On November 8, 2016, Patrisse is in LA at an election night gathering with members of the California marijuana-legalization campaign that she’s been working on. Being arrested for marijuana use is often the first step toward the prison system. Marijuana is also a leading cause of deportation in the state, and 500 people sit in jail each night for its possession. This new law will ensure no child will go to prison for marijuana, allow people with marijuana convictions to get jobs, move the tax revenue from legal marijuana sale to communities impacted by the war on drugs, and expunge records of marijuana convictions. Their months of canvassing have paid off—by 8 p.m., they know they are going to win.
This is another example of how prisons and policing exist to control and punish certain people rather than keep them safe; using marijuana is a nonviolent offense that many Black people are arrested for and, thereafter, have a mark on their record that could lead to more jailtime in the future. That their campaign wins shows the power of their community organizing and the fact that Black lives are starting to matter to the American public and policymakers, in part because of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The group also realizes that Donald Trump—a man Patrisse believes campaigned on white supremacy and misogyny—is going to win the election. They all feel defeated after their hard work on Proposition 64. Patrisse doesn’t know how they will survive a Trump presidency—and how will she protect Shine? She and Future head home. It’s hard for Patrisse to move on from the grief and the fear of what will happen to her community, what will happen to Monte if he can’t access healthcare.
Donald Trump’s presidential election in 2016 surprised many progressives who were convinced that Hilary Clinton would be victorious. Many believed that his views were sexist and racist, and he also openly campaigned on being tough on crime. Patrisse is scared that conditions will get work for Black people and, as usual, thinks of how she can care for her family and community through the next four years.
Patrisse moves from feeling helpless to angry—96 percent of Black women voted against Trump, who Patrisse believes publicly supported sexual assault. Patrisse thinks the Democratic Party should have run someone better, and that she should have realized that the average American is wedded to racism and sexism. She should have taken Trump more seriously. And his election has had real effects: in 2016, hate crimes in large cities in the U.S. rose by 6 percent, and 30 percent of them targeted Black people. Families were split up by border patrol, health care options like Planned Parenthood were put at risk, the Paris Climate Accord was tossed out, and mass incarceration and prison privatization ramped up.
Patrisse notes that 96 percent of Black women voted against Trump, showing that those who exist at the intersections of oppressed identities are more likely to feel threatened by someone they believe openly embraces sexism and racism. (Black men and white women supported Trump in larger numbers.) Patrisse shares statistics to suggest that Trump’s campaign and election led to more violence against women and people of color, demonstrating that community organizing work is still needed to ensure that Black lives matter in the U.S.
Hillary Clinton’s presidency wouldn’t have been perfect, but Patrisse thinks that it wouldn’t have set the progressive agenda so far behind. Instead of pushing for single-payer healthcare, organizers now have to fight for basic rights. In Canada, they’ve just elected Justin Trudeau—Trump’s polar opposite—and Patrisse and Future almost consider moving to Toronto. Meanwhile, Trump immediately starts talking about how he will end the “dangerous anti-police atmosphere.” Over the next year, three Ferguson organizers are found shot dead in their cars. Patrisse, Alicia, and Opal are also sued for instigating riots and, under Trump, they aren’t sure what will happen.
Here, Patrisse underlines how impactful policy can be on the daily lives of marginalized people—a change to healthcare policy at the federal level, for example, can have consequences for poor Black people who will no longer be able to afford health coverage. Patrisse also connects Trump’s pro-police rhetoric with several Black Lives Matter organizers who are found dead in their cars—whether they’re killed by police or vigilantes who feel more emboldened under President Trump is unclear.
Despite her fear, Patrisse doesn’t want to leave the organizing work that needs to happen in the U.S, and Future agrees to stay. The BLM chapters are all doing critical work in their locales, including, in LA, stopping the construction of a $3.5 billion jail. When Patrisse is at her most afraid, “what makes me stay is us.” She is part of a forgotten generation—people who are written off by the war on drugs and war on gangs, who have no access to good schools, and who are pushed out of their communities. They don’t care about polished candidates—they care about justice, bold leaders, and human rights. It was organizers who pulled Black people out of slavery and Jim Crow, and it will be organizers who will pull them out of deadly policing practices.
That BLM’s LA chapter is gaining ground in halting the construction of a massive new jail suggests that, although Black lives have historically not mattered in the U.S., things are starting to change thanks to their organizing efforts. When Patrisse says that “what makes me stay is us,” she underlines how important her family and community are to her. What makes the struggle worth it is healing among people who show one another that their lives are not disposable.
Since BLM began in 2013, the organization has achieved so much: they’ve built a decentralized movement that empowers local leadership across 20 chapters, while centering the voices of Black women. The also successfully pushed Obama to decrease the federal prison population, demanded that police accountability be taken seriously, and brought healing and a commitment to communal care to the movement.
Despite the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement is up against a lot, they have achieved so much in just over three years. The achievements that Patrisse lists indicate that, even in the face of Trump’s presidency, BLM is only gaining momentum. Building a world where Black lives finally do matter, Patrisse suggests, is not only possible but well underway. She also states that BLM has amplified the voices of the most marginalized members of their community, or those who exist at the intersections of multiple types of oppression, such as Black women. And, as always, Patrisse notes that communal healing is at the center of their work.
Yet there is still so much that BLM wants to achieve, like fighting Trump’s presidency, developing rapid response networks for violence and ICE raids, building Black political power, and, most important to Patrisse, creating a new movement culture centered on healing. Because BLM is working with a lot of traumatized people, the network has wellness directors who encourage self-care and challenge toxic behavior. The network also cares about offering healthy food options at conferences, paying organizers well, building out restorative practices for conflict, honoring different skillsets (like those of ex-prisoners), and pushing for comprehensive mental healthcare.
Though BLM has achieved so much, they still have a ways to go to shift racist policies, address the violence of law enforcement like ICE, support Black people who struggle with their mental health, and create an atmosphere of healing within the movement. These are all responses to the ways that policymakers, police, and the public treat Black people as if their lives are disposable. BLM is committed to fighting for a world where this is no longer true.
Patrisse has neglected her own health for years and, in the wake of Trump’s election, begins working out again, traveling less, and cooking and praying more. Inspired by Gabriel, she also has fun—roller-skating, hosting park days, and more. She spends time with Future and with Shine, a child who teaches her that so much is possible. If Shine—or any Black child—is called a terrorist, she will explain that terrorism is stalking, surveillance, and solitary confinement. Terrorism is making it impossible for Black people to feed their children or enroll them in good schools. Freedom, on the other hand, is the realization of justice, dignity and peace. She will tell them they have the power to change the world, that they are what “Black lives matter” looks like.
Patrisse again notes that healing in community is at the center of her organizing work. Taking care of herself as a queer Black woman who navigates multiple types of oppression daily is political, and so is having fun and spending time with her family, because these actions affirm that her life matters. Tying the end of the book to the title, she underlines the idea that she and her Black community are not terrorists—in her opinion, racist policymakers and police officers are the real terrorists.