Across the Country, Black Women Lead #BlackLivesMatter Protests

by Hannah Giorgis for The Guardian

Erica Garner – the brave daughter of Eric Garner, who died this July when police officer Daniel Pantaleo restrained him in an illegal chokeholdstaged a “die-in” last week outside the storefront where her father said his last words: “I can’t breathe.” The phrase, which Eric Garner repeated 11 times as Pantaleo refused to release his grip, has become an international rallying cry for protesters, celebrities and students alike.

And Erica Garner has, like a lot of women have, been at the forefront of much of the New York-based protest movement advocating for changes in system or law and order – and how we as a society view black lives. She is, like a lot of women are, supported by organizers working to keep momentum going for tangible, systemic change, even in the wake of such collective, ongoing pain.

Saturday afternoon in New York, a diverse crowd of over 50,000 people marched through the city expressing frustration with a system that continues to let black die people without justice. The Millions March NYC, characterized as much by deep affirmation of black life as collective outrage over that injustice, brought together people of all backgrounds to protest ongoing state violence.

But the latest successful moment of the post-Ferguson movement wasn’t the work of an established civil rights organization or well-funded non-profit: like the protests and organizing in Missouri and beyond, it was driven chiefly by the efforts of young black women and brought to fruition by a coalition of young multi-racial activists. Umaara Elliott and Synead Nichols, the lead organizers of Saturday’s march noted that they are part of a new generation of activists “willing to take up the torch” and “demand that action be taken at every level of government to ensure that these racist killings by the police cease.”

FacebookTwitterPinterestexpandProtesters march on 5th Avenue during the Millions March NYC on 13 December 2014 in New York. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

Like the young women of Ferguson, women like Elliott and Nichols are on the front lines of the fight against racist state violence. It is young black women being teargassed, providing jail support for comrades arrested during protests, and holding up signs that assert our shared humanity alongside male comrades. “NYPD ARE THE BROKEN WINDOWS” read one sign I passed as I marched with fellow young – and female – organizers, a nod to the discriminatory policing policy that erroneously suggests taking a harshly punitive stance on “quality of life” crimes will somehow reduce the rates of violent offenses.

The most recent dynamic leadership of black women on thefront lines in Ferguson and cities across the US reflects what black women understand intuitively by virtue of our own experiences: the radical power of black women-led activism lies not in token representation for the sake of optics, but in deep, meaningful attention to intersecting oppressions and the solutions that emerge from understanding them. It maintains that we are all affected differently by injustice and must address its multiple iterations simultaneously– that “nobody’s free until everybody’s free”.

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Photo credit: Rena Schild /

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