Three guest speakers discussed the past, present and future of the Black Lives Matter, or BLM, movement at the Berkeley Forum on Wednesday.
The panel included Anthony James Williams, a UCLA sociology doctoral candidate; Bethelehem Yirga, one of three co-founders of The Palm Collective, a Black-led organization to end systemic racism; and Nialah Edari, co-founder of Freedom March NYC, a youth protest and policy group pushing for reform in New York City and nationally.
Edari said the use of social media distinguishes BLM from other Black liberation movements. Williams added that with increased social media presence, BLM has drawn a lot of both internal and external surveillance.
“We’re able to share something. I can see what’s going on where I wouldn’t have been able to before,” Edari said at the event. “We’re constantly evolving to whatever the social medium is that people are using.”
Yirga said BLM activists did not have to “recreate the wheel,” as they were able to build off previous Black liberation movements. Edari noted movements do not need to rely on government assistance to “help out your own,” citing the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program. Williams highlighted “the power of the everyday” in BLM’s emphasizing of the everyday struggles of Black Americans, similar to how Emmett Till exposed anti-Black brutality.
Last summer’s protests, sparked by George Floyd’s death, represent “a second wave of consciousness,” as many who did not join the movement before shifted towards BLM in 2020, according to Williams. They also noted increased attention towards abolition of prisons and police after last summer. Yirga said Floyd’s death created “solidarity across movement spaces.”
Williams alleged mainstream media will “sanitize” BLM’s message. Rather than prevent this, Williams said activists should continue working and telling stories through writing.
Edari said if activists can obtain corporate funding without changing their original message, then activists should accept it. Yirga echoed this, and said activists should “run” from corporations that try to change “who you are.” Williams, however, said corporations should “stay as far away as possible,” and instead focus on reparations and acknowledging past wrongs.
College campuses can support BLM and be more inclusive toward Black students by giving Black communities more funding, according to Williams.
“Stop using our bodies. Stop using our faces. Stop making money off us,” Williams said during the event. “But since you’re not going to do that, give us more money.”
The panelists said non-Black allies should not co-opt Black voices. Edari noted allies should support, not lead. Yirga said she wants “co-conspirator(s)” who “make room” for Black voices.
Moving forward, the panelists believe activists should form coalitions with other movements.
“Even if you don’t like somebody, build towards a goal,” Yirga said at the event. “It’s always the right thing to do.”
A previous version of this article may have implied that Anthony James Williams supports corporate involvement in the BLM movement. In fact, Williams believes that corporations should stay away from the movement, but if corporations get involved, they should be focused on “reparations and acknowledging past wrongs.”
A previous version of this article used incorrect pronouns to refer to Anthony James Williams.