“Heeeeyyy,” Alicia Garza says in a drawl, as she steps into the green room of the Civic Auditorium in downtown Santa Cruz to meet with a gaggle of reporters.
It’s the same disarmingly informal greeting she’ll use an hour and a half later when she steps to the podium to address a crowd of hundreds.
Inspiring to some, controversial to others, Garza is the creator of the Black Lives Matter hashtag, and one of the principal organizers of the group with the same name that now boasts 30 chapters around the world.
“You can’t tweet your way to freedom,” she told the Civic audience, to thunderous applause, before going on to explain why she wrote a letter on July 13, 2013—the day Trayvon Martin’s killer was set free—that contained the phrase “Our lives matter.”
“It was a love letter to black people,” she said. “Our lives matter. Our children matter. We are human, and we deserve dignity and respect exactly as we are. I also wrote that letter because too many people who are sworn to serve and protect us are getting away with murder.”
Garza also said that Black Lives Matter is not a new movement, but just a different moment in the same movement that was formerly championed by Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Garza read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which King decries white moderates who acknowledge injustice but allow it to continue. This is the radical side of King that Garza wanted to illuminate during the 32nd Annual Martin Luther King Memorial Convocation.
While the Blacks Lives Matter group has gained a certain amount of visibility in popular culture, she said she thinks Santa Cruz has been slow to recognize it.
“My impression of Santa Cruz is that it can be a little isolated from what’s going on north of it, south of it, east of it,” she told GT. “In some ways it makes it charming, right? But it in other ways, it makes it curious.”