible. I saw and I met people who were awakening, some for the first time, some after a long time of being asleep. People who wanted to learn from one another. People who were ready to fight. It was a step. Not the step, a step.

A movement that rejects the potential of liberatory relationships is a movement that is destined to fail. A movement that believes that change is not possible will not succeed. Not everyone will pursue change, even when given the opportunity. But many will, and it's our job to be the alternative that is more attractive than the status quo. Colonization, capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy, heteronormativity, patriarchy – all of these systems function to break the bonds of relationship between us. Our movement must be a different one. One that seeks to forge many different kinds of relationships that reject the systems that tear us apart, rejects the fear and hatred and that rejects power over in favor of power with.

Building a movement is ultimately about just that – restoring humanity to all of us, even those of us who have been inhumane. Harriet Tubman loved us so much that she pushed for us to be free, but more importantly, to free ourselves. If you weren't ready, she would leave the light on. If you got scared, she pushed you to persist. If you thought you might want to turn back, she'd put that shotgun on you. For Harriet, there was no other way but forward. It must be the same for us too.

I saw hope in all of the people who turned out that day. I saw humanity. I felt hope in myself, despite having an analysis of what was wrong, I also was compelled by my vision of what was right, and what it would take for us to get there.

In the movement I want to be a part of, we will be clear who our enemies actually are. We will resist throwing each other away. Accountability is not the same as revenge. Individuals are not systems. Individuals perpetuate systems through consent and through force. That means that individuals have a choice to make about whether or not they will collude with systems that are tearing us apart. Only organizing interrupts people colluding with corrupt systems. And that is where possibility lies. Organizing unlocks new choices, new possibilities. And so, if we hope to win, we must organize.

It’s so much bigger than white women and marches. It’s about power, and how we build it. The campaigns that I have been a part of were only successful because we built an array of forces too diverse to discredit and too powerful to ignore. We told stories that allowed us to see each other's humanity and that gave us a different way forward. How we transform power so that power never harms another person, but instead power ensures that everyone has what they need and nothing they don’t. No movement has ever been built without people who have disappointed you. That’s because movements themselves are the places where people are called to transform in the service of their own liberation and the liberation of others.

We are here to create new stories of who we are, how we got here, and what is possible on the other side. We are here to examine how we can bring about the world we desire while dismantling the one we don't. We are here not to create smaller and smaller groups of people who tell the same story, but instead to expand the nuance of our stories so that we can learn more about who we are and who we can be.

I believe that we can build a movement so powerful that we cannot be stopped. I believe that we will win.”

Produced by Tunde Olaniran, AMC2017 Opening Ceremony Featured Presenters include:

  • Alicia Garza
  • Kristy la rAt
  • Sacramento Knoxx
  • Scott Kurashige
  • adrienne maree brown
  • Mona Haydar
  • Al Ta’wam
  • Jenny Lee
  • Morgan Willis

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