Alicia Garza is all about Black Lives Rising — and you should be, too.

In an effort to elevate Black lives, the Black Lives Matter co-founder believes a crucial step starts with Black people showing up to the polls in November to vote during the midterm elections.

The Oakland-based organizer teamed up with NextGen America’s Black Lives Rising to help young Black voters become more aware of the power of the Black vote this upcoming election.

Garza, who is also a writer and public speaker, knows that if we don't show up, we can all see the consequences of what can happen when we stay at home.

She says the most exciting thing about partnering with Black Lives Rising and NextGen America is the opportunity to get a farther reach and connect to as many Black people as possible to impact what happens in November 2018 as well as in November 2020 and beyond.

“What we know is that the Black vote is incredibly important and it's so important that there’s a lot of people that want to keep us from going to the polls,” Garza said to Blavity. “That’s why we’ve seen such an increase in voter suppression laws and a renewed interest in things like redistricting because people want to make sure that Black people don’t get to exercise our power.”

“So one of the things that I feel like is really important also for people to know is that, when Black people show up, we change the course of history,” she added.

Proof of the impact of the Black vote can be seen in recent elections in Virginia, Alabama, the two presidential cycles with President Barack Obama and even the latest presidential election.

“Even though Black people, by and large, I think we're not happy with the choices that were presented to us, Black women, specifically outvoted every other ethnic group,” Garza said. “They were very clear about what needed to happen in this country.”

NextGen America’s Black Lives Rising is trying to continue that momentum by reaching out to HBCUs to influence students to vote.

Garza believes that the big difference to make or break what happens in November and in 2020 is whether people who are eligible actually sign up to register and cast that vote.

“Being on HBCU campuses, which historically I think have tried to be places to groom and activate Black people to be engaged with parts of our community have a really critical, critical role to play,” Garza said.

She believes Black student voters are important during election time because people who tend to vote during midterm elections are old white people, politicians and policy makers and people who don’t have our best interest at heart.

“What we know about being Black in America is that by and large for the most part, is we see issues differently than our white counterparts and that has a lot to do with exclusion and segregation and gentrification and being on the losing end of a lot of the disparities that we know about in our community,” Garza said.

“It’s so important for us to show up and I think that being in collaboration with NextGen America and Black Lives Rising, we really have an opportunity here to reframe what Black politics and Black political power can look like,” she added. “Certainly I think one major component is really activating our generation. Our generation who has benefited from all of the struggles from those that have come before us and that have invested interest in preserving the wins that we have made.”

Garza recalls the first time she voted. She remembers feeling like there was a lot of things that she didn't know and how hard it was to find the resources to receive a better understanding of what happening locally in her community in terms of ballot measures and initiatives.

That’s why she believes this partnership is so necessary, especially if there are other people out there like her who want to cast their vote and want to be involved but are waiting to be reached by our folks to help break down those issues in a simple and accessible way.

“I think this partnership is important for that reason too,” Garza said. “We’re expanding the number of places that people can go to get information about what’s happening and what’s at stake and to learn how to take action in addition to casting their vote.”

For those that are not interested in voting, Garza said there are a lot of reasons of why they may choose not to do so and she’s certainly not in the business of shaming anyone. She does understand why people are so hesitant in participating. But one thing she does believe is that people that are in charge of regulating laws on issues like controlling women’s bodies, immigration and policing won’t change if people are sitting on the sidelines. The reality is that it is bigger than voting.

“Every person that sits home ensures that those people win,” Garza said. “So I would say to people like it’s okay to be disgusted with what’s happening in politics right now, but let that disgust actually drive you to take action and be apart of the process.”

Garza says various tactics and organizing tips can be very helpful in influencing those who believe their vote doesn’t matter and help change their perspective.

One way is by engaging with our people consistently not just during the election cycle but in the decisions that impact our lives, she said.

“When we do that what we have found across the board is that people are more likely to register to vote,” Garza said. “To be an active voter and to vote in such a way that preserves the possibility of a future in this country.”

Another way is influencing some people to register to vote online, which is one of the easiest ways to get people to register, Garza said. Voters can influence their friends to register by letting them know that the online process is very easy. For those who are in states where registering online is not permitted, it’s great to have people in the community who are willing to drop off registration forms to the department of elections to still have their forms processed.

She also suggests people have parties in their house or dorms to talk about the issues that are most important to them and learning about the issues that are at stake right now.

“I’m a big believer in kind of collective wisdom and collective education so I think we’re more likely to participate when we know that we’re not going to be on our own,” Garza said.

Garza believes that some people currently running for office have plans that will address some of the issues she finds especially important to discuss during the 2018 midterm elections. They include criminal justice reform, employment, gun reform and transportation.

“We look at people such as Stacey Abrams who would be the first Black woman ever to serve as governor in the state of Georgia and her plans around criminal justice reform,” Garza said. “Her plans around the economy and employment especially for women in the economy, I think are brilliant.”

Stacey Abrams if elected, would be the first African-American woman elected as governor not only in Georgia, but in the country.

“So if we’re turning out to vote for somebody like Stacey Abrams and then what we’re able to do is get a foothold into not just electing the first Black woman as governor in the history of that state, but a stake hold in just having somebody in a position of power that shares our vision for what our community can and should look like,” she added. “So that’s a real concrete thing.”

Garza also touched on the importance of Lucy McBath, who lost her son, Jordan Davis to gun violence, running for a seat in the U.S. Congress.  McBath spent years advocating for gun reform and families after her son’s death. She will have decision making power over gun laws in the country, according to Garza. That’s an example of how your vote can actually matter.

The same applies to Andrew Gillum in Florida who will be the first Black person to ever serve as governor in the state who focuses on transportation, criminal justice reform, support for young people and families, according to Garza.

“A vote for him is really a vote for the agenda that we know all deserve,” Garza said.”But if nobody casts that vote then we don't get any closer to the things that we want.”

In terms of voting, the biggest lesson Garza said she learned, especially from the 2016 presidential election is that elections do matter and when we stay home, it’s not that we are sticking to the system, it means that people who don’t have our best interest in mind take up the space that we leave for them.

That’s the reason why she personally continues to vote. Garza is not willing to giving to give up her seat, knowing that there’s somebody else that is going to sit in it and do things that are against the interests of herself, family and the community that she loves.

“So what I would say to us is the basis of our political power is being engaged and again it's not about Democrats and Republicans,” Garza said. “It's about protecting your right to be able to make decisions on your own behalf and it's about building power for and with our communities and that’s not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is a life or death issue at this point.”

Garza is most concerned about the issues that continue to affect freedom and dignity for Black people, which she believes there is not an issue that doesn’t touch on that. That’s why she is spending a lot of time and energy to make sure that people are getting involved.

“I think what politicians need to understand is that some of the work that we will be doing together with NextGen America and Black Lives Rising is really making it clear that Black people care about the things that we need to live well,” Garza said, “and that they won’t be able to win elections without talking to us substantively about all of the things that are impacting us.”

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