Person

Patrisse Cullors

Patrisse Cullors, American artist and co-founder of Black Lives Matter at The Laura Flanders Show (link) by The Laura Flanders Show is licensed CC BY 3.0 (link)

Patrisse Cullors is a California-based political activist and a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter online movement and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. [1]

Cullors’ activism began in the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles where she was trained by the left-of-center Labor Community Strategy Center (LCSC). [2] She counts LCSC founder and former Weather Underground member Eric Mann as her personal mentor. [3] Cullors helped turn fellow activist Alicia Garza’s Facebook post responding to the death of Trayvon Martin into the prolific #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media. [4]

Cullors has compared President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. [5] She has also called the United States the “the world’s greatest perpetrator of war and the most extensive purveyor of human rights atrocities at home.” [6] In 2020, Cullors co-endorsed Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in the Democratic Party’s Presidential primary elections. [7]

Personal Life

Cullors grew up in Pacoima, a low-income community in Los Angeles, California. Her father and brother were jailed at various points in her life, an experience Cullors has credited as “That really shaped my understanding of what it meant to be black in this city.” [8]

Cullors grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. However, at a young age she left the tradition saying, “I couldn’t be a Jehovah’s Witness and also be queer, and also be political.” [9] She would later become a practitioner of Ifa, a religious system originating from Nigeria. [10]

As a teenager, Cullors was kicked out of her home after coming out to her parents as queer. [11] She also identifies as polyamorous. [12] In 2016, she married Janaya “Future” Kahn, the black, queer, and gender-non-conforming co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada. [13] [14]

Early Political Engagement

Cullors’ political activism began when she was 17 years old and joined the Southern California-based Bus Riders Union (BRU), a campaign group that advocates for fare freezes and environmentalist regulations on mass transit in Los Angeles. [15] [16] She says, “The Bus Riders Union was my first political home. It’s a place that trained me to be the organizer I am today.” [17]

BRU is a project of the Labor Community Strategy Center (LCSC), a radical-left organization “with deep historical ties to the long history of anti-colonial anti-imperialist pro-communist resistance to the U.S. empire [sic].” [18] Cullors attended the LCSC’s National School for Strategic Organizing training program; she has said that the program taught her “from Marx, to Lenin, to Mao, learning all types of global critical theory.” [19]

Cullors has referred to LCSC’s founder Eric Mann as her “mentor.” [20] Mann is a former member of the Weather Underground, a domestic terror organization. [21]

#BlackLivesMatter

Cullors is a co-founder of the #BlackLivesMatter social media movement and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. In 2013, her acquaintance Alicia Garza posted what came to be known as “A Love Letter to Black People” on Facebook after George Zimmerman was acquitted on criminal charges for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. [22] In the post, Garza wrote, “I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter.” [23]

Cullors responded to the post with the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter.” As the hashtag spread on social media, Garza and Cullors decided to build a campaign and reached out to immigration activist Opal Tometi for assistance building an online platform. [24]

According to a report by the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University’s School of Communication, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was rarely used before July 2014. [25] The Ferguson, Missouri protests in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, who was killed while rushing at a police officer, became the catalyst for the hashtag’s proliferation on social media. [26]

The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation is the organizational structure created by Garza, Cullors, and Tometi after the Ferguson protests. All three women are listed as “co-founders” on the Blacklivesmatter.com website, which also serves as the organization’s homepage. [27] In July 2020, Cullors became the executive director of the BLM Global Network Foundation. [28] The Foundation was originally sponsored by the Thousand Currents grant-making organization, but now operates under the umbrella of the Tides Center. [29] [30] One of the Foundation’s key aims is to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” [31]

Controversies

In 2015, Cullors discussed the ideological foundation behind the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview. Referencing Garza, she said, “The first thing, I think, is that we actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories.” [32]

In a 2017 interview in the Los Angeles Times, Cullors claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement would refuse to meet with President Donald Trump for the same reasons it would refuse to meet with Adolf Hitler. She said, “Trump is literally the epitome of evil, all the evils of this country — be it racism, capitalism, sexism, homophobia.” She also said that her answer to Trump is to “resist him and to resist every single policy that he’s implemented that impacts our communities.” According to Cullors, Trump “literally tried to kill our communities, and is killing our communities.” [33]

In a 2019 article written for the Harvard Law Review, Cullors called the United States “the world’s greatest perpetrator of war and the most extensive purveyor of human rights atrocities at home and abroad.” In the article, she promotes the concept of “abolition” as the remedy for “global U.S. state violence, injustice, and devastation.” Cullors defines this “abolition” as “a praxis that roots itself in the following principles: people’s power; love, healing, and transformative justice; Black liberation; internationalism; anti-imperialism; dismantling structures; and practice.” [34]

In 2020, Cullors led the “Yes on R” ballot initiative campaign in support of Measure R in Los Angeles County. [35] The proposed measure called for the expansion of subpoena powers for the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission in order to “investigate Sheriff-related issues, compel production of records and witnesses.” [36]

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (D) opposed the measure saying it “will open the floodgates for many more ill-advised lawsuits designed to seek documents that are not legally available for public release.” [37] The measure passed. [38]

2020 Election

Cullors co-endorsed Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary. She explained her opposition to Obama administration Vice President Joe Biden because of his “old guard mentality” and was part of the “old establishment” of the Democratic Party. In an MSNBC interview, Cullors said, “We need all hands on deck right now for progressives to join the movement to make sure that we don’t get people like Mike Bloomberg, people like Biden into the president’s office.” [39]

References

  1. Walcott, Rianna, “How the founder of Black Lives Matter started a global movement,” Dazed, April 5, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020.   https://www.dazeddigital.com/politics/article/39587/1/black-lives-matter-founder-interview-patrisse-khan-cullors ^
  2. Walcott, Rianna, “How the founder of Black Lives Matter started a global movement,” Dazed, April 5, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020.   https://www.dazeddigital.com/politics/article/39587/1/black-lives-matter-founder-interview-patrisse-khan-cullors ^
  3. Gonzalez, Juan and Goodman, Amy, ““When They Call You a Terrorist”: The Life of Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors,” Democracy Now, January 16, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.democracynow.org/2018/1/16/when_they_call_you_a_terrorist ^
  4. Day, Elizabeth, “#BlackLivesMatter: the birth of a new civil rights movement,” The Guardian, July 19, 2015. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement ^
  5. Simmons, Ann M. and Kaleem, Jaweed, “Q&A: A founder of Black Lives Matter answers a question on many minds: Where did it go?” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2017. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-patrisse-cullors-black-lives-matter-2017-htmlstory.html ^
  6. Cullors, Patrisse, “Abolition And Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, And Accountability,” Harvard Law Review, April 10, 2019. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://harvardlawreview.org/2019/04/abolition-and-reparations-histories-of-resistance-transformative-justice-and-accountability/ ^
  7. Walker, James, “Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Endorses Sanders and Warren, Says It Is Time for Biden to Stand Down,” Newsweek, February 25, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020.  https://www.newsweek.com/black-lives-matter-co-founder-endorses-sanders-warren-1488912 ^
  8. Aron, Hillel, “These savvy women have made black lives matter the most crucial left-wing movement today,” LA Weekly, November 9, 2015. Accessed August 5, 2020. http://www.laweekly.com/these-savvy-women-have-made-black-lives-matter-the-most-crucial-left-wing-movement-today/ ^
  9. Kannegieter, Trent, Activist, Friend, Comrade: Interview with Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter,” The Politic, November 28, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://thepolitic.org/activist-friend-comrade-interview-with-patrisse-cullors-co-founder-of-black-lives-matter/ ^
  10. Kannegieter, Trent, Activist, Friend, Comrade: Interview with Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter,” The Politic, November 28, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://thepolitic.org/activist-friend-comrade-interview-with-patrisse-cullors-co-founder-of-black-lives-matter/ ^
  11. MSNBC, “Queerness on the front lines of #BlackLivesMatter,” February 19, 2015. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/queerness-on-the-front-lines-of-blacklivesmatter-401658435959 ^
  12. Farrag, Hebah H. “The role of the spirit in the #BlackLivesMatter movement: a conversation with activist and artist Patrisse Cullors,” Religion Dispatches, June 24, 2015. Accessed August 5, 2020.  https://religiondispatches.org/the-role-of-spirit-in-the-blacklivesmatter-movement-a-conversation-with-activist-and-artist-patrisse-cullors/ ^
  13. Otis College of Art and Design. Janaya Khan. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.otis.edu/faculty/janaya-khan ^
  14. Janaya Khan, Bio. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://janayakhan.com/bio/ ^
  15. Kannegieter, Trent, Activist, Friend, Comrade: Interview with Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter,” The Politic, November 28, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://thepolitic.org/activist-friend-comrade-interview-with-patrisse-cullors-co-founder-of-black-lives-matter/ ^
  16. Labor Community Strategy Center, Bus Riders Union. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://thestrategycenter.org/projects/bus-riders-union/ ^
  17. Kannegieter, Trent, Activist, Friend, Comrade: Interview with Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter,” The Politic, November 28, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://thepolitic.org/activist-friend-comrade-interview-with-patrisse-cullors-co-founder-of-black-lives-matter/ ^
  18. Labor Community Strategy Center, Bus Riders Union. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://thestrategycenter.org/projects/bus-riders-union/ ^
  19. Walcott, Rianna, “How the founder of Black Lives Matter started a global movement,” Dazed, April 5, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020.   https://www.dazeddigital.com/politics/article/39587/1/black-lives-matter-founder-interview-patrisse-khan-cullors ^
  20. Gonzalez, Juan and Goodman, Amy, ““When They Call You a Terrorist”: The Life of Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors,” Democracy Now, January 16, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.democracynow.org/2018/1/16/when_they_call_you_a_terrorist ^
  21. Steinbuch, Yaron, “Black Lives Matter co-founder describes herself as ‘trained Marxist’,” New York Post, June 25, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/06/25/blm-co-founder-describes-herself-as-trained-marxist/ ^
  22. Fessler, Leah, “How the leader of Black Lives Matter defines ‘power’,” Quartz, September 16, 2018. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://qz.com/1391762/black-lives-matter-co-founder-alicia-garzas-definition-of-power/ ^
  23. Baptiste, Nathalie, “Origins of a Movement,” The Nation, Februrary 9, 2017. Accesed August 5, 2020. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/origins-of-a-movement/ ^
  24. Day, Elizabeth, “#BlackLivesMatter: the birth of a new civil rights movement,” The Guardian, July 19, 2015. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement ^
  25. Freelon, Deen, Mcilwain, Charlton D., and Clark, Meredith D., “Beyond the Hashtags,” The Center for Media and Social Impact, February 2016. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://cmsimpact.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/beyond_the_hashtags_2016.pdf ^
  26. Freelon, Deen, Mcilwain, Charlton D., and Clark, Meredith D., “Beyond the Hashtags,” The Center for Media and Social Impact, February 2016. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://cmsimpact.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/beyond_the_hashtags_2016.pdf ^
  27. Black Lives Matter. Our Co-Founders. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://blacklivesmatter.com/our-co-founders/ ^
  28. “Seven Years of Growth: BLM’s Co-Founder and Incoming Executive Director Reflects on the Movement.” Black Lives Matter, September 11, 2020. https://blacklivesmatter.com/seven-years-of-growth-blms-co-founder-and-incoming-executive-director-reflects-on-the-movement/. ^
  29. Thousand Currents, Black Lives Matter. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://thousandcurrents.org/black-lives-matter/ ^
  30. Black Lives Matter, Urgent: Fund the Movement, ActBlue Charities. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019 ^
  31. Black Lives Matter. What We Believe. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/ ^
  32. Steinbuch, Yaron, “Black Lives Matter co-founder describes herself as ‘trained Marxist’,” New York Post, June 25, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/06/25/blm-co-founder-describes-herself-as-trained-marxist/ ^
  33. Simmons, Ann M. and Kaleem, Jaweed, “Q&A: A founder of Black Lives Matter answers a question on many minds: Where did it go?” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2017. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-patrisse-cullors-black-lives-matter-2017-htmlstory.html ^
  34. Cullors, Patrisse, “Abolition And Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, And Accountability,” Harvard Law Review, April 10, 2019, Accessed August 5, 2020. https://harvardlawreview.org/2019/04/abolition-and-reparations-histories-of-resistance-transformative-justice-and-accountability/ ^
  35. Patrisse Cullors, About, Accessed August 5, 2020. https://patrissecullors.com/about/

    ^

  36. Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, LA County Election Results, March 3, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://results.lavote.net/text-results/4085#contest-5 ^
  37. Altic, Josh, “Los Angeles County Measure R approved,” Ballotpedia News. March 5, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://news.ballotpedia.org/2020/03/05/5858/ ^
  38. Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, LA County Election Results, March 3, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020. https://results.lavote.net/text-results/4085#contest-5 ^
  39. Walker, James, “Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Endorses Sanders and Warren, Says It Is Time for Biden to Stand Down,” Newsweek, February 25, 2020. Accessed August 5, 2020.  https://www.newsweek.com/black-lives-matter-co-founder-endorses-sanders-warren-1488912 ^

Connected Movements

  1. Black Lives Matter
    Co-Founder
  See an error? Let us know!