S2 E13. Woman and Change: Intersectionality with Alicia Garza, Organizer, Founder, Co-Creator of #BlackLivesMatter

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Overdub: Hello and welcome to season two of The Story of Woman. In today’s world, it can feel like change is happening, but only in the wrong direction. While we agree there’s still a lot of work to do, we’re reframing that story.

[00:00:17] Overdub: I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode of this season I’ll be exploring how women make change happen from those at the top helping to drive it. We’ll look at where we are on this long march to equality, what lies ahead, and how important you are in the fight.

[00:00:38] Overdub: This isn’t a story of a world that’s doomed to oppress women forever. This is a story of an opportunity to grow stronger than ever before. Exactly as womankind has always done.

[00:00:50] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:00:52] Anna Stoecklein: Hello friends and welcome back. Thank you as always for being here. You won't hear from me very much in this [00:01:00] interview because I'm trying something new out. These final two episodes of the Changemaker series are all about the intersection of change, how change happens at the intersection of gender at another marginalized group, like race, sexual orientation, ability, class and so on. And because that's the topic, it only seemed right that I, as a middle class, able-bodied, white woman pass the mic to someone that's living in the intersection themselves.

[00:01:30] Anna Stoecklein: So I am pleased to introduce the story of Woman's first guest host Asha Dahya. Longtime listeners might recognize that name as Asha was a guest in the first season, episode 11, where she came on to discuss her phenomenal and very inspiring book, Today's Wonder Women. Asha is a producer, writer, TEDx, speaker, and storyteller who has spent the last 18 years creating, producing and hosting content for networks and [00:02:00] organizations like mtv, msn.com, Disney, abc, Nickelodeon, Fox, the A C L U, Supermajority Snapchat, Nine Network Australia, and more.

[00:02:11] Anna Stoecklein: Asha is the founder of a daily feminist blog called Girl Talk HQ, which spawned the book that I just mentioned, Today's Wonder Women: Everyday Superheroes who are Changing the world. Asha focuses on reproductive rights, gender equality, and the representation of women in media, and she's currently producing a few different documentaries about abortion and reproductive rights. She also hosts a podcast series for repro film and is the board chair of the national nonprofit Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

[00:02:41] Anna Stoecklein: Today, Asha is speaking with a woman most of you will be familiar with who started a hashtag all of you will be familiar with: Alicia Garza. I'll let Asha introduce Alicia and take it from here. Please enjoy Asha's conversation with [00:03:00] Alicia Garza.

[00:03:00] Asha Dahya: We're all familiar with Alicia Garza's work as an organizer, as she's one of the co-creators of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, which started with a viral hashtag in 2013. Alicia is credited with inspiring the slogan, when after the July, 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who murdered Trayvon Martin, a young Florida boy walking home by himself one night she posted on Facebook, "I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter. Our lives matter." And then co-creator Patrisse Cullors shared this statement with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The rest, as they say is history, but I find that a little reductive when it comes to talking about the work Alicia has been doing for many years and that she continues to do.

[00:03:50] Asha Dahya: Alicia has been organizing social and political actions from the age of 12, starting with promoting sex education and birth control in her [00:04:00] school in California where she grew up. Enrolling in the University of California, San Diego, she continued her activism by working at the student health center and calling for higher pay for the university's janitors.

[00:04:13] Asha Dahya: In her final year at college, she helped organize the first Women of Color conference, a university-wide event, held in 2002. As you can see, being a change maker was the path laid out for her from a young age. Today, Alicia is the founder of the Black Futures Lab, an organization working to make Black communities powerful in politics. She's also a co-founder of Super Majority, a new home for women's activism. Alicia has become a powerful voice in the media, providing expert commentary on politics, race, and more to outlets such as M S N B C and the New York Times.

[00:04:52] Asha Dahya: She's the author of the critically acclaimed book, the Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart, and she [00:05:00] warns you, "Hashtags don't start movements, people do." And this is something I get to ask her about.

[00:05:07] Asha Dahya: If there is one thing you need to know about Alicia's work, it is that she believes Black communities deserve what all communities deserve: to be powerful in every aspect of their lives. This idea has informed the backbone of her entire life's work. And we dig into this in the interview along with topics such as white feminism, outlining what structural and systemic racism is and how it shows up today, as well as talking about the things that bring her joy and hope for the future. I have to admit, I was very nervous and a little intimidated to be interviewing one of the most powerful movement leaders in modern history.

[00:05:46] Asha Dahya: She's a changemaker in every sense of the word, but I ended up feeling inspired after our conversation, because that's what changemakers do best. It is an honor to present my interview with Alicia Garza.

[00:05:59] Section: [00:06:00] Episode

[00:06:00] Asha Dahya: Alicia Garza, thank you so much for joining me today. I am thrilled to be speaking with you. You know many people know you as one of the co-creators of the Black Lives Matter movement and one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter Global Network. And before we get into all the important work you are doing, I'd love to start off by painting the picture of where your changemaker origins began. Can you tell me about your first experience with activism at the age of 12, what the issue was and what prompted you to do something about it?

[00:06:31] Alicia Garza: Yeah. It's so good to be here with you. Thank you for having me. My first foray into activism is kind of a funny story because it's not what you would expect. I started getting into reproductive rights issues. And the reason for that is because at the time there was a lot of controversy about morality in this country. So similarly to right [00:07:00] now, right? We had a lot of frenzy about teen pregnancy, about sex. And there was a big national push around morality, which ended up looking like fights over whether or not you should have sex health education in schools.

[00:07:18] Alicia Garza: Some schools were saying, no, it should just be abstinence only education, we shouldn't be teaching anything about how to protect yourself from pregnancy or sexual assault, or anything like that. They just didn't wanna have any conversation. And then there was of course a push back to having comprehensive sex health education and in my school district in this little liberal community north of San Francisco, we were having conversations about whether or not to offer condoms in school nurses' offices, and it was causing a big hoopla in my community at the time, even though it was a liberal community, there were some of the same kind of [00:08:00] tensions about are we teaching kids that they should be having sex? Are we encouraging them to have sex by providing contraception in school nurses' offices?

[00:08:11] Alicia Garza: And I got really involved in this discussion and in this fight, and the reason that I got involved is because my mom talked to me a lot about sex. When she got pregnant with me, she was in a relationship. She thought she was getting married, and then before I was born, the relationship fell apart and she had to do a lot right to figure out how to be a single parent when she didn't expect to be.

[00:08:36] Alicia Garza: And given that, she really talked to me a lot about sex, wanting me to understand that this could also be my reality, right, if I wasn't making choices that were good for me. And my mom used to say, all of us have grown up with like stories about where babies come from, right? And we use all these euphemisms, so we talk about a stork, [00:09:00] you know, we use all these things. And my mom was like, no, no, no, no, no. Let me tell you. Sex makes babies and babies are expensive. That was like my mom's like most popular refrain in my house, and I'm so glad it was because it got me really to get involved. When there was this kind of controversy in my school district, I really believed that if people don't have the tools they need to make decisions that are right for them, then you're creating and causing all kinds of problems that you can avoid.

[00:09:29] Alicia Garza: And if you're really so up in arms about teen pregnancy, why don't you provide people with the tools they need to avoid getting pregnant? If you really don't want young people getting pregnant, but you know young people are having sex, even though you might not want them to, why not give them the tools to be safe? So we won that fight and that was my first foray into activism, my first foray into organizing, and it really gave me a taste of what it was like to fight for something and win.

[00:09:58] Asha Dahya: I love that, and [00:10:00] it just goes to show, was that in the nineties when you were in high school?

[00:10:03] Alicia Garza: It was.

[00:10:03] Asha Dahya: It just goes to show like how much data has come out since then about comprehensive sex education and providing youth with information. But there is still so much, like you said today, there's still so much pushback on that. So I love that that was the origins of your activism and it's clearly still needed today. So thank you for starting that fight. But how would you define activism? There's a lot of different ways that people approach it, but how would you define it? And would you say it is something that calls you rather than something you seek out? Or can it be both?

[00:10:37] Alicia Garza: Well, I think activism is something that you take part in when there's something that you care about. There's lots of different ways to be an activist, right? Some people speak out by writing books. Some people have podcasts, right? Some people join protests. There's lots of ways to get active around issues that you care about in trying to make a [00:11:00] change.

[00:11:00] Alicia Garza: I don't really identify as an activist. I think for myself, the way that I pursue making change is through organizing. And organizing is a little bit different because it's bigger than the individual. So everybody can be an activist. I don't know if everybody can be an organizer. Organizing is a set of skills that involves building relationships amongst people who don't know each other and sometimes don't even know they have things in common. But getting those people to work together on a common problem, design solutions to that problem, and then fight for those solutions together.

[00:11:38] Alicia Garza: And that is a different kind of skillset, right? Like everybody can be a part of organizing, but I'm not sure if everybody can be an organizer. And maybe we don't need everybody to be an organizer. I think everybody should be an activist, right? If there's something happening in the world that disturbs you, that you really care about, that you think would make people's lives better, you should be [00:12:00] involved. Get involved in it. That's like the whole cornerstone, I think, of democracy.

[00:12:05] Alicia Garza: And I think that for me, why getting involved right now is so important is because we live in a country that actually teaches us to sit on the sidelines. It's so weird. We have this whole origin story built around people fleeing oppression to go find another land where they can live freely. Now, we never tell the story about the genocide that happened so that people could do that, or the practice of enslavement so that people could do that. But inside of that story, there is something very beautiful about thinking through what would it look like to actually be a nation where everybody gets a say, where nobody is being oppressed because you don't get to make decisions over your own life. There's not some king making decisions for you, right? You get to be a part of the decision making apparatus. [00:13:00]

[00:13:00] Alicia Garza: And the truth of the matter is that's not really how it works. And some of it is because people don't know that they can make a difference through their participation. But a lot of it, I think actually, is because people are dissatisfied with the way that things are happening and actually really see government as like deeply corrupt. And I get all of that. And for me, the reason that I engage in the work that I do is because I don't think it has to be that way. And I actually think we can be in a world and in a society where everybody gets to make decisions for themselves about what their futures can and should look like and what their present can and should look like.

[00:13:43] Alicia Garza: And I also think we can live in a society where we take responsibility for each other. Here in the United States, we have a very individualistic mindset, right?

[00:13:54] Asha Dahya: Mm-hmm. Rugged individualism.

[00:13:56] Alicia Garza: Yeah. Me for me and mines. And I think [00:14:00] that actually we can be a country that actually practices interdependence. I mean, we already do depend on each other to survive. We just don't tell that story. Any success we have, we say it's our individual talents and unique gifts. Right? But actually if there weren't other people, people couldn't live. In my neighborhood, I depend on people to help me survive and people depend on me to help them survive. And so I think we can build actually a much more robust practice of that, especially when it comes to our democracy, where we take responsibility for each other. And so therefore, the decisions that we're making about what's best is not just what's best for me and mines, but also decisions about what's best for the collective. And that's why I do the work that I do, and that's why I'm so passionate about it.

[00:14:51] Asha Dahya: I love that. It's just really well said, this idea of community and collaboration rather than just me on my own. And I really hate that saying [00:15:00] self-made billionaires. Like, there ain't no such thing. Let's be real, no such thing.

[00:15:05] Alicia Garza: No such thing. You made your money off the backs of other people.

[00:15:07] Asha Dahya: Right, exactly. Well, speaking of origin story, when we look at the history of America, the story of America that predominantly gets told, we cannot talk about it without understanding systemic racism and its presence even today. How do you define systemic racism and what are some of the ways we see systemic racism manifest today?

[00:15:28] Alicia Garza: Systemic racism is what happens when rules and laws and institutions work together to enforce a set of unwritten rules about who gets to participate and who does not. Who gets to be seen as human and who does not. Who deserves and who does not.

[00:15:49] Alicia Garza: Race, as many people know, is a imagined set of characteristics designed to classify people as worthy or unworthy. And we do [00:16:00] it alongside a whole range of different indicators, gender, class, all of these things are like human made. They're not inherent to us despite what you might be hearing today on television, especially with respect to gender.

[00:16:14] Alicia Garza: But when we talk about systemic racism, I think the reason that people put systemic in the front of it is because they want to talk about how systems enforce these rules that then have outcomes that determine the outcomes of people's lives. A lot of people think about racism as like people being mean to each other, right?

[00:16:34] Alicia Garza: It's like, I don't like you because you have brown hair and brown haired people you know are inherently evil. Well, that sucks if I do that. I mean, am might hurt your feelings. You might feel isolated and alone, but I don't necessarily have any power over whether or not you can get a job. I don't necessarily have any power over whether or not you can keep a roof over your head. That's just me being mean to you, right? That's me discriminating [00:17:00] against you.

[00:17:00] Alicia Garza: But racism is actually something very different. Racism, when we talk about racism, it's not what people think where it's like people carry confederate flags and all of that, that sucks. But systemic racism is the rules that lock people out and leave people behind based on things that they can't do anything about.

[00:17:20] Alicia Garza: Examples of systemic racism in this country have included things like poll taxes, where you had to actually pay a fee to be able to register to vote. Literacy tests are examples of systemic racism where Black people in particular were given literacy tests to be able to prove that they were eligible to vote.

[00:17:42] Alicia Garza: And underneath there is an assumption that Black people are inherently stupid. So we wanna take a literacy test, we want you to take a literacy test to show us that you're worthy of being able to participate in this society. It's important to fight systemic racism in [00:18:00] all of its forms for a whole range of reasons, including as long as we allow for made up things to determine people's life chances and outcomes, that's bad for everybody. And nobody is immune from that. Nobody's exempt from that. I know when we talk about racism, we talk about it very much as like a white and black thing, and actually that's not how it functions.

[00:18:26] Alicia Garza: Racism and race in this country functions along in axis of black and white, and then there's all these people in between. And the closer you are to white, the better off you are. And the closer you are to black, the worse off you are. And so that's why people in between white and black spend a lot of time fighting to get to the white pole cuz they know that's where all the stuff is and spend a lot of time trying to be away from the black pole because they know that's where the stuff isn't.

[00:18:54] Alicia Garza: What we have to do actually is do some equalization. We shouldn't live in a [00:19:00] society where people are denied access to the things they need to live well and full and dignified lives just because of the color of their skin, or just because people have been characterized in a particular way. There would be holy hell to pay if we said, okay, Republicans in this country can only eat at certain restaurants. There would be hell to pay.

[00:19:21] Asha Dahya: Right!

[00:19:22] Alicia Garza: But when we do it with Black people, right, it's like, well...

[00:19:28] Asha Dahya: There's a way to justify it.

[00:19:29] Alicia Garza: Correct, correct. So that's why I think it's important to fight. The way that I think it's important for us to understand how and why this plays out has everything to do with that democracy I was talking about earlier.

[00:19:43] Alicia Garza: We have an origin story in this country that this is the land of the free and the home of the brave. But the reality is only some people really are free to pursue their dreams and free to achieve them. And when you look at. Access to healthcare, [00:20:00] access to housing, who is the majority of the homeless population in cities across the nation? When you look at income inequality and poverty, when you look at educational attainment, any indicator that you look at Black people are close to or near the bottom. That is systemic racism. It's not because Black people are inherently stupid or unable to make money. Actually, there are all these things in our society, in our economy, and even in our government that are designed to keep Black folks away from resources and wealth. So that's why it's important for us to pay attention to this because it's not just Black people, it's people of color in this country, it's women. There's lots of ways that systems can collude to keep people away from their most dignified life. And so, If we really want it to be that way, then we have to fight for equity.

[00:20:55] Asha Dahya: Yeah. And this is really everyone's fight, like you said. I mean, [00:21:00] we all need to be paying attention to systemic racism, systemic inequality, because it's something that affects people around us. It affects us. So yes, definitely something that we need to be aware of no matter who we are. And keeping in line with this threat about systemic injustice, within your anti-racism work, you focus on police brutality, mass incarceration, health access, gender justice, and how these issues especially impact Black communities. Can you share more about why you focus on this and why these are really big issues for you?

[00:21:33] Alicia Garza: I am focused on this because I want this world to work better for women like me and women like my mom. I remember growing up feeling, believing, and knowing that my mom was one of the hardest working people on the planet. She wasn't just working for herself, she was working for me and she put herself last all the time. My mom would stay up late sitting at the kitchen table [00:22:00] trying to figure out how to make ends meet.

[00:22:02] Alicia Garza: And I remember going into the kitchen at night cuz you know, I was kind of an insomniac as a kid and my mom would be up and she'd be watching Law and Order on this little television as you know. And she would have one of those calculators with the receipt tape and there would be all these bills, and she would just be crunching these numbers and you could hear the calculator, right?

[00:22:25] Asha Dahya: Yeah, I can hear it now.

[00:22:27] Alicia Garza: There are so many women around the country who are doing that. Trying to figure out how to make ends meet, especially women of color, especially Black women, especially immigrant women. There's so many of us that are doing that and staying up late at night trying to figure out how to make it all work.

[00:22:47] Alicia Garza: And then when we get to pursue our own dreams, because we're busy helping other people pursue theirs. I want to live in a world where people like my mom get to pursue their own [00:23:00] dreams during the daytime, not just at night when everybody else is sleeping. And I think we can achieve that world. So that's why I do this work.

[00:23:08] Alicia Garza: And as it relates to Black people specifically, I mean, I'm Black and so there's that, but I think for me, what's so important about working to build Black power is that I think that it helps to unlock the promise of this nation. There's such a gap between who we say we are and who we actually are, and I think that the bridge to becoming who we actually say we are is Black communities and Black communities thriving. When Black communities are thriving, this country can actually say that it is the land of the free and the home of the brave. That will have meant that we have gone from enslaving Black people to making sure that Black people are living full and dignified lives.

[00:23:57] Alicia Garza: So that is my charge, [00:24:00] and I love working with other folks and other communities that are fighting for the same thing because I think we all deserve it, not just Black people. I think we all deserve that. My particular focus and interest is Black communities, but I love working with folks whose focus is the Asian diaspora or Latinx communities or Indigenous communities, because ultimately all of our communities, united, make this country what it says it is.

[00:24:30] Alicia Garza: But for us to get there, for me, I'm like Black folks, were not organized. You know what I mean? We still got a lot of things going on amongst and between us that we need to work on so that we can be a strong component of that multiracial democracy that we deserve. So that's my vision and that's my work.

[00:24:50] Asha Dahya: I love that vision. And I know we're gonna be talking a little bit more about how you build power within Black communities, but I wanna jump back in time a little bit to 2016. [00:25:00] And when Trump was elected, there was an uptick in people wanting to join causes. Being part of the Women's March, for example, and even running for office, a record number of women were elected to office in the midterms in 2018, in response to his election.

[00:25:16] Asha Dahya: And again in 2020, we saw many people wanting to get involved after the murder of George Floyd, by the hands of police captured on camera and seen around the world. But there was also a lot of backlash and whitewashing and performative allyship during these times. You know, people uploading black squares on Instagram being the most obvious one, which we're all familiar with. Recent movements are often branded with hashtags. And while you are credited with co-creating hashtag Black Lives Matter, you've also been quoted as saying, hashtags don't start movements, people do.

[00:25:47] Asha Dahya: So talk to us about the work that's required behind hashtags, particularly some of the key movements from history that have informed some of the current movements that we're seeing.

[00:25:57] Alicia Garza: The reason that I am [00:26:00] so prone to saying that hashtags don't start movements is because I think there was a point, and it still happens, where people try to find the most basic piece of what constitutes a phenomenon. It's like trying to find the shortest distance between A and Z when actually you just kind of need to go through the whole alphabet.

[00:26:26] Alicia Garza: Hashtags are things that live on social media, but they are not kitchen table conversations. They are not the conversations you're having with your family during holidays. They're not the conversations that neighbors have. They're not the conversations that are happening in your workplaces. Hashtags don't do that. Hashtags help you follow a conversation. They help you find a conversation online. They are not in and of themselves movements. Movements are comprised of people who are united around a set of goals, and this movement [00:27:00] is certainly united around a set of goals, not strategies, but goals. And the trick to movements is to figure out can movements advance through multiple strategies all designed to achieve the same goal?

[00:27:18] Alicia Garza: I think what's been so tricky over the last few years with movement building and activism and organizing and allyship and the performance of it and things becoming popular and then not being popular. This is the first time in my lifetime, and I'm trying to remember if there was like any time in history where activists and organizers became celebrities. And so I think what's happened in response to that people treat you like something to be consumed as opposed to a movement as something you should become a part of and contribute to.

[00:27:58] Alicia Garza: And sure, you could put a black [00:28:00] square on your Instagram, but you could also organize your block and that would be more impactful. Anyways, I'm just saying all this to say that these are things we're still talking about 10 years later. And some of it has to do with the fact that just like we tell fairy tales about the origin story of this country, we also tell fairy tales about how change happens.

[00:28:23] Alicia Garza: We love to tell the story of Bloody Sunday. We love to tell the story of non-violent resistance, walking across a bridge, and then people got voting rights. That's not how it happened. We love to tell the story of people riding on buses throughout the south or getting hosed and beaten by police and and bitten by dogs, and then all of a sudden change happened because people just took it. That's not how change happens.

[00:28:49] Alicia Garza: We love to tell this story about Rosa Parks being too tired to go to the back of the bus and then sparking a 384 day bus boycott. [00:29:00] That's not how it happened. Rosa Parks was a trained organizer. She was a member of her local naacp, been organizing in her community, particularly around protecting women from sexual assault and violence. She was an organizer. This is a woman who had been doing work in her community for years, and she worked with the NAACP to use that dynamic on buses as a way to bring a legal case.

[00:29:30] Asha Dahya: That's something we don't talk about enough.

[00:29:32] Alicia Garza: This is what I'm saying. So I think when it comes to movements and this movement and other movements too, we talk about the Women's March, we talk about Black Lives Matter, we talk about the climate movement, right, like there's things that we do that support telling fairy tales, it doesn't really serve us, because what it means is that we don't learn how change happens and then we don't think we can be a part of making change. And then we think that [00:30:00] change can happen passively with people changing their Instagram profile picture and that is gonna like end racism in corporate America. No, you have to be involved and you have to actually give your time and your resources and your energy. That is how we got voting rights.

[00:30:19] Asha Dahya: People's literal blood, sweat, and tears and bodies on the line, and...

[00:30:24] Alicia Garza: Literal.

[00:30:25] Asha Dahya: Yeah. We need to be willing to do that work ourselves and come to the table and do the hard work, not just the passive work. And I think social media sometimes makes that a little bit easy, but we have to take that responsibility and be like, okay, how can I investigate this in myself a little bit more, not just take everything that I see on social media as face value. So that's really, really thought provoking. I consider myself someone very enlightened, but not all of that stuff I knew about Rosa Parks and so I think people need to know about this and learn it in schools and which we're gonna get to in a moment because that's a [00:31:00] whole other issue that's happening right now.

[00:31:02] Asha Dahya: But in 2019, you were part of the formation of an organization called Super Majority. Can you tell us about what this organization is focused on, what kind of tools and movement building experience you are integrating into this work and how you are inviting people to join you?

[00:31:17] Alicia Garza: Super Majority is so exciting to me, even still because of what we've been able to accomplish. We are focused on creating a new political home for women and particularly young women who are fired up about what's happening in this country and want a place from which to take action and to take decisive action.

[00:31:41] Alicia Garza: And so what we do is we train women how to fight. We also engage women in the issues that they care about through voting, through mobilizing those women to vote, to become precinct captains, to volunteer for campaigns that are getting other women out to vote. And we [00:32:00] also tell new stories about the impact of women.

[00:32:03] Alicia Garza: So after 2020, It became very clear that women got the short end of the stick. We actually elected a man who admitted to sexually assaulting women, a man who was not committed to protecting or advancing women's rights. We got caught up in a story about somebody's emails. Look where it got us. Like after the 2016 election, I should say, women around the country were like, I wanna rematch. What was that?

[00:32:37] Asha Dahya: What the hell just happened? Yeah.

[00:32:38] Alicia Garza: What the hell just happened?

[00:32:40] Alicia Garza: It became really clear to us that women are a force to be reckoned with. And when that energy is channeled and harnessed and wielded in the right way, women are unstoppable. And what's real is that women are the majority in this country, [00:33:00] we are the majority of people who donate to political campaigns. We are the majority of people who volunteer for political campaigns. We are the people who are holding it all together and we deserve to be powerful.

[00:33:12] Alicia Garza: Super Majority has been doing really incredible field work in places like Michigan, getting not only young women to participate, but also helping to win big victories for women. Like ensuring that the state of Michigan has a governor that will protect rigorously women's rights.

[00:33:32] Asha Dahya: Gretchen Whitman, big gretch.

[00:33:34] Alicia Garza: Yeah, so that's our secret sauce is just helping women understand, access and exercise their power.

[00:33:43] Asha Dahya: I love that. And for people who are listening outside of the United States and maybe wondering about some of the references, Alicia was talking about in 2016, Trump was caught, there was a tape of him from years previous where he was talking about sexually assaulting [00:34:00] a woman. And with Hillary Clinton, they made it all about her gender and the fact that they had downloaded all these emails from her server and were weaponizing that in a way to basically take her down. And it just became this very uneven, ridiculous opposition match where it's like we have a literal proven sexual assaulter that is going up against someone who has a lot of emails that people need to read through and probably won't. And it's just ridiculous that this is where we got to in 2016 and members of the Supreme Court, and it's not just Trump as president, there have been numerous presidents that have been in that position and done those things, and yet they still get elected. And so, It's time for change and really seeing more women being activated and empowered in their role as powerful people in communities is really wonderful. So I'm so thankful for the work that you and Super Majority are doing.

[00:34:53] Asha Dahya: As we're talking about women's issues, we have to talk about the bad as well, you know, the both sides. One of the things that bothers me about [00:35:00] women's issues is that the fact that they're even called women's issues when in reality, they are human rights issues: paid leave, healthcare access, reproductive justice, gun violence, political power and representation.

[00:35:13] Asha Dahya: I mean, we're seeing right now in this country that a lot of these issues that have traditionally been passed off as women's issues, whether it's abortion access, gun violence, this impacts everyone. So, In this light, I'd love to talk about intersectionality. This may be a term that some people have heard about and may not know what it is, or they just have no idea. So Alicia, I'd love you to explain the meaning of the word as coined by Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw and share how you work to bring that intersectional voice to the aforementioned topics and the topics that you work on.

[00:35:46] Alicia Garza: So intersectionality is basically just a fancy way of making sure that nobody gets left behind. When we're looking at different areas of [00:36:00] privilege, intersectionality essentially says that our identities matter. It says that being a woman matters, but also being a Black woman matters.

[00:36:12] Alicia Garza: So let me get a little bit more specific here. This is an example I use often about what intersectionality looks like in practice. You know, every year during Women's History Month we talk about inequalities that women face, and one inequality that women face is the wage gap.

[00:36:32] Alicia Garza: Men make more than women. We often use this statistic, we say that women make 75 cents to every dollar that a man makes. Okay, but actually we're talking about white women. When it comes to Black women, it's more like Black women make like 60 cents to every 75 cents that a white woman makes to the dollar that a white man makes. And then when you look at Indigenous women, it's [00:37:00] much lower. I think it's like 23 cents, something like that. If you look at Latinx women, it's much lower than even Black women. It's like 58 cents.

[00:37:10] Alicia Garza: Intersectionality says, get specific. Make sure that we're not leaving people behind. If we only set rules then, cause 75 cents to every dollar a white man makes, if we only make rules that close the gap between 75 cents and a dollar, then we've solved problems for white women. But what about Black women? Latinx women? Indigenous women? When you're thinking about rules and making rules, you have to take into account the various positions that people inhabit that could be pushing them farther and farther back.

[00:37:48] Alicia Garza: Okay, so that's intersectionality in a nutshell. People use it a whole bunch of ways. Intersectionality is not diversity. People love to use it that way, and everything is not intersectional. Intersectionality is a [00:38:00] strategy. It's a filter that we use to better understand how it is that we create equity.

[00:38:06] Alicia Garza: Intersectional practice is to consistently use a lens that asks who else is getting left out? And intersectionality asks us to look at multiple things happening at once. People can all at once be a woman, Black, queer, poor, trans, right all at once. And that person, that group of people, who hold that are gonna have a certain experience.

[00:38:40] Alicia Garza: So if you're trying to write a law or you're trying to create some kind of policy about women, you need to make sure that you're including all women. And right now, I think what is also helpful about intersectionality is that it calls out the fact that white people are used as the control to understand everything, [00:39:00] and it literally just helps us understand that the world is not designed solely around white people, that there are actually lots of other people who exist and because of whiteness those people and their experiences and their needs are getting erased. Even some white people's experience gets erased by not having an intersectional approach. If we assume that all white people in this country are heterosexual, wealthy men, Christian, then we're leaving out a whole bunch of white people too.

[00:39:36] Alicia Garza: So intersectionality says, let's not use those folk as the control. There's a lot of other people out here that also need their needs met. Okay, so how do we make sure we don't leave anybody behind?

[00:39:50] Asha Dahya: Absolutely. It's like we need to see a new narrative about what it means to live in America and the rest of the world where whiteness isn't the default, and that isn't [00:40:00] the majority narrative because we are a very multicultural and diverse country, but that's not what we see reflected in positions of power in our systems. And I wanna talk about white women for a second, and specifically white feminism, which is something that is being talked about more and I'm really thankful for this. But we have seen so much performative hashtag girl boss culture that has seemingly co-opted mainstream feminism and really watered it down. Equally, we are seeing particularly white women taking up space in ways that are inauthentic and harmful and at times harbor internal misogyny and racism.

[00:40:36] Asha Dahya: Not all white women, but there are white women who do not like being called out, but we can't ignore this. Patriarchy and systemic racism has benefited in so many ways from white feminism. I'd love to talk about the ways, if you can share with us, Alicia, the ways you have seen white feminism be detrimental in some of the work you are doing and why you feel it maybe needs to be called out?

[00:40:59] Alicia Garza: You can find white [00:41:00] feminism everywhere, so let's just say that. And actually in this political context, it's actually really interesting because there's a backlash to white feminism, and it's not just coming from women of color, it's also coming from white women who are not feminists. So what do you think about that?

[00:41:18] Alicia Garza: But here's what I wanna say about this, white women have a lot of choices to make right now, especially white women who identify as feminists. There's a lot of choices to make right now about how far your feminism takes you and who's included in your feminism. And at this moment where women are being attacked and some women are deeply vulnerable in those attacks, poor women, women of color, trans women, it's really important for us to interrogate how far does our feminism take us?

[00:41:54] Alicia Garza: There is an author who I absolutely love her writing. And [00:42:00] her feminism can't lead her to embrace trans women. And it's like super disappointing for me. I just think that like we have a small window to get our stuff together, and for me, I think white feminists need to talk to each other about how far your feminism is gonna take you.

[00:42:18] Alicia Garza: I, at this stage in my life and with all the work that there is to do out there, like I can't do all that. I have stopped talking to white women about their feminism not going far enough, and I'm just working with white women who are working on extending their feminism as far as possible. But that is a job for somebody.

[00:42:40] Alicia Garza: That is a job for someone. And somebody needs to do that work. And I think it's white ladies. White feminist ladies, talk to other white feminist ladies about how your feminism can go farther so that we can go farther together. That's what I want to say about that.

[00:42:56] Asha Dahya: I love that idea of interrogate how far your [00:43:00] feminism goes. That's a really great way to call us to account. So let's take that on board. Let's talk about building power within Black communities. I'd love to talk about your work at Black Futures Lab, what it means to build political power. Can you tell me how the organization began and how it draws from your organizing work to empower Black communities?

[00:43:20] Alicia Garza: Our organization was founded in 2018, and the goal is to make our communities powerful in politics so we can be powerful in the rest of our lives. And my dream for this organization is that we are able to make it so that Black people's participation in democracy is non-negotiable. And the work that we do to build Black political power includes activating and motivating and educating Black voters, new and current and potential [00:44:00] to participate in the decisions that impact our lives every day.

[00:44:04] Alicia Garza: We collect recent and relevant data on Black people's experiences, needs, wants, desires and solutions. We also tell new stories about Black people's potential rather than our deficits. We build the capacity of our communities to be powerful with training and other supports. We know that as the Black Futures Lab and the Black to the Future Action Fund, we cannot win all the things that Black people need on our own.

[00:44:35] Alicia Garza: We need a strong ecosystem of Black organizations and institutions that are also doing that work. And so we work not just to strengthen ourselves, but we work to strengthen the ecosystem of Black organizing so that we can all be successful together. And we do that in a number of ways by training people how to write, win and implement new policy in cities and states across the country through [00:45:00] a rigorous eight month training fellowship called the Black to the Future Public Policy Institute.

[00:45:07] Alicia Garza: We also do that through a program that we co-designed with the Management Center. It's called Organizing for Our Futures, and it helps to build the strength of organizations internally so that they can be effective externally. Strengthening your systems, your processes, the way you deal with conflict, the way that you get work done together so that you can be effective on the outside.

[00:45:32] Alicia Garza: We also train people how to organize, and we've trained over 200 Black organizers in the last few years. So we're very conscious of how we fill, what we see are the gaps, the things that get in the way of us being powerful. So we know we have to do year round voter engagement, motivation, and activation.

[00:45:54] Alicia Garza: We know we need to know better what Black people actually care about because we are [00:46:00] not a monolith. We range the gamut of conservative to very liberal, right? It's like we have to be scientific about our people, and so we do that through programs like The Black Census, which is the largest survey of Black people in American history.

[00:46:16] Alicia Garza: We also do it through polling. We just did a three part series on our C4 side called Our Black Voter Bulletin, where we looked at voter attitudes and opinions in three of our target states, North Carolina, California, and Georgia. And we got a sense of what Black voters cared about, what decisions Black voters were making about whether or not they would go to the polls and around what issues would drive them there.

[00:46:46] Alicia Garza: And we take all that data and we build it into our voter outreach work so that when we're in communities talking to people at their doors, we know what to talk to them about. And then we really build all of our work off [00:47:00] of the belief that Black people are already incredibly powerful and that we can be the superheroes in our own stories. There's nobody coming to save us, and we don't need nobody to come to save us. We can save ourselves. And we try to tell stories about our communities that really reflect the potential of who we are and who we can be. And so many of the stories that are told about us are about how something's wrong with us.

[00:47:25] Alicia Garza: Right, so we don't do that, and we definitely don't do that with voting. We don't tell people, if you don't vote, your voice doesn't matter. We don't tell people, your ancestors died for your right to vote, and so you're ungrateful if you don't vote. We don't do any of that. We tell people, we understand why you wouldn't wanna vote, but your vote can change things and if you care about these things, you can use your vote to make your voice heard. Very different.

[00:47:49] Asha Dahya: Yeah, just that shift in language and empowering people who they are.

[00:47:53] Alicia Garza: Exactly. So, through that kind of integrated approach, our hope is that we can [00:48:00] use all of those tools to change the balance of power in cities and states. So that we get to be a part of the decision making of what's happening in our lives every single day, and that means choosing the people who represent us and what they're representing us around. So that's what we do.

[00:48:17] Asha Dahya: Well, I'm certainly looking forward to seeing more of the political power and community power that you build in the lead up to next year's presidential election and like you said, state and local elections. I think that's where a lot of the real grassroots changes happen and we see, you know, empowerment happen in community. So thank you for the work that you're doing and you know, I'm sure there are ways that people can get involved that we are gonna share on the website and in links too, to support and amplify as well.

[00:48:43] Asha Dahya: Throughout history and around the world, we've seen change happen and movements built. Many of them started by women and especially women of color, interfaith women in Liberia mobilizing to bring down a dictator, women across Latin America forming the GreenWave movement for abortion access, the Nirbhaya [00:49:00] movement in India in response to a horrific rape case. And Tarana Burke starting the Me Too Movement in 2006.

[00:49:07] Asha Dahya: To me, the story of movement building is the story of woman. Alicia, can you tell me about the movements and leaders, or a movement or a leader, who has inspired you throughout your life?

[00:49:18] Alicia Garza: I can, I'm gonna use two examples. One is my patron saint Harriet Tubman, who is best known for running what has been called the Underground Railroad, which helped many Black people escape enslavement.

[00:49:35] Alicia Garza: But why Harriet Tubman is a patron saint for me is because of how she dealt with adversity and hardship. She really did not let anything get in her way of her dream of emancipating as many people as possible. And she endured incredible heartbreak, including losing her husband that she was deeply in love with, [00:50:00] and she left, came back for him. He had started a whole new family and wouldn't come with her.

[00:50:06] Asha Dahya: Heartbreaking.

[00:50:07] Alicia Garza: It's just awful like her brother, she left, she came back to try to take her family. Her brother would not come. He was like, you crazy. I'm not going nowhere. So imagine, right? Like all these people that you deeply love and care about not being ready and still persisting. If I could like tattoo her on my face, I would.

[00:50:30] Alicia Garza: Recently, I'm really inspired by women in Iran who have been turned up for the better part of almost a year now I think, which was sparked around Mahsa Amini. And they have continued to fight for not just women's rights, but for democracy in that country. And what's inspiring to me about that movement [00:51:00] is how it's very intergenerational, but it is definitely being led by young women.

[00:51:07] Alicia Garza: And I'm also really inspired by their tenacity. They're living and existing in one of the most brutal dictatorships that there is, and they are persisting. And I know it was in our news a little bit like here and there, you know what I mean? But like they've been turned up for a long time and we need to keep that at the forefront. So to our sisters in Iran, keep going. We got your back.

[00:51:38] Asha Dahya: Yeah. The Women Life Freedom movement, it's so inspiring to see, but also scary because they are literally facing death every day. So many of them have been murdered for speaking their truth and sharing their voices. So it's something that we can definitely sharing their solidarity with from afar, but it's heartbreaking to see. But that's how [00:52:00] movements and change happens and my heart really goes out to them. Thank you for bringing that up.

[00:52:05] Asha Dahya: In this interview, we've talked a lot about what's at stake for Black communities in the United States and the need for resistance, but we also know that joy is an act of resistance. Writer and Black Joy Project founder Kleaver Cruz, who began using the phrase in 2015, described the Black Joy Project as "a digital and real world effort to center Black joy as a form of resistance." Alicia, what brings you joy today?

[00:52:31] Alicia Garza: What brings me joy is my work. I know that sounds so cliche, but I love figuring out the nuances and the nooks and crannies of building Black political power, and I think about it all the time. So it brings me joy when we like unlock something.

[00:52:50] Alicia Garza: What else is bringing me joy is that summer is coming. I'm looking forward to warm nights [00:53:00] and lightning bugs and heat. I'm looking forward to all those things. That brings me joy.

[00:53:06] Asha Dahya: I love that. I feel you on the heat thing. I'm based in Los Angeles and it is a very nice and sunny part of the world, but, and we love to complain the minute it's not, but it has been a cold and long winter, so

[00:53:18] Alicia Garza: Right?

[00:53:18] Asha Dahya: Bring on the summer.

[00:53:20] Alicia Garza: Exactly, exactly, exactly. Bring it on.

[00:53:24] Asha Dahya: Yes. Well, alongside with joy, I love putting joy and hope into that same umbrella and bucket. I wanna know what gives you hope for the future. We know we talked about a lot of issues that are facing people in America today, Black communities, young communities, immigrant communities. But what are some things that give you hope and how can people join the work that you are doing?

[00:53:44] Alicia Garza: If you wanna join the work we're doing, visit us at holla@blackfutureslab.org. You can also take the Black census at blackcensus.org or just visit us at www.blackfutureslab.org. Don't [00:54:00] forget to check out super majority, supermajority.org, and you can get involved in a range of ways by just visiting us and signing up to get involved.

[00:54:10] Alicia Garza: What is bringing me hope? Growing up, I thought I like missed all the good movements. You know, I was reading about the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement and this was like the eighties and nineties, right? And I'm looking around and I'm like dude, it passed me by. I can't believe there was all of this beautiful visionary organizing and like, now what?

[00:54:34] Alicia Garza: And then in my lifetime, I have seen not one, but two waves of one of the largest, if not the largest, movement for Black freedom and liberation in the world. And not only that, but I got to be like the tiniest little part of that.

[00:54:54] Asha Dahya: You're playing that down. You're playing that down.

[00:54:57] Alicia Garza: Also, in my lifetime, [00:55:00] we had the first Black person ever to run this country. In its entire history. And when I think about people like my mom, who never, ever thought that was possible, and my grandma who was, I would've told her that a Black man was gonna be president, she'd be like, girl, you are really on one. And now we have the first Black Indian woman to be Vice President of the United States.

[00:55:25] Asha Dahya: Amazing.

[00:55:26] Alicia Garza: Look at all of this change that is happening in our lifetimes. So I am so hopeful because I've lived it. I've experienced that change is 100% possible and I'm only 42 years old. So if all that can happen in the span of like the last 15 years, imagine what's coming. I do feel a lot of hope every single day, and I hope that people who are listening feel that way too.

[00:55:56] Alicia Garza: I know it feels really dire right now, but we [00:56:00] are watching change unfold before us and we get to decide which direction that change goes in. So let's go.

[00:56:08] Asha Dahya: I love that. And just hearing you talk gives me hope. I think it's such an infectious quality to have where we can see these big issues, and we're not saying it's easy to tackle, but we're just gonna get in there and be in the arena. Just get in the arena, be on the lines, and get to work and join the people who are making it happen. Join the organizers.

[00:56:30] Asha Dahya: So Alicia Garza, thank you so much for sharing your life's work and your story and your passion with me today. I really, really appreciate it.

[00:56:39] Alicia Garza: Thank you so much for having me. This has been an awesome experience.

[00:56:44] Overdub: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, and think we need more of women’s stories in the world, be sure to share with a friend! And subscribe, rate and review on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to [00:57:00] help us beat those pesky algorithms.

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[00:57:08] Overdub: And for access to bonus content and ad-free listening, consider becoming a Patron of the podcast. This is the best way to help me continue to put out more and better episodes. You can also buy me a metaphorical coffee. All of this goes directly into production costs.

[00:57:27] Overdub: And in exchange, you’ll receive my eternal gratitude and good nights sleep knowing you are helping to finally change the story of mankind to the story of humankind.

[00:57:39] Overdub: This episode was produced and hosted by me, Anna Stoecklein.

[00:57:43] Overdub: It was edited by Maddy Searle. With communications support by Jo Cummings.A special thanks to Amanda Brown, Kate York, and Dan Kendall for their ongoing production support and invaluable advising.

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Asha Dahya
Asha Dahya
Author of Today's Wonder Women