Who Belongs? EP 17 - Alicia Garza on Identity Politics and 2020 US Presidential Election

Interview

Monday, December 2, 2019

Download an MP3 of this interview.

In this episode of Who Belongs? we hear from Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement and the principal of the Black Futures Lab, which is an organization that engages Black voters year round and works to stop corporate influence in progressive politics. Alicia recently authored a paper for the Othering and Belonging Institute, titled, “Identity Politics: Friend or Foe?” which this episode draws from. Alicia also gives her take on some of the candidates running in the 2020 US presidential election and how they approach identity politics. This episode is part of our Civic Engagement Narrative Change project series, and is guest hosted by Gerald Lenoir, who is the Institute’s Identity and Politics Strategy Analyst, and the former executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration as well as a former executive director of the San Francisco Black Coalition on AIDS.

Transcript

Alicia Garza: People say things like, "If we just had a woman in this role, everything would be better." "If we just had a black person or an immigrant, or insert whatever identity, then things would be better." But the reality is white supremacy can be carried out by black people, it can be carried out by women. It's not just identity in and of itself that changes the ways that politics happen.

Marc Abizeid: Welcome to another episode of Who Belongs?, a podcast by the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. In this episode of Who Belongs?, we hear from Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter movement, and the principal of the Black Futures Lab, which is an organization that engages black voters year round, and works to stop corporate influence in progressive politics. Alicia recently authored a paper for the Othering & Belonging Institute titled, "Identity Politics, Friend or Foe?," which this episode will draw from. Alicia will also give her take on some of the candidates running in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and how they approach identity politics.

Marc Abizeid: This episode is part of our Civic Engagement Narrative Change project series and will be guest hosted by Gerald Lenoir, who is the institute's identity and politics strategy analyst, and the former executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. He's also a former executive director of the San Francisco Black Coalition on AIDS. Here was their conversation.

Gerald Lenoir: You wrote a paper titled "Identity Politics, Friend or Foe?," for the Othering & Belonging Institute, around the issues of identity politics and civic engagement. I wonder if we could start by talking about, what made you decide it was important to publish a paper on that topic and at this moment?

Alicia Garza: I decided to publish a paper on this topic right now, because for the last four years, we've been in what I think are very surface level conversations, about the ways in which race and identity shaped people's behaviors, patterns and activities. And in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I think that we can say certainly that it is women, and people of color, and people who feel like they are left out of the political process, who when activated, take action along their experiences. Unfortunately though, some of the autopsy coming out of the 2016 election, is that to talk about race, or gender, or anything else besides class, and the way that it shapes people's political preferences, and what they want and need out of politics, there's a narrative that to talk about that in any kind of way, actually divides people and turns them off, as opposed to the potential that it could be a unifying mechanism for the ways in which people take action together.

Alicia Garza: The reason that I think that that's a flawed message, is that we absolutely did in 2016 see the American electorate come together around race, and class, and gender. It just wasn't in the ways that we had hoped for, and that's actually how we ended up with the current president and the current administration. There was an activation of white identity politics that certainly won the day. And so, I felt it was important for us to talk about identity politics, in a way that goes around the discussion of whether it's polarizing or not, and really just deals with it on its face, and then looks at different ways to mobilize and galvanize identity politics, in the pursuit of a visionary and progressive agenda.

Gerald Lenoir: So talk a little bit about how that identity politics help to bridge across difference.

Alicia Garza: I mean, if we look at 2016 and we look at the outcomes, I think a lot of people say, "How did this happen?" The simplest way to say it, is that there was a coalition that came together across class, and across gender, and in defense of race. And so, I think there's a lot of ways in which people have said things like, "The current president got elected because it was white, uneducated people in rural areas, who didn't really know what they were doing." But the fact of the matter is, the whole campaign that this president advanced was very much centered around protecting white power, defending white identity, and also creating villains out of those who would say that, white identity politics aren't the only identity politics that deserve attention.

Alicia Garza: They weaponized the defense of white identity against that agenda, and the result, quite frankly, is that you saw a cross-class coalition and a inter-gender coalition coming together to elect what I would argue, is a white nationalist, proto-fascist president. Now, in 2018, I think we saw a swing to the other side of that. I think that people in places like Alabama, people in places like Virginia, people in places like Georgia and Florida, decisively said that actually there are more voices that deserve to be included in the political process, beyond those who are white, beyond those who are wealthy, and beyond those who are male. And so, I think what we really see here is a contestation, for the identity politics of this nation. Is America only going to be a place where white people are safe and secure, and have their needs met? Or are we actually going to move toward the more pluralized America, that most of us think that America can be.

Gerald Lenoir: Yeah. That's very much in line, with the framework and analysis that we are working on in the Othering & Belonging Institute, this notion of fostering a new progressive identity that bridges across established identities. I came of age in 1960s when the notion of people of color was born, that signified a common identity and a common struggle against white supremacy, and against economic exploitation. So do you think that is something that is occurring at this political moment, that this new progressive identity is beginning to be formed?

Alicia Garza: I do, and I think it's not a guarantee that without organizing and without clarity, that a new coalition gets formed that is not just focused on representation, but that is also focused on a different way of doing politics in the first place. One of the dangers I think, that I actually agree with my opposition on, when we talk about identity politics is that it's identity for identity's sake. And so, on both the left and the right, people say things like, "If we just had a woman in this role, everything would be better." "If we just had a black person or an immigrant, or insert whatever identity, then things would be better." But the reality is, white supremacy can be carried out by black people, it can be carried out by women. It's not just identity in and of itself that changes the ways that politics happens. It's identity plus a different vision for how identity or how politics should happen, that actually creates the kinds of change that we want to see.

Alicia Garza: And so, I think with this paper what we attempted to do, was actually bring that together, was to talk about the ways in which the identities that we hold are not so much badges of honor, as they are markers for how we experience the systems that shape our society, how we experience the economy, how we experience our democracy, how we experience our communities, and that we take those experiences into the ways that we act politically. And so, if there are places that are organizing us, those of us who are being left out of the spoils of the distribution, of the ways in which these assets and levels of access are distributed, if we organize around that, and also organize around a different vision for how things can be distributed, while also lifting up that the reason that things are distributed unequally is because they serve to keep us apart and divided, then we can accomplish amazing things.

Alicia Garza: I'll give a quick example. What was so amazing about Stacey Abrams in Georgia in her run for governor, was not just that she would have been, and in my opinion did become, the first black woman to be governor in the history of not only that state, but certainly one of the first in the country, it was the vision that she was organizing people around through her campaign. Stacey Abrams was brilliant in a number of different ways. She was able to bring together poor white people, with poor and working class black people, and people of color, folks who had been left out of the political process, and she gave them something to vote for. She offered a vision where everybody could be included, she offered a vision for how to transform the systems, that intentionally kept people away from the resources that they need to live well, and she gave them a vehicle to participate in.

Alicia Garza: And I can tell you that on election night I was in Georgia, and I saw a multiracial group of people who were waiting to cast their vote for her. They were waiting in lines that were two and three hours long. There were elderly people, there were young people with babies. And when you talk to everybody, and you ask them why were they standing there, knowing that they had been there for hours and that it was possible they wouldn't be able to cast their vote, they said two things. Number one, Stacey was their preferred candidate. But number two, that they understood the context in which they were needing to cast this vote. They understood what was at stake if they walked out of that polling place, and they also understood what was at stake if Stacey were able to take that seat. That's the kind of identity politics organizing that we need, to transform democracy in America.

Gerald Lenoir: It reminds me going back to 1984, I was part of the Jesse Jackson for president campaign, where we had a black led movement based upon a populist message. But it was an anti-racist populist message that brought people together across the racial spectrum, with a very progressive platform around the rights of women, around immigrant rights, around issues of affirmative action for African-Americans, a whole range of issues that resonated across the political in racial spectrum. So I think what you're describing in Georgia has precedence, and I think that we need to study history and bring it forward, because this phenomenon continues to happen historically over and over again, where we come together and how to consolidate that and bring it to full fruition is a challenge.

Alicia Garza: Absolutely. And I'll say, one of those big challenges that I think the Rainbow Coalition faced, the Obama coalition faced, and certainly the next Stacey Abrams coalition will face, is this question of how do we put our money where our mouths are? So in every campaign, whether it be the Jesse Jackson campaign, the Obama campaign, the Stacey Abrams campaign, there is a galvanizing of hope for change. And I think that message has been used intermittently throughout the decades, and yet one of the major things that we face as a coalition of people who want to see change happen, is that we haven't clearly articulated the change that we want to see, and how we know when we'll get it. I think one of the challenges with the Obama coalition is that it essentially disintegrated after he was elected, and had a very hard time holding him accountable.

Alicia Garza: Part of that had to do with identity without a program. So people didn't want to hold him accountable because he was the first black president of the United States, and folks were worried about what accountability looked like under those conditions. Did it undermine the fact that the first black person to ever hold that office, was holding that office? And I think, one of the reasons that I feel so strongly as you do, about both understanding that there is maybe nothing new under the sun but that we could always be doing it better, but also understanding that identity in and of itself is not enough, is that I do feel that we are approaching one of the most important election cycles of my generation. And what happens in November of next year, is going to dictate what happens in this country over the next decade or more.

Alicia Garza: So we've got a shot to get it right. But we also, of course, have a shot to get it wrong. And my hope is that we're able to learn the lessons of the Rainbow Coalition, the Obama coalition, the Stacey Abrams coalition, and bring the best to bear for what happens in 2020. But also leave behind some of those pesky barriers, that we just have not seemed to have the right strategy to get around.

Gerald Lenoir: I want to probe again something you mentioned about identity politics, is not in and of itself what we're looking for, because I think sometimes identity politics can be politics that don't bridge, that we become insular in our identity politics. Is that something that you've run across? And how do you challenge identity politics that is breaking, that it doesn't connect and help to create a larger identity?

Alicia Garza: That's a really important question and one I'm excited to answer. I spent a lot of time thinking about this. And as somebody who has been in movement with you, Gerald, for many a moon, and who also has had the privilege of being amongst people who are just coming into movement for the first time in the last decade or so, I think you're right, that there is a real danger that our identity politics can not only be underdeveloped, but they can certainly be insular and divisive. And there's many ways that that happens I think, intentionally and not intentionally. And so, I wanted to talk a little bit about the intentional part, because those are things we can do something that helps.

Alicia Garza: First and foremost, I always say that it's important that we understand, that identity politics is not oppression Olympics. There is no need for any of us, to really talk about how we're more oppressed than somebody else. The existence of oppression in and of itself is the problem, and so we've got to attack that. And the reality is the ways in which people get left out or left behind, are actually quite sophisticated. They are not in this day and age, largely expressed in the ways that people tend to talk about it sometimes, which is clear images that people have about oppression, like what happened in Nazi Germany, where Jewish people were rounded up and in large scale put into concentration camps and murdered, or here in the United States where you had the active engagement and presence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who were explicitly and visibly racist and discriminatory.

Alicia Garza: Our systems and our structures, have adapted themselves to being able to still function in those terrible ways, but to do so in such a way where we fight each other over crumbs, as opposed to have our focus on who it is that benefits from all of us not having what we need. And so, there's some ways where I see identity politics rhetoric saying things that are I think, mischaracterizations of how people have defined identity politics. So I saw something on social media not too long ago, a young activists saying, "Well, identity politics aren't for white people, and intersectionality is not for white people." And I thought to myself, well, I don't actually agree with that. I think that the reality is that all of these things are constructed, and they're constructed around the distribution of power.

Alicia Garza: And so, if we were to say that all white people have power, and all people who are not white don't have power, that's not actually a nuanced analysis of how these systems work. And frankly, if we don't have that level of nuanced analysis, we don't have a shot at building the kinds of strategies that can dismantle theirs. And so, that's one thing. We're not all racing to be the most depressed. We're racing to make sure that nobody is without the things that they need. So that's one piece.

Alicia Garza: I do think the second piece that's really important for us to pick up and really challenge, is the ways in which we can in the progressive movement, really weaponized identity politics in a way that kind of has us in each other's, in opposite corners I should say, and not willing to talk about the elephant in the room. I can't tell you how many progressive organizations or coalitions I've been a part of, where as soon as we start to talk about anything besides class, it's almost like people fold into each other and get really uncomfortable, because suddenly the thing that was supposedly unifying everybody, no longer is unifying everyone. But the reality is, I think there's a way in which difference can unify us even further.

Alicia Garza: The United States has this narrative that we are all the same. And the narrative itself is fundamentally untrue, but it is what keeps these system functioning. When we have messages that say things like, "If you work hard enough you can achieve," that assumes that everybody is playing from an equal playing field. If we start to talk about though, the ways in which the playing field has been made unequal and how those inequalities mirror each other, the mirroring doesn't actually have to be the same for inequality to be the bad guy. So for example, if we're to talk about wages, and as a black woman, I'm making 61 cents to every dollar that white men make. And as a black man, Gerald, you might be making 71 cents to every dollar that white men make, what we need to talk about ... And then as a trans woman, she might be making 23 cents to every dollar that white men make.

Alicia Garza: And so, the 61 cents I'm making and the 71 cents you're making, I think there's a conversation for us to be having together about, what are the ways in which those different levels of inequality can either keep us away from each other, or can help us form stronger coalitions that help us fight the gaps that we all have between that white man's dollar? And then our strategies actually get deeper to say, how do we make sure that we're not just closing the gap between your wage and the white man's wage, but how do we make sure we're actually starting at the 23 cents, knowing that if we start there, then my wages are going to go up at 61 and yours are going to go up at 71?

Alicia Garza: So those are just examples of the ways in which difference is not a bad thing. Difference actually gives us clearer vision for what kinds of strategies we have to build in order to win, and who else gets brought into the coalition? And to be honest, what our opposition does really well that we're still working on, is that they build unlikely coalitions. They are very smart about having different wings of their resistance, and knowing that they're not going to agree on everything but they have a common goal. So to be honest, the Wall Street people don't like the tea party people, but you know what they like? Power. The Wall Street people don't like Donald Trump, but you know what they like? Power. And so, they are really adept at figuring out how to not only find out what they have in common, but how to leverage their differences in pursuit of the power that they are seeking.

Gerald Lenoir: Yes, I totally agree with that. I think there's a narrative of scarcity operating as a dominant narrative, and so we often see ourselves in competition with each other, as you were saying about the oppression Olympics. And so, there's only so much of this pie that we have to divide up, and so we're in competition. I ran into that in ... As you know, I was the founding director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and when I came into the movement in 2006, there was a narrative operating in immigrant rights movement that we are the new civil rights movement. And I'm talking to African-Americans are saying, "The new civil rights movement. What about the old civil rights movement?" And this narrative of, "It's our turn," trying to say that you've had your turn as African-Americans, now it's our turn.

Gerald Lenoir: And so, a lot of our work within the Black Alliance with Just Immigration, was to try to bridge that gap between African-Americans and immigrants, especially African immigrants but also Latino immigrants, in trying to get groups to understand that there's a common struggle against white supremacy, and there's a common humanity and a common destiny, that we have to realize and begin to tell stories that connect us. So this whole notion of migration, the African-American migration, and the parallels between the African-American migration and immigration was something that we used to say, "Look, we have similar experiences. We have similar experiences in terms of migration, in terms of fighting racism, and that we need to come together in a social movement that challenges the dominant narrative."

Gerald Lenoir: So let's turn to democratic politics the primary, and there's a whole lot to discuss in that, but let me first just ask you a more general question. From your perspective in the conversation you've been having, how much do you think that candidates matter? I ask because some people think that candidates are everything, and others say that with the stakes of this election coming up, the really consequential differences are where the outcome will take our country and our planet, people will be motivated no matter who is running. So how much do candidates matter in getting people out, and in motivating people to get to the polls?

Alicia Garza: Yeah, this is an important question. I mean, I think candidates matter, but what matters more than candidates is agendas. And in my work at the Black Futures Lab, I can tell you that we conducted one of, if not the largest survey of black people in America in 154 years. And with 30,000 people across the country from every state in America, the overwhelming majority of people who took our survey, said that they believe that politicians don't care about black people. And so, if you're coming into these elections and you're focused only on candidates, you should know that for black communities, we're not under any sort of illusion that candidates are the and all be all, to the pursuit of racial and social justice in America. At the same time, it is candidates with a progressive vision for what America can look like, but also how to make America live up to its promise of what it says that it is. It is those candidates that tend to rise to the top when it comes to black voters in particular.

Alicia Garza: And so, certainly I think that in this upcoming cycle, it is important to push candidates around their agendas. Otherwise, we end up with politics as usual, which is that it's based on personality and whether or not we would like have them over for dinner, as opposed to what is their plan to advance my quality of life? And bigger than that, what is their plan to include me in the decision making processes that impact my life, and the lives of the people who I care about? I think that one of the things that we've been really trying to push candidates on, is to have a broader, and better, and more sharp analysis of how people's experiences in the economy, in our democracy, and in our society should be shaping their policies around not just equal pay, or Medicare for all, or healthcare, but how do you actually get into some of this specificity, to make sure that your policies don't leave people behind? And I'll give a couple examples.

Alicia Garza: So the first example, I think, is that we have been in conversation with a lot of campaigns. And one of the things that we notice is that candidates tend to use the words criminal justice, to appeal to and talk to black communities. But in our survey, we found that while criminal justice reform, and police oversight, and police accountability, were certainly high on the list of issues that were important to black people, definitely in the top 10. In some states, it was in the top five. But the number one issue that black people cared about from our survey, was low wages that were not enough to support a family. And so, if candidates are not able to build out an agenda that looks at the relationship between economic justice and criminal justice, then they're not going to get far with black communities.

Alicia Garza: Whenever candidates are talking about the economy, they're talking about the economy, but they're talking to people who they envision are white working class folks who live in rural areas, and that's important to talk to those folks. But it's also to say that the working class is not only white, the working class is actually predominantly people of color and women. And so, you've got to be able to cut these issues in such a way where you are capturing the experiences, the specific experiences, of how women or people of color, or immigrants are being left out of economic prosperity, and how do you create a society where they are then included? So that's another example.

Alicia Garza: Last one I'll just offer here very quickly, is that I watched the last debate which I thought was interesting, where it was the first time that an all woman panel of moderators had been used in the democratic debates. And interestingly ... And I have a lot of commentary and thoughts about that, but that's for another podcast. But interestingly, it was one of the first discussions that I saw on a national debate stage, in the absence of the presence of candidates like Kristen Gillibrand, who made their whole platform about issues important to women, that the other candidates on the stage who are not women, had to talk about their plans to address issues that disproportionately impact women. Issues like child care, or paid family leave, or equal pay.

Alicia Garza: And interestingly, although probably not surprisingly, it took a lot of muscle for candidates to be able to have a well versed answer on how they would address these issues that certainly impact everybody, and disproportionately impact women and impact women uniquely. And so, it was almost like watching somebody who hadn't exercised for a long time trying to lift weights. It was a struggle to talk about childcare in a nuanced way, where people mostly talked about paid family leave, but they didn't also talk about the worker angle of it, of which 90% of the workforce that deals with childcare is women.

Alicia Garza: And so, I think these are examples of how candidates matter, sure, but their agendas matter more, and when we push on their agendas to get them to be sharper, and when we push on candidates to not be afraid of identity politics because some pundit told them that it divides people, then we actually get better prospects for a vision of governance that is actually democratic, that involves the people who are closest to the problem, who have a lot of ideas about how to bring forward solutions that benefit everybody.

Gerald Lenoir: Well, I know you're aware of this sharp critique of identity politics, in this notion that we need to have someone "electable" in that we should submerge identity for the greater good. What do you think about that line of thinking?

Alicia Garza: I just don't think it's possible. I'll be honest. Anytime people try to submerge "identity" for the greater good, it actually comes up in force. And again, I think that, and I believe I said this in this paper, that I think that the reason that people don't want to talk about identity, is because they want to obscure how power is actually functioning and operating. And this notion that to talk about race or to talk about gender is divisive, is really to say, "I don't want you to expose unequal distribution of power that I've received at your expense." I think that it's time to blow the lid open on the ways in which power operates in this country, so that we can finally see once and for all, who's benefiting and who's not. And the reality is, it's the half percent of the 1% that is getting over on everybody, and the rest of us are fighting each other, not for crumbs, but for the abundance that the one half of the 1% has been benefiting from for a very long time.

Alicia Garza: I will be honest that I don't know who I'm supporting in this race yet. But I can say that what I hope for from this election in 2020, is for the American electorate to get a lot more clear, about who's really benefiting from all of the ways in which we're suffering. And my hope is that with a more nuanced and engaged analysis and interaction, with the ways that people live their lives every single day, we can actually move the needle on some of the things that are hurting all of us.

Gerald Lenoir: So going back to the last debate, Kamala Harris said something that folks organizing on the ground have been saying for a long time, that is the black women have been showing up for years for candidates that win, and then they don't always show up for them. And then in the meanwhile, Joe Biden said that he has overwhelming support from African-Americans, and he feels pretty confident. We know that the polls show that Biden is ahead with black voters. So what do you make of that?

Alicia Garza: Well, where do I start? Let's start with polls and data. I am not sure. I think that there's been a lot of talk about Joe Biden having the majority support of black voters, and I think that that is a misnomer. I think if we look deep into those polls, and who they've talked to, and how many people they've talked to, I think that what we can mostly say is that a snapshot of people who were surveyed at a given time, of a certain age, had support for one candidate. I think what we know is that, when we start to look at the details of polls, we start to understand what they're actually saying as opposed to what we want them to say. And I think what Joe Biden's campaign wants us to believe, is that they have a lot of black support.

Alicia Garza: When I think that the reality is, is that the Biden campaign has a lot of name recognition, and that is different from, "That's the person that I'm going to vote for in November," or frankly if he makes it to November, let's even start earlier and say, "That's the person I'm going to vote for in the primaries." In relationship to what Kamala Harris said, I think she's absolutely right. I think it's black women in particular, but I think black people in general, are consistently being asked to step up to save a democracy that wasn't built for us. And we do that, because we have a never ending undying hope that one day it will. And I think the reality is that, the relationship between black communities and the Democratic Party in particular, has been incredibly transactional. I think we have to talk about that.

Alicia Garza: I think we've got to talk about it differently perhaps, than Senator Harris is. I think the way she's talking about it is the start of it. But I think it's actually a party question. And the party question is, what are you going to invest in black communities to ensure, not just turn out when you need us, but also, how do the concerns that black people have in America, get wrapped into the Democratic Party platform that is going to be rolled out in July, when a nominee is being chosen? How do the numbers shape up in terms of how much money is being invested in black communities, for voter engagement and voter turnout? I can tell you in California, in the last election cycle, it was less than $5 million, significantly less. When the numbers for outreach to white suburban communities, and people who they think are going to turn out to vote is much, much higher. And so it is a party question, not just a candidate question. And it is reflective of a transactional relationship that American democracy has to black communities in general.

Gerald Lenoir: The other thing that comes up in this primary season, is this notion that Pete Buttigieg has had trouble connecting with black voters because he's gay. This sounds to me like it's a blaming and shaming the black community. It's an old trope that African-Americans are more homophobic than the dominant society. But it also made me think about your paper, and how there is so often assumed a white norm, and we're talking about a lot of these other forms of difference around gender, sexuality or ability. What do you make of this line of thinking on Buttigieg and black voters?

Alicia Garza: Buttigieg.

Gerald Lenoir: Buttigieg and black voters?

Alicia Garza: Buttigieg. I'm like, for once we're having to learn how to pronounce their names. [laughter]

Gerald Lenoir: [laughter] I'm telling you. I'm telling you.

Alicia Garza: So here's the deal. I've been very vocal about this because it is a mistake that many campaigns make, and that they will continue to make until they start taking black votes seriously. I think the Buttigieg campaign did themselves some real damage with black voters, with the leak of this focus group and the results of that focus group in South Carolina. What I find interesting is that a lot of these candidates from Andrew Yang to Pete Buttigieg, really railed on identity politics when they entered the race, and now suddenly they're hanging their hat on it and weaponizing it against black voters, in ways that are totally insulting and lack any kind of foundation. Sure. Are there black people who are homophobic, and won't vote for a gay candidate because they're homophobic? Of course. There are also white voters who are homophobic, and won't vote for a gay candidate because they are homophobic.

Alicia Garza: But the reality is, as you said, black people are not more homophobic than white people. And frankly, the majority of black queer people, people who identify as lesbian, or gay, or bisexual, transgender, the majority of those people live in the south, like literally live in the south. And so to say that black voters are more homophobic, I mean, how do you explain black voters who are gay, and lesbian, and bisexual, and transgender, who are also not supporting Pete Buttigieg? It's not that he has a lot of black support amongst people who are queer. He has no black support. And so he's not able to explain that. But I can explain it for you, and I think some of it is about name recognition. But I also think some of it is about the fact that he really has very little literacy in talking about with real authenticity, what it is that black communities are experiencing in democracy, in our economy, and in our communities.

Alicia Garza: We've had several conversations about what we found in our census, and gave some advice to that campaign, about how to make their platform a little more relevant to the experiences of more black people. Their platform is largely focused around other tropes, that I think people talk to black communities about, like wealth generation, or entrepreneurship, or home ownership, all things that we totally love, and out of reach for most black people in America. It's like to design a whole platform and program, around things that only impact maybe 25% of our communities, or at least are in reach to very few of us.

Alicia Garza: And then to name the plan after a famous black person from yesteryear, really just shows that they're a little bit out of touch with, not only the way that black communities are changing in America, meaning the populations of black immigrants have increased dramatically over the last 10 years, the percentage of people who openly identify as gay, and lesbian, and bisexual in the black community have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. The number of people who are falling farther down the economic spectrum, has changed dramatically over the last 10 years.

Alicia Garza: And unfortunately, that plan, whether you call it the Douglass plan, or the Madam C.J. Walker plan, or whatever kind of arena that they're in, where they name it after a different black person, doesn't change the fact that they seem to still be really out of touch with what everyday black folks are dealing with, in today's America. And that is why in our assessment, there hasn't been much support of people to judge as a candidate from black voters in America.

Gerald Lenoir: Yeah. It becomes very mechanical. There's really no historical connection to the black community or the issues that we care about.

Alicia Garza: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We also saw a big gap from their campaign around police violence in South Bend. I think we all watched the Town Hall on CNN, where it was not only concerning, but again, it reinforced that the relationship needs to be stronger and deeper for that name recognition to grow, but also for trust to be had that the vision and the values are alive.

Gerald Lenoir: Now, I want to turn to one of your newest projects. I know that you and Ai-jen Poo, the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood, have formed a new membership organization called Supermajority. So talk to us about that effort to bridge with women across the racial divide, based upon a feminist agenda.

Alicia Garza: I am so excited about this initiative, because I think a lot of us are talking about, "How do we build a multiracial democracy where we all belong?" And I think it really does start in our organizing efforts. Over the last five years, we have seen social movements emerge all over this country, whether it be Occupy Wall Street or the Women's March, which was the largest mobilization of women in the history of this country, to Black Lives Matter, and to Idle No More and the Standing Rock movement. I mean, we have really seen an unprecedented level of political activity. And yet, I think there's so much work still to be done, that is able to bring our struggles into alignment, to add up to something more than the sum of our parts.

Alicia Garza: And so for us, super majority is really a place where we are bringing people together, focused on women, but bringing women together to figure out, how do we leverage our power? We are all mad as hell, and I think women in particular want to rematch from 2016, and yet there's a ton of foundational things that are needed, in order for women to be the political force that we are projected to be in 2020 and beyond. So our goal is really to be a home for women who want to be active, who wants to be engaged, who want to build relationships beyond their own known communities. And in that vein, we are training women to be powerful in the 2020 election, and we are also ready to launch in the fall, the largest woman to woman voter contact program in the history of this country, galvanizing 2 million women in advance of November 2020.

Alicia Garza: So I'm really excited to be able to bring what I have to bear, from my years of experience in organizing across this country, and helping to galvanize black folks across this country in defense of our lives. I'm stoked to be doing it with two of the baddest sisters that I know, Ai-jen Poo, who has built an incredible movement of women who are literally in the shadows of the economy, and building domestic workers into a powerful political force, that just this year resulted in the introduction of a federal Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, at a time when not much federal legislation is getting introduced. And Cecile Richards, who is the powerhouse behind not only the success of Planned Parenthood, but the redemption of Planned Parenthood, under withering attacks from this administration.

Alicia Garza: So I'm really honored to see what we can come up with, and frankly, to join with the multitude of efforts that are underway, again, to build something that is bigger than the sum of our parts, to charge beyond the status quo, and to make sure that we're building the kind of infrastructure that never gets us back in this place again.

Marc Abizeid: And that wraps up this episode of Who Belongs? I'd like to thank our guest Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the principal of the Black Futures Lab organization, working to engage black voters year round. To learn more about that organization, visit their website at blackfutureslab.org. I'd also like to thank Gerald Lenoir, the institute's identity and politics strategy analyst, and former executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, for conducting this interview. For a transcript of this episode, visit us online at belonging.berkeley.edu/whobelongs. Thank you for listening.

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