A BART car weighs thirty tons and can travel up to 80 miles per hour. When a train departs San Francisco's Embarcadero station, it accelerates as it enters the Transbay Tube, making the six-mile journey to West Oakland in just seven minutes.
On Nov. 28 of last year, two trains arrived at the West Oakland BART station a few minutes before 11:30 a.m., one heading east, the other heading west.
It was the day after Thanksgiving, and as a stream of passengers pushed their way off the westbound train and onto the platform, a pair of young African Americans dressed in black stepped forward and held open the sliding doors on one car. In the scrum around the doors, a cadre of other black people began to work quickly and efficiently, emptying rolling suitcases of PVC piping, chains, and locks. A man locked chains around his waist to the BART train bike rack and used a bicycle U-lock to chain his neck to the car's safety handle. About 15 feet away, on the platform, a woman chained herself to the bars of a bench. Between the two, three more protesters connected arms through thick PVC piping — a common practice to prevent police from breaking protesters' grips.
Another human chain was forming on the eastbound platform. By a few minutes after 11:30, BART was effectively shut down. It would remain so, on Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year — for more than two hours, until police and firefighters managed to detach the handles in the BART cars and unlink the anchors of muscle that had brought the Bay Area to a halt.
The Black Friday 14, as the group of arrested protesters came to be known, were all black. They wore black t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan #BlackLivesMatter. The hashtag was also stenciled onto the PVC piping that linked their arms. As they stood in defiance of an angry crowd of frustrated riders, they sang freedom songs and passed chants back and forth from the eastbound platform to the westbound platform.
“If Mike don't get it!”
“Shut it down!”
“If we don't get it!”
“Shut it down!”
“Black! Lives! Matter!”
“Black Lives Matter” was, by then, a slogan that had come to define the racial unrest that exploded in Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer had shot and killed an unarmed teeanger named Michael Brown. As Ferguson, a small, majority-black city north of St. Louis, erupted in nightly protests, with heavily armed police squaring off against crowds of demonstrators with their hands held up, Twitter captured real-time scenes of grief and outrage for an international audience. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter became the rallying cry for a nascent civil rights movement dedicated to exposing the epidemic numbers of black men killed by America's cops.
But the Black Friday BART shutdown wasn't aimed at the police, the criminal justice system, or even elected officials, but straight at the heart of American capitalism: Christmas shopping.
“Black lives can't matter under capitalism,” says Alicia Garza, the 35-year-old Bay Area activist who coined the phrase and co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement with two other California black activists, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. “They're like oil and water.”
Garza was one of the protesters holding back the BART train last year. Since then, she has moved to the forefront of a new generation of civil rights leaders. She was named No. 4 (behind Shonda Rhimes, Serena Williams, and Lebron James) on the Root 100, an annual list of black influencers featured in Cosmopolitan. She's spoken to audiences across the country, from humble local union halls to the grandeur of the United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights.
Meanwhile, the phrase (and idea) “Black Lives Matter” has been embraced by President Barack Obama, become a litmus test for Democratic presidential hopefuls, and even served as the incongruous backdrop for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf during her annual State of the City address this year. It's also been co-opted by popular culture (popping up in Law & Order: SVU), heatedly rebuked (opponents insist, “All Lives Matter,” while defenders of former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, say “Police Lives Matter”), and straight-up twisted (“Black Rifles Matter” was the slogan on a popular T-shirt for sale at this year's Urban Shield law enforcement trade show).
#BlackLivesMatter remains contested ground, both on- and offline. Young activists protesting in the streets of Ferguson, Staten Island, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Oakland have strong opinions on what the movement is and who it includes, while older generations of Civil Rights leaders, politicians, and pundits often struggle to keep pace.
That's a weighty, unexpected fate for a phrase that Garza coined in a Facebook post two years ago. At the time, she was a respected Bay Area activist and community organizer. On the night of July 13, 2013, she was having drinks with her partner and some friends at Room 389 on Grand Avenue in Oakland, mourning the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who'd shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. “#blacklivesmatter” she posted on Facebook at 7:14 p.m. that night. Then, five minutes later, she posted again: “black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”
The next day, Garza joined dozens of other families at Sole Space, the downtown Oakland shoe store and cultural space whose owner's practice of opening the storefront to the community in the aftermath of police shootings, non-indictments, and light sentences has become a depressingly frequent tradition.
“Jack [the owner] had opened up the space for people who were just grieving and weren't trying to march and wanted to be in community,” Garza recalls. “So people started to do a bunch of art. We plastered his whole storefront with art that said 'Black Lives Matter.' It was awesome.”
By the end of the day, Garza, Cullors, and Tometi announced on Facebook that they were “embarking on a project” called #BlackLivesMatter.
The contours of the project were vague at first.
“#blacklivesmatter is a movement attempting to visiblize [sic] what it means to be black in this country. Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation. rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams,” Cullors wrote in a Facebook post on July 15.
“#blacklivesmatter is a collective affirmation and embracing of the resistance and resilience of Black people. it is a reminder and a demand that our lives be cherished, respected and able to access our full dignity and determination. it is a truth that we are called to embrace if our society is to become human again. it is a rallying cry. it is a prayer. the impact of embracing and defending the value of black life in particular has the potential to lift us all. #blacklivesmatter asserts the truth of Black life that collective action builds collective power for collective transformation,” Garza added the next day.
#BlackLivesMatter soon migrated from Facebook to Instagram and Tumblr. It was a platform, a hashtag, a meme, that most indefinable of phenomena: an online signifier that opened mental, emotional, and — eventually — physical space for a re-examination and reaffirmation of the value of black life in America. What began as an outraged and grief-stricken response to one particular tragedy ultimately became how the country talked to itself about race and police brutality.
That conversation is so much in the zeitgeist that in last month's first Democratic Party presidential debate, CNN's Anderson Cooper asked the candidates: “Do black lives matter or all lives matter?”
That may be shaky ground for the Democratic Party, which is also grappling with a viable candidate for the party's nomination who defines himself as a socialist and is not even a Democrat, but for Garza, achieving the imprimatur of mainstream politicians is beside the point.
The relationships, networks, and organizing work that propelled an impromptu Facebook post into a global civil rights movement for the social media era are rooted in Garza's experiences in the trenches of Bay Area community activism. Garza's #BlackLivesMatter is an explicitly leftist movement intent on achieving economic, racial, and social liberation, not just an end to wanton police brutality.
“Our people are having conversations about what a new world looks like where black lives actually matter,” she says. “We're clear that we're not trying to build black capitalism; we are trying to transform society.”
When she was a child, Garza remembers a teacher asking her why the skin of her palms was lighter than the rest of her skin.
“I didn't know what to say,” Garza recalls. “I think I was conscious of [racism], but I didn't have language for it.”
After growing up in San Rafael and attending an almost all black and brown elementary school, Garza's parents moved to Tiburon, a tiny and tony Marin County town of fewer than 9,000 residents and a median household income of $131,000, more than twice the state average. Tiburon is also one of the whitest places in the Bay Area: In the 2010 Census, Tiburon was home to just 83 African Americans.
Garza's mother and stepfather were antiques dealers. Since Garza was one of only 10 black students at her middle school, classmates assumed, incorrectly, that she lived in subsidized housing.
“That was the only place that they knew black people lived,” she says.
Middle school was when Garza became an activist. In the midst of a national push for abstinence-only education, Garza advocated for real sex ed and provided peer counseling to sexually active classmates during school hours.
Although she describes her parents as “solid liberals” who aren't particularly political, she credits her mother with inspiring that foray into activism.
“My mom is somebody who wants you to have all the information. She's not necessarily going to tell you what to do, but she's big on info,” she says. “In my middle school, people were having sex, and it was bewildering to me that you wouldn't talk about something that was clearly happening. It felt really important to just make it plain, so people could make good choices.”
Garza continued to do work on reproductive rights at Redwood High School and at the University of San Diego, where she did advocacy work on issues like pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS testing, and violence against women.
Though she studied political thought in college, she didn't get engaged in leftist politics until after she graduated, when she landed an internship in 2003 with SOUL (School of Unity and Liberation), an Oakland training program for social justice organizers.
“When I trained in sociology, we would read Marx, and we would read de Tocqueville, and we would read all these economic theorists, but in a void,” she says. “It never got mentioned in those classes that social movements all over the world have used Marx and Lenin as a foundation to interrupt these systems that are really negatively impacting the majority of people.”
Through SOUL, Garza began working with Just Cause Oakland, a new organization that, in 2002, successfully passed a ballot initiative, Measure EE, that established just cause eviction protections for Oakland tenants.
Garza's summer with SOUL wasn't just about getting a political education in a leftist “analysis around capitalism and imperialism and white supremacy and patriarchy and heteronormativity,” as she describes it, but a crash course in grassroots community organizing.
“It was right when [then-Oakland mayor] Jerry Brown had announced that he planned to move 10,000 new residents into Oakland in 10 years, so we were organizing low-income tenants in East and West Oakland to come up with a plan around what people wanted to see,” she says. “I spent my summer getting my ass kicked, knocking on doors 10 hours a day. It was really good training. Really, really, really good training.”
Garza was hired as an organizer for another East Bay community group, PUEBLO (People United for a Better Life in Oakland). Her first campaign was building community opposition to a proposed Walmart store in East Oakland. Talking to low-income black residents about the ways Walmart harms workers and the economy was a tall order. “By and large people, would say, 'Hell yeah, I want a Walmart because it's fucking cheap,'” she says.
When the local labor council withdrew its support for the fight against Walmart, PUEBLO was left alone to oppose the world's biggest retailer. They lost, and the store, now one of two in the area, opened in 2005. “That was heartbreaking,” she says. “That's politics at its worst.”
Garza left PUEBLO and spent a year organizing college students across the state with the UC Student Association, before returning to Bay Area activism. She was hanging out with a friend from SOUL one night when the friend mentioned that her organization, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) was looking to hire someone to start a black organizing project in San Francisco's Bayview.
“I was like, 'Me, sucka!'” Garza recalls. She started the job in March 2005.
If you drive southeast down Evans Avenue, past the Third Street commercial corridor that anchors the Bayview, past the massive U.S. Postal Service complex and India Basin Shoreline Park, you'll end up in Hunters Point, at the entrance to what is now called The San Francisco Shipyard.
“Welcome Visionaries,” reads the branded signage on chain link fences shielding construction zones.
Only a few of the planned 12,000 homes have been built on the site of the former San Francisco Naval Shipyard, but the battle to get this far was one of the most bitter and divisive in a long history of bitter and divisive San Francisco land use battles.
When Garza began organizing in the Bayview with POWER, she worked on campaigns to increase funding for public housing maintenance and to get assistance for homeowners on the hook for paying to move power lines underground. But the Hunters Point redevelopment plan was the big kahuna — a $7 billion project to completely transform 250 acres of land, some of it toxic and contaminated with radioactivity, in the corner of the city least served by public transportation.
In 2005, four POWER organizers published a book analyzing how capitalism and imperialism were remaking San Francisco and the Bay Area. They charged the city's “ruling elite” with developing an “agenda of economic apartheid” that threatened to displace working-class communities of color.
The bad faith and criminality of a predatory financial industry would lead to wide-scale displacement, the activists warned, and African Americans were most vulnerable.
“San Francisco is so small and dense that in order to reshape itself, we knew it was going to have to clear space. Bayview was the only place that was still kind of wide open for development, and who lived in Bayview? It was the largest remaining predominantly black community left in the city,” says Garza of her approach when she began working at POWER. “We saw that there was a contradiction between community-driven development that was going to serve the needs of people who lived in that community and corporate-driven development which was going to push those people out in favor of an expanding class of workers that were looking to relocate into the city.”
Or, as Pastor Yul Dorn, a lifelong Bayview resident and leader of the Emanuel Church of God in Christ, puts it, “They don't mind working-class people working here. They just don't want you living here.”
POWER went all in, fighting Lennar Urban, the project's developer, tooth and nail. The group formed a coalition — the Stop Lennar Action Movement (SLAM) — with the Nation of Islam, some progressive community groups, the Sierra Club, and residents, such as Archbishop Franzo King of the St. John Coltrane Church, who were concerned about toxic pollution from construction at the former shipyard.
“We would have town hall meetings every week, every Thursday on Oakdale,” Garza recalls. “We'd get hundreds of people coming week to week to talk about gentrification and take action together.”
“The organizing shook City Hall,” says Ed Donaldson, a housing counselor and neighborhood activist. “I remember going down there and the place was packed. Members of the Nation of Islam standing on every floor. You had sheriffs freaking out.”
Archbishop King, the chief “rabble rouser” for SLAM, says he was motivated to keep the Bayview black. “They tell you, 'If we build this, your property value will go up.' I didn't buy my property for it to go up and for black people not to be able to move in here anymore,” he says. “I came over here because it was a black neighborhood.”
In June 2008, the battle came to a head with two competing ballot initiatives. Proposition F, placed on the ballot by petition gatherers with POWER and its allies, required that 50 percent of the housing at Hunters Point be affordable to residents earning 30 to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). Proposition G, which was supported by Mayor Gavin Newsom and much of the Democratic Party establishment, would authorize redevelopment with less affordable housing available to residents at higher percentages of AMI.
A ballot measure requiring 50 percent affordability in a new housing development might not seem far-fetched in a city that this year saw the San Francisco Giants offer 40 percent affordability for its Mission Rock project and the entire progressive establishment — including the San Francisco Labor Council — come together to support a total moratorium on market-rate development in the Mission, but Prop. F divided those forces in 2008.
The San Francisco Labor Council, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE, which was known at the time as ACORN), and the San Francisco Organizing Project (a coalition of Christian congregations) negotiated a community benefits agreement with Lennar that committed the developer to offering 32 percent of the housing units at rates affordable for residents at 60-160 percent AMI and provided $37.5 million to the Bayview community. It was seen as a good deal, but it wasn't close to what SLAM and POWER wanted. The agreement put the negotiating parties on the side of Prop. G in the election, a calculation that many involved in the Prop. F campaign still see as a betrayal.
Even with powerful support from City Hall and a divided community, Lennar spent nearly $4 million on the ensuing political campaign.
“They were running ads on BET. They were sending mailers every single day with little black children jumping up and down on the bed in their new home,” Garza says. “It was fucking disgusting.”
Prop. G won handily, while Prop. F went down, 63 percent to 37 percent .
The Lennar fight left Garza with a bitter taste. “I'm not going to say that the irony is lost on me that folks are really adamantly trying to challenge gentrification and displacement now. The problem is that in San Francisco, the process is really advanced,” she says. “We were trying to consolidate people when we still had an opportunity to impact it in a proactive and not a reactive way.”
Today, ACCE is demanding the Mayor's Office of Housing produce more housing affordable to people below 100 percent AMI, especially since the influx of highly paid tech workers has pushed San Francisco's AMI for white households to $104,503, while African American households have seen their median income decline to just $29,503.
The problem has also spread from the black community to other communities of color. San Francisco's African American population has fallen to below 6 percent. In the Mission, 8,000 Latino families are in danger of being pushed out in the next 10 years (on top of the 8,000 families already displaced since 2000).
Even Chinatown, long protected from market-rate development by restrictive zoning, is feeling pressure from affluent tech workers willing to shack up in the single-room occupancy hotels that have traditionally housed low-wage immigrants.
Neighborhood activists in Chinatown and other affordable pockets of the city worry about going “the way of the Mission,” but black community members in the Bayview have another perspective.
“The way of the Mission?” asks Archbishop King. “The Mission is going to go the way of the Bayview.”
“Black folks are like the canary in the coal mine,” adds Donaldson, now an activist with ACCE. “You send us up in there, and we don't come back.”
“As a lifetime Bayview resident, we've always known that they want this area,” says Pastor Dorn. “They've always wanted this area, but it was inhabited by so many African Americans that they thought they just couldn't survive out here until now that they've found a way to push so many out.”
King, Donaldson, and Dorn weren't all on the same side of the Lennar fight, but these days they work together through ACCE and are united in a campaign to save Pastor Dorn's home from the crisis that engulfed Bayview shortly after the shipyard fight: foreclosure.
For the past seven years, Dorn, a pastor and chaplain for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, has been fighting foreclosure and eviction. (He claims to have never missed a mortgage payment; in court documents, he says his mortgage company lost his paperwork.) Any day now, the very sheriff's deputies he provides spiritual guidance to may evict him from his home.
He doesn't plan to go quietly.
“I'm going to sit here, and we're going to occupy,” he warns.
To Donaldson, King, and ACCE, Dorn represents the overlooked history of the San Francisco eviction and displacement crisis. Despite so much media and activist attention focusing on the Mission, they believe the current crisis has its roots in the Bayview, where the subprime meltdown and subsequent foreclosure crisis was felt most strongly.
“This community was the No. 1 homeowner community in the city,” King says. “But we're not homeowners. We own mortgages. We were tricked into those mortgages because at one time you couldn't get a mortgage in this neighborhood. When they opened it up, we were like, 'Wow!' We were starving for something so we went for it, and they gave us these big interest rates and set-up-to-fail payments.”
According to a February report from the city Controller, the Bayview has the highest foreclosure rate in San Francisco, at four times the city average.
Donaldson believes that the shipyard fight was a turning point for San Francisco politics. He draws a line from the political upheaval over Lennar to an increased focus on Bayview voters in the 2011 mayoral race, the Occupy protests targeting the Financial District beginning in 2011, and the passage of Prop. B in 2014, a restriction on waterfront development that set the table for progressive forces to extract the 40 percent affordable housing commitment from the Giants.
“To me, it represents a changing of the political landscape in this community, and I see it to a large extent directly linked to Black Lives Matter,” Donaldson says. “There's that undercurrent that's basically saying that our concerns, our issues, in every area of life need to be validated and need to heard.”
Donaldson was on the opposite side of the Lennar fight from Garza, but the two are still Facebook friends. “When she started hashtagging on Facebook, I started hashtagging Black Lives Matter too, because I instinctively understood what it was that she was getting at,” he says. “She was talking about it in the context of law enforcement and mass incarceration — the devaluing of black lives by police officers. I see the work we do here at ACCE as Black Lives Matter in an economic, political, and labor context.”
“I am not wrong: Wrong is not my name
My name is my own my own my own
and I can't tell you who the hell set things up like this
but I can tell you that from now on my resistance
my simple and daily and nightly self-determination
may very well cost you your life”
The final lines of June Jordan's “Poem about My Rights” are tattooed in black ink on Alicia Garza's chest. The font is small and runs below her shirt's neckline. You have to stand close to read the words of commitment.
#BlackLivesMatter may be a recent coinage, but the sentiment has deep roots in African American culture, roots that Garza has inscribed in her skin.
Garza is a consummate organizer. That the words “Black Lives Matter” spread from her personal Facebook account to the front page of The New York Times and to the lips of the president of the United States is a testament to the relationships and skills she built over her decade of organizing in the Bay Area.
In 2014, Garza left POWER and joined the National Domestic Worker's Alliance as a special projects director, planning to kickstart the group's organizing of African American domestic workers, especially in the South.
Black Lives Matter was still a “political project” — not yet a formal organization, and not the social media phenomenon it would become — on Aug. 9, 2014, when the unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson.
After Trayvon Martin's killing, protesters marched under the hashtag #MillionHoodies, a reference to the hooded sweatshirt that pundits like Geraldo Rivera suggested was to blame for Zimmerman's perception of the teenager as a threat. Protesters talking about Ferguson used the hashtags #HandsUpDontShoot or #MikeBrown. The police killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island produced #ICantBreathe.
#BlackLivesMatter became a means of unifying seemingly isolated incidents into a single, affirmative demand: that black life be treated as inherently valuable.
As the protests in Ferguson became an uprising, Garza worked with NDWA to draft a sign-on letter mobilizing feminist support called “Women for Women in Ferguson.”
“Often, the way we talk about this is that black men are under attack, which is certainly true. But black women also bear the burden of unjust law enforcement policies,” Garza told me a year ago, when we spoke for an interview published in In These Times.
NDWA agreed to send Garza to Ferguson, where she worked with local activists on the ground, with the goal of “building a movement from this moment.” She spent two weeks getting to know some of the protesters and local activist organizations, building relationships and assessing the political landscape, before returning home to the Bay Area.
A few weeks later, she returned to Ferguson. Black Lives Matter had taken the next step in its transformation from a hashtag to an organization by mobilizing 600 black activists from around the country to embark on “freedom rides” to Ferguson for a weekend of protests called “Ferguson October.”
Garza took on the role of de facto organizing director for a coalition of progressive community organizations adapting to the explosion of political energy. She also helped newly minted activists find their place in the movement, in some cases by forming their own organizations, such as Millennial Activists United.
“My work here is training young organizers to go out into St. Louis and talk with folks about joining the movement — get folks to commit to participating in the Weekend of Resistance as the first step in joining the movement, and figure out if we can build some infrastructure that can be sustained long after this weekend,” she told me last year.
Even in the midst of nightly confrontations with the police, Garza was focused on the broader, leftist agenda of Black Lives Matter.
“There are tons and tons of black workers here in St. Louis who work for poverty wages, who live in communities that have been ravaged by poverty and racism,” she said. “If we're only organizing people around class issues, we're missing a huge part of people's experiences. Those young people are making the connection between racism, poverty, police violence, and state violence.”
Today, Black Lives Matter has grown into a network of 28 chapters, with members across the country meeting locally to organize, protest, and strategize toward a “Black liberation movement” under the banner of BLM. Garza and her co-founders don't direct the actions of local chapters, but they set the national agenda and provide ideological guidance.
In her role as a cofounder and spokesperson, Garza remains committed to ensuring that the ethos of Black Lives Matter doesn't get co-opted by the Democratic Party or by black activists who want to reform policing but balk at more radical action.
“There's a broader movement that is participating in this movement that has a range of politics,” Garza says, diplomatically. “I think the one place where the broader movement is unified is around criminalization and anti-black racism.”
Part of BLM's goal, then, is to “infuse” that broader movement “with more radical politics” — in part by continuing to put forward an unapologetically anti-capitalist message. Bringing those ideas forward, however, is a challenge that has dogged the left for decades. “If you do it in the way that some folks do it, you're going to lose people, because it seems and feels fringe,” she says.
When Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley at the Netroots Nation conference — and targeted Sanders again at a rally in Seattle — demanding actionable platforms for racial justice, BLM faced backlash from establishment Democrats who have always taken the black vote for granted, as well as from leftists who suspected the activists of secretly supporting Hillary Clinton.
But that's not the strategy Garza and BLM are pursuing. Sanders, despite his lefty credentials and history of supporting the Civil Rights Movement, isn't nearly as transformative as Garza would like.
When I suggested that Sanders had been talking about socialism on the campaign trail, Garza deadpanned, “Has he?”
“It sounds like he's been talking a lot about being a social democrat, which is still left of where the Democratic Party is, but it's not socialism. It's democratic capitalism,” she explains. “There should be more voices saying, 'This is not actually socialism, and socialism is actually possible in our lifetime, and this is what that looks like. What you're talking about is a nicer, more gentle capitalism, and, you know, you still need some work on foreign policy.'”
Being on the outs with white leftists isn't an unfamiliar feeling for Garza. During Occupy, she supported the movement and worked with other grassroots organization to shift the focus to people of color and immigrants, but there was a certain disconnect.
“Our people have been talking about the 99 fucking percent and the one percent forever. It was not a new concept for us. We were like, man, the white people caught on, but no, I'm not camping out,” she says. “I'm not sleeping out when I'm trying to pay rent. Why would I not sleep in the bed that I pay for?”
Though many in the media — and on the left — have connected the upsurge in protests during the Occupy movement to the uprisings against police violence over the last year, Garza draws a meaningful distinction.
“There was this really interesting current of leaderless democracy that was really appealing to white folks,” she says.
The Black Lives Matter movement, by contrast, is “leader-full.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, a group of labor leaders entered the office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, sat down, and refused to leave. Almost a year after the Black Friday 14 stopped BART service for two hours, O'Malley continues to pursue criminal charges against the protesters despite a public outcry that they are being targeted for selective prosecution. The protesters have been charged with interfering with the operation of a train (a misdemeanor). The protest was coordinated with Fight For 15, a national group of fast food workers advocating for $15 an hour wages and union rights — the result of growing cooperation between organized labor and Black Lives Matter.
“Nancy O'Malley needs to get her priorities straight,” Wei-Ling Huber, president of Unite Here Local 2850, the Oakland hotel workers union, said in a statement. “We elected her to pursue justice, but instead she has wasted her office's resources by prosecuting our brothers and sisters fighting in the tradition of our civil rights and labor movements.”
The sit-in ended after a few hours — without a response from O'Malley — but the protesters plan to “flood” the BART board meeting next Thursday, Nov. 19, to continue the call for charges to be dropped.
When I ask Garza to reflect on the hours she spent chained to a train on the BART platform, she says that the experience had been transformative and rejuvenating.
“Literally putting our bodies on the line transformed us in ways that I don't think we'll ever come back from,” she says.
The members of the Black Friday 14 are represented in numerous community organizations around the Bay Area, and Garza credits their work with BLM in helping to push the region's progressive organizations “to reconsider how they're doing their work and to have more focus on black people” — a focus that might have made a difference in the Prop. F fight six years ago.
I ask Garza if she was scared the BART action wouldn't come off.
“Completely. I was scared shitless,” she says. “I was worried that the train wasn't going to stop. But you know,” she smiles — ever the organizer — “good planning avoids that.”
A previous version of this article misstated the weight of a BART car. We regret the error.