Alicia Garza

AliciaGarzaBlack Lives Matter is a powerful network of Black people who have come together to finally eradicate anti-Black racism and state-sanctioned violence, once and for all. For far too long, Black lives have not mattered in this country, nor have they mattered around this world.

Now, how do we know that? We know this, because, of the two-and-a-half million people who are locked in prisons and cages, one million of those people are Black. We know this because no fewer than nine million people are under state supervision, and many of those people are Black. We know this because, according to our comrades at the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every twenty-eight hours in this country, a Black person is murdered by police, security guards, or vigilantes. We know this because Black women are the fastest growing prison population. We know this because while the Confederate flag may have come down in South Carolina, it has not come down in Mississippi. In fact, it is the state emblem. It is the symbol that says to Mississippi, “Black lives do not matter here.” We know this because Black women make 64 cents to every 78 cents that a white woman makes, to every dollar that a white man makes. We know this because the average life expectancy of a Black transgender woman is thirty-five-years-old.

I could go on and on about how we know that Black lives do not matter in this country and around this world, but more importantly, it is critical that we understand that Black Lives Matter both as a powerful network and as an international movement that was ignited by the murders of people like Michael Brown. Ignited by the murders of people like India Clarke. Ignited by the murders of people like Jonathan Sanders. Ignited by the murders of people like Jordan Davis. Ignited by the people who are murdered like Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Ignited by people who are murdered like Penny Proud, like Oscar Grant, like Sandra [[Bland], like Rekia Boyd, like so many others. We know this because as all of these people are having their lives taken unnecessarily, we know that Black Lives Matter is about much more than police terror. It is about our fundamental right to live as Black people with dignity and respect.

In my work at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, we see ourselves as an integral part of the movement for Black lives. However, you may be asking yourself, what do domestic workers have to do with Black Lives Matter? Domestic work, caregiving that is administered in other people's homes, is rooted in and shaped by the legacy of slavery. Historically, enslaved Africans were forced to work in other people's homes, on other people's land, mostly for folks who were generating profit off of our backs. That is the legacy of domestic work.

How, then, did we get there? During the New Deal, Southern lawmakers and union leaders made a compromise that excluded domestic workers and agricultural workers from federal labor protections that were afforded to all other workers. Why did they do that? Because domestic workers and agricultural workers, at that time, were predominately Black.

Today, that means that domestic workers often live and work in the shadows of our society and in the shadows of our economy. They are often isolated as the only employee inside a home and oftentimes not even considered to be an employee but instead a member of the family. They are subject to exploitation and abuse. One woman I know personally said that she was brought here from Brazil with the promise that she could work for a family and be able to go to school. Instead, she had her passport taken from her, and she was forced to sleep on the porch while she cleaned and nourished and fed a family that was wealthy. They were, in fact, cancer researchers.

Domestic workers are often increasingly unprotected by the very laws that ensure that this type of exploitation does not happen. Many domestic workers are Black immigrant women from the Caribbean and from across the continent. More than 500,000 Black immigrants are living in the shadows of our democracy. They are both being criminalized for being undocumented and they are being criminalized for being seen as Black American. And while the tales are horrific, the organizing, which is led by these women, who hold the tatters of our democracy and our economy together, is restoring life and humanity to our homes and to our workplaces. Domestic workers have formed a powerful national alliance driven by them to fight for basic labor protections to set a fair floor, not just for us, but for everyone. Domestic workers are also innovating and shaping the fastest growing economy. We are building new and innovative models of full and fair employment that can finally uproot structural racism from caregiving, once and for all.

In our work, we have won five state-level bills in five states in five years, and we are just getting started. Domestic workers from across the African Diaspora have joined the powerful movement for Black lives. Because not only are we workers, but we are also mothers. We are mothers who have a hard time sleeping at night, because we are worried that our children will not return home. We are mothers who live in communities where the police join forces with federal agents, and they separate our families, and they criminalize our children. We know all too well, as my sister Heather McGhee from Demos has said, Black bodies were the first currency of this nation, and as such we are uniquely positioned to transform this nation.

Black Lives Matter is much more than a hashtag. It is much more than a moment. Black Lives Matter is a powerful assertion. It is a demand that we value humanity. It is a demand that we restore the right to breathe. It is an assertion that our children deserve to grow up to be adults. It is a movement that is designed to restore dignity and respect to a nation that was built off of our backs in the very first place. And we know that we will win.