“We are the diviners of change!” proclaims Janaya “Future” Khan. Three thousand people … significantly young and Black … fill the massive concrete steps at Los Angeles City Hall, pouring out onto the sidewalk, into the street, extending the length of the block and into Grand Park. The hotter-than-July sun shines on the faces of Youth Vanguard members who just finished speaking about their recent victory in LAUSD – ousting police from school campuses and cutting their budget by 35%.
To their left is veteran organizer and “Baba” of the movement, Akili, who has been engaged in the struggle since the late 1960s. You can feel the adulation and pride exuding from actor and activist, Kendrick Sampson, who just introduced Future as one of his all-time favorite speakers and comrades. Newly inducted President of United Teachers Los Angeles and BLMLA member, Cecily Myart-Cruz, stands among teacher-friends, students, and organizers from Students Deserve. She had just given her first speech as UTLA President … a fiery commitment to liberatory education and centering the wellness of Black students. Sister Fouzia Almarou, the mother of #KennethRossJr, dotes on her son and grandson – both 5-year-olds – after having bellowed out the most thorough tongue-thrashings of District Attorney Jackie Lacey imaginable, before the crowd marched from the Hall of Justice, where we initially assembled to City Hall.
I stand back, scan the crowd, rest my eyes on the faces of my three school-aged children, who are all firmly entrenched in the movement, and feel the Spirits of each of the names that we called during libation. Warrior Ancestors seem to dance among us. The families of those killed by police take a moment to exhale. Alongside the speakers, rotating, volunteer ASL interpreters sign, at the base of the steps non-Black allies hand out cold drinks, snacks, and requisite masks. A tall man at the center of the crowd intermittently leads chants from a bullhorn between speakers. The crowd erupts in cheers, chants, laughter, and occasional tears together … as if one massive organism. There is so much beauty and power in this space … a space that has grown to the hundreds of thousands for some demonstrations … and, before the murder of #GeorgeFloyd was sometimes limited to just a few dozen.
Last week, the New York Times pointed to Black Lives Matter as, quite possibly, the largest movement in U.S. history. Their measure is based on the number of people who have participated in Black Lives Matter protests, especially over the last several weeks. From the beginning, it was our clearly-stated intention to build Black Lives Matter as a mass movement. Movement organizers recognized that it is only through large-scale action that the kind of fundamental change necessary for Black people to get free can take shape. We have also learned that there are no shortcuts in this process.
For the last seven years, Black Lives Matter has worked to end state-sanctioned violence against Black people and struggle forward, in the Black radical tradition, to transform systems that were deliberately and intentionally designed to produce oppressive and deadly outcomes. The movement was birthed in Los Angeles, and built by a fairly small initial collective of visionary and committed Black folks, summoned together by BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors. After the initial uprisings that followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of our beloved son #TrayvonMartin, Black Lives Matter members spent the year engaging in political education, smaller demonstrations, artistic and cultural endeavors, and relationship building. The murder of #MikeBrown was a watershed moment, marking the explosion of Black Lives Matter into a global movement. Organizers with particular skill sets were summoned to Ferguson. Chapters arose all over the country and the world. Black people, especially young Black people, committed themselves to the struggle. For two years, the movement remained in the headlines … and then, on November 8, 2016, the cameras turned. With the election of Donald Trump came the whiting out of Black Lives Matter. Lead organizers went from daily appearances on national news to a refusal by even local outlets to cover the killings of Black people by police and White supremacists or the demonstrations that followed.
The struggle for Black freedom, though, must continue whether there is media or not, when crowds number in the thousands or just a handful. The work is both visible and invisible; it requires skill, and heart. It was between 2016 and 2020 that the real work of building Black Lives Matter took shape in earnest. It was during this period that those for whom this was a momentary phase fell off, counter-organizers were exposed, and those with a real commitment stepped up. It was in this building phase, that we launched and intensified campaigns ranging from police accountability to #BlackXmas to #JackieLaceyMustGo, and readied ourselves for what was to come.
In April and May 2020, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles pulled together the #BlackLADemands and assembled the #PeoplesBudgetLA coalition. For at least five years, BLMLA had issued the call to #DefundThePolice, to counter the Mayor of L.A.’s budget, which consistently spent more than 50% of the City’s general fund on LAPD. But it was following the excruciating, eight-minute-and-forty-six-second murder of #GeorgeFloyd at the hands of Minneapolis police when the “defund” demand became the clarion call.
On May 25, 2020, the world cracked wide open.
Black people, especially, felt viscerally what was meant when we said that “the system of American policing descends from slave-catching,” as the souls of every evil forebear shown through the face of Officer Derrick Chauvin as he defiantly shoved his knee in the neck of our Brother George and held it there.
As the breath was stolen from George Floyd’s lungs, his Spirit arose, joining Breonna, and Ahmaud, and Sean, and AJ, and Wakiesha, and Kendrec, and Rekia, and Tamir, and Andrew, and Redel, and Michelle, and Oscar, and, and, and … and shook awake all of the Black folks who had grown weary of movement work, and commanded more of non-Black folks who once thought it enough to not be active racists.
The world has cracked wide open.
Black Lives Matter has been doing the work for seven years. We have been disrupting White supremacy and building Black community. We have been doing work that is visible and invisible. We have been writing, and thinking, and healing, and organizing, and loving, and readying ourselves for this particular moment. For this movement-moment, for the coming radical change, for the realization of our Ancestors’ wildest dreams. For this chance to transform the world, for this ushering in of Black freedom.
The world has cracked wide open.
July 13, 2020, will mark the seventh anniversary of Black Lives Matter. Seven years ago, we pledged to build “a movement not a moment,” only imagining this movement-moment, only freedom-dreaming of the victories that are manifesting all around us. On this seventh anniversary, we continue to step out on faith, with courageous discipline, expansive vision, and immeasurable love for our people, committing ourselves with our whole selves to the struggle and to serving as the diviners of change.