The US movement to fight anti-Black racism continues to grow on a global scale. On Tuesday night, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement Patrisse Cullors returned from a 10-day speaking tour across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The Ferguson Action Tour aimed to amplify solidarity for families and protesters in Ferguson and across the US, in addition to renewing visibility for victims of state violence in the UK.
During the trip, Cullors presented to the British Houses of Parliament, alongside 10 families who experienced state violence, met with members of Black and immigrant communities across the UK, and connected with activists who fought in the Irish struggle for self-determination against the British.
The European trip came less than two weeks after Cullors returned from a 10-day delegation to Palestine with the Dream Defenders and representatives from Ferguson and other racial justice groups.
“When I look back in history at some of the great leaders of our movement–the Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King–folks always spoke about the international struggle and also traveled internationally,” Cullors said. “Part of this work is ‘act locally, think globally’ and you can’t think globally without being present with people in their countries and having that conversation and sitting with them.”
For Cullors, the trip demonstrated the global scope of Black Lives Matter, a movement she founded alongside Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing.
“We can often be very narrow in our approach here in the US and I met so many folks in the UK and Ireland who are in such deep solidarity with us,” Cullors said. “I think it’s imperative that we also extend the solidarity. The Black Lives Matter Movement is in fact global. Whether we understand it as a global project or not, people understand it as such.”
Cullors said that she has always had an international focus, but the Ferguson Action Tour gave her a better sense of how to put internationalism into practice.
“One concrete thing is actually showing up to people’s countries and having conversations about antiblack racism and capitalism and the impact it has on the people of that place,” she said before describing an action she participated in on Tuesday.
Cullors joined British activists in occupying the London headquarters of G4S, the world’s largest private security corporation. Activists protested the acquittal of three G4S employees in the manslaughter of 46-year-old Angolan detainee Jimmy Mubenga. The group also protested G4S’s operations in the occupied West Bank, holding a banner reading “Ferguson, Palestine, UK, Stop Racist Killings, Stop G4S.”
Cullors said it was important to make direct connections between law enforcement, private security, and their relationship to people in the US, UK and abroad.
In Ireland, Cullors spoke at a rally in Derry to commemorate civilians who were shot and killed by the British Army during a protest against trials without detention in 1972.
She was also able to connect with longtime activists who had been in direct relationship with the Black Panther Party during the Irish struggle for liberation.
“They were so excited to meet folks who are leading the Black Lives Matter movement,” Cullors said. “There was this very deep sense of solidarity.”
Part of this solidarity came through shared experiences of identity-based violence, Cullors said.
“There’s a lot of vigilantes and vigilantism [against Irish Catholics] in the same way that there’s White vigilantes who kill Black people. Just having this conversation with White-skinned people and the oppression they face with the UK government was really fascinating.”
“What was also really fascinating was the level of clarity they had about anti-Black racism,” Cullors continued.
She recalled Irish activists’ specific critiques of Irish people in the US, particularly in New York City where many are members of the police force.
“They had this very piercing point around which side of history are Irish people going to be on once they’re giving power and privilege,” Cullors said.
Another interesting point arose in the UK, where Cullors learned that Desi, Arab and immigrant communities are starting to identify as Black to make a political statement. According to Cullors, this reclamation of Blackness is similar to use of the term ‘POC’ in the US.
“On the one hand it’s amazing to hear Desi and Arab folks say they’re Black and align themselves with Blackness as a political frame,” Cullors reflected.
Yet this identification yields similar issues to the blanket term ‘people of color,’ she added.
“What ends up happening is similar to when you have this POC conversation. People of African descent become missing as part of the conversation.”
Cullors said it means a great deal to spend most of 2015 so far representing Black Lives Matter abroad.
“Social media has a real time presence but it’s not the same as meeting individuals hearing their stories, looking them in the eyes, and promising we’ll bring their stories back,” she said. “It creates a greater threat to the US government and the UK government.”
Drawing connections between people under struggle does not negate the specific histories of those communities, she concluded.
“We understand the specificities of our struggles but we also understand that oppression is oppression.”
For more snapshots of the tour, follow Patrisse Cullors on Twitter @osope and view the hashtags #BLMLondon and #BLMIreland.