While the Black Lives Matter movement continues to be met with a range of reactions in the United States, it is being honored internationally for its work and for the promotion of peace and justice. In November, it will be awarded the 2017 Sydney peace prize. The movement was founded in 2013 by three black women—Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza—after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Western Australian Labor senator Pat Dodson, who was awarded the Sydney peace prize in 2008 for his advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, applauded the selection of Black Lives Matter as a movement that stood against “ignorance, hostility, discrimination, or racism”.
“This movement resonates around the globe and here in Australia, where we have become inured to the high incarceration rates and deaths in custody of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Dodson said. “It’s as if their lives do not matter.”
The Sydney peace prize honors a nominee whose work promotes human rights and nonviolence. Its past recipients include Dodson, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and former Irish president Mary Robinson. The award, which is given out by Australia’s Sydney University, has been offered since 1988. It is typically awarded to an individual peacemaker, making this the first time in the award’s history that the prize will be given to a movement or group.
Last year’s recipient, Naomi Klein, said Cullors, Garza and Tometi “embody the core principle of the Sydney peace prize: that there will never be peace without real justice”.
“This is an inspired, bold and urgent choice – and it’s exactly what our moment of overlapping global crises demands,” Klein said.
In the age of Trump, Black Lives Matter has been expanding its strategy—looking to continue protesting the police violence that originally galvanized them as a movement as well as a focus on coalition building, policy and political action. All of this is in service of creating a more positive future for black people. Fundamentally, improving the lives of black people goes beyond police brutality and it appears that the founders of the movement recognize that solving a complex, systemic problem requires a strategic approach with multiple partners.
“We’re not just about hitting the streets or direct action…it’s a humanizing project,” co-founder Cullors said. “We’re trying to re-imagine humanity and bring us to a place where we can decide how we want to be in relation to each other versus criminalizing our neighbors or being punitive towards them.”
During the course of four years, this movement has evolved and matured and has expanded beyond the borders of the United States. While prizes and awards are not why people should do movement work and are not important or valuable in comparison to human dignity, it is nice to see these women get some recognition for their efforts. Black women’s labor is so very often unseen and marginalized in the context of human rights and civil rights work. And yet, it if we followed the lead of black women more (who are so very often doing the tireless freedom and justice work on behalf of all of us and have been doing so for centuries) think of where it might get us. This prize is well-earned and they aren’t done yet. Many people thought they wouldn’t be around this far down the road. It will be interesting to see what the future brings in another four years.