#BlackLivesMatter has transformed over the last four years from a hashtag to a movement. Its co-founder, Alicia Garza, returned to UC Santa Cruz on May 9 to speak about politics, identity and the media for the second annual Radical Voices event.
Tuesday night the Stevenson Event Center was filled to capacity with nearly 400 attendees waiting to hear Garza’s keynote speech, which was followed by a Q&A led by UCSC alumna Tiffany Dena Loftin. Garza had previously been the keynote of UCSC’s Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Convocation in March 2016.
Radical Voices was organized by Student Media, Engaging Education, UCSC’s Campus Sustainability Council, the Afrikan/Black Student Alliance, the Student Union Governance Board and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán. The mission of the event is to redefine the way media has classically reported on underrepresented communities and social justice movements.
Garza co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement in an effort to push back on the oppressive state Black people live under globally. She advocates for others to take leadership and initiative and be brave enough to educate others on issues that affect the well-being of humans and the environment. The Black Lives Matter movement serves as a support system for Black people while acknowledging and embracing the intersectionality of identities. Though Garza started from humble beginnings, she has now created a way for Black people to fight for their liberation worldwide.
Loftin, the emcee and host for the event, was Student Union Assembly (SUA) president during her senior year at UCSC and was involved in other spaces, including Rainbow Theater. She was also involved in the Real Pain, Real Action and Black Lives Matter movements on campus and collaborated to demand on-campus housing for Black students. In doing so, Loftin founded the Rosa Parks African American Theme House (R.PAATH) at Stevenson College. Following her UCSC career, she was appointed the commissioner to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans by former President Barack Obama.
Q&A with Alicia Garza and Tiffany Dena Loftin
*Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity
Tiffany Dena Loftin: What is the role of student activism in movements like these?
Alicia Garza:“I think the role of student activism is to open imaginations. Throughout history really, students have been on the front lines of most movements, and I think that has a lot to do with minds that are being awakened. Also there’s a bravery and a courage that is unmatched. I think the role of student activism is to inspire and expand.”
TDL: What are some of the next steps politically for [white folks] to show up as allies for the work that’s being done across the country, more specifically in California and Santa Cruz?
AG: “I don’t like the word ‘ally,’ man. That doesn’t say nothing, that doesn’t mean anything. Like, let’s do some stuff together. Cause I can be an ally to you and do absolutely nothing. Let’s conspire together, let’s collaborate, let’s be co-conspirators. Here’s how you can do that.
“One: get out of your own head […] You are going to mess up, I guarantee you’re going to mess up, you’re going to say the wrong thing. It’s fine, it’s okay, you’re going to make a million of those [mistakes]. Don’t let that stop you from being present.
“Two: For woke white folk […] it’s your job to wake up other white people. […] Somebody said to me that the hardest thing to do as an organizer is to organize your own family. It’s the truth, so start there. Lots of listening is involved, if you want to be heard with your opinions and ideas about how the world needs to be, just trust that somebody else has those same opinions about how they think the world needs to be and how we cut through some of the noise is by actually listening to each other.”
TDL: How do you manage media? how do you navigate media? You’ve talked a lot about being intentional with the spaces you operate, can you share with folks how you operate with media?
AG: “You know, media’s a funny thing because you don’t really operate media, media operates you. But you can figure out how to be strategic with it. As someone who has done a lot of media, the reason for that is not because I’m trying to be some kind of celebrity […] it’s because those of us who don’t exist in the echo chamber or UC Santa Cruz or our organizations need to be able to have communication.”
CHP: Why are Radical Voices and programs like it important for student outreach and engagement?
Tiffany Dena Loftin: “I think it’s really important and symbolic to have events like Radical Voices, to have events like Practical Activism, to have events like the Afrikan Black Coalition[…] to remind folks and bring folks in and to shift the culture here on campus. You know, Santa Cruz can change the world, but first the students are on campus changing UC Santa Cruz. And that happened because bringing people together to have constructive dialogues about issues that are relative to us in current events is so important. We learn about stuff that happened 100 years ago, that happened 50 years ago, that happened 20 years ago, that happened 10 years ago[…] but there’s not critical discussion on now and how to engage us in being good citizens of this country.”
CHP: Would you consider yours a “Radical Voice”?
TDL: “Yup. Yes, absolutely. It has gotten me into a lot of trouble […] To be a radical voice is not just what you’re saying and is it radical. It’s like, does your voice match your radical actions and how you’re living your actual life? And is your actual life making a difference or stepping outside of your comfort zone of what we’ve been told to do as women, black people, people of color, students, young people, whatever the category of self-identity is.”
CHP: How has your identity impacted your career, if it has?
TDL: “Growing up in LA I didn’t have to identify as a Black woman because there were a lot of Black women in LA […] But then when I moved to Santa Cruz and then out of 16,000 students that went here, there were only 300 of us, Black men and women and also queer people and transgender folks, etc. I was like, ‘Well now I have to step out and be a Black woman.’
“When I got to D.C., I had to do the exact same thing and all the meetings that I go to, all the managers, all the top, top, top people have been white people. So being someone who is qualified, intelligent, trained, experienced, creative, innovative and gets the work done, being a young Black woman like me and also being in spaces like that — it is very difficult sometimes, and it’s very upsetting sometimes because we don’t always win.
“[…] My identity is my superpower, I would never say it’s been my hindrance‚ America wants it to be my hindrance, but it’s never been my hindrance, it’s always been my superpower.”