Where do you find solidarity when nowhere feels safe? When the institutions charged with protecting you bring hostility instead, and the government’s idea of “public safety” translates into terror in your neighborhood? The mobilizations of the past several weeks against police brutality–following the killings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, and countless others–have started to shift the ground on the streets of cities across the country, opening up small sanctuaries in the crowds of demonstrators, spaces where people are voicing condemnation of racial violence, as well as a message that embodies the hope and the uncertainty of the moment, “Black Lives Matter.”
The clenched fists and raised palms represent unity that’s a work in progress: a consciousness of the fact that people come together today, but also that wrestling with the profound divisions in our society around race is a longer struggle, which will continue long after the crowds dissipate. Still, the symbolic gestures mark a shift in collective consciousness, an understanding that whatever background you come from, no one can afford to ignore the systematic the degradation of black lives, the culture of violence that fuels it, and the social institutions that allow, even profit, from that oppression.
It’s a freighted unity, evolving, far from perfect–not an effort to flatten or erase difference, but rather quest to confront those frictions while attempting to heal from the injustices wrought by segregation and hatred. An unprecedented array of movements and organizations, representing a multitude of backgrounds and demographics, from LGBTQ equality activists to social justice feminists to immigrant rights advocates, have heard the calls of “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter,” and responded.
— Bearded Brown Man (@DecolonisedSoul) November 25, 2014
— Claire Rigby (@claire_rigby) December 18, 2014
That’s why rebels in Palestine and São Paulo can get behind the folks marching in Ferguson, and young radicals in Seoul turned out to show solidarity with the crowds standing up for Eric Garner in Staten Island.
That’s why the voices of young black women are braiding together multiple social movements under the rubric of “Black Lives Matter,” to remind the world that, in the words of Alicia Garza, one of the organizers who founded the campaign (along with Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi) in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012:
“Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” And at the same time, ‘We remain in active solidarity with all oppressed people who are fighting for their liberation and we know that our destinies are intertwined.”
That’s why even climate change activists are reading a message of environmental justice in “Black Lives Matter,” because, as Naomi Klein observes, white supremacy is at the root of the environmental evils that both drive and reflect racial inequality across the globe, and the degradation of black communities in the U.S., are a stark embodiment of that injustice. And that’s why labor movements are aligning with the message, because the desperation encapsulated in the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” ties into a systematic sense of frustration and dispossession in every facet of life, including the economic hierarchies that reinforce the colorline.
And in Colombia, too, a union of port workers has echoed the rallying cry in the town of Buenaventura–a place with seemingly little in common with Ferguson or New York City. But if you listen closely to the Afro-Colombian workers struggling for equity on their own streets, you hear a diasporic struggle advancing across the hemisphere:
Today we are proud to stand with our brothers and sisters across the United States and around the world in response to the recent police killings of Eric Garner, Mike Brown and countless other victims of state violence. We unite with the international community to say that ‘black lives matter.’ While it should be implicit that all lives matter, communities in recent days have risen up to reinforce the fact that black and brown human beings have an equal place on this earth, because often times it feels that we do not. As residents of Buenaventura, Colombia, we know that our city could not be a clearer example of state imposed racism, segregation and inequality.
So, while waves of mourning and hope wash over the country’s fractious racial landscape and ripple across borders, we see how a shot, or a word, can be “heard around the world.”
As the saying goes, “When Black people get free, everybody gets free.” And fighting injustice wherever you are, is to fight for justice everywhere.