Every year, the Sydney Peace Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation partnered with the University of Sydney, presents the Sydney Peace Prize to activists fighting for positive social or environmental change.
The prize, which includes a $500,000 award, provides a platform for the activists to increase their reach and spread awareness for their causes. It has been presented annually since 1998 and is a valuable form of recognition of non-violent, influential activism. Last year’s award recipient was author and environmental activist, Naomi Klein.
This year, the Sydney Peace Prize has been awarded to the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLM) and will be accepted by the three activists who co-founded it: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. This marks the first time the Prize has been awarded to an organisation rather than an individual.
The Sydney Peace Prize Jury awarded the prize to BLM “for building a powerful movement for racial equality, courageously reigniting a global conversation around state violence and racism. And for harnessing the potential of new platforms and the power of people to inspire a bold movement for change at a time when peace is threatened by growing inequality and injustice.”
Alicia Garza is an activist and editorial writer, who organises around issues such as health, education and fighting gentrification. Garza was a vocal supporter of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders throughout last year’s US presidential race.
Patrisse Cullors is a teacher and LGBTI activist. She is well known for fighting for criminal justice reform and co-founding Dignity and Power Now, a grassroots organisation fighting for rights for incarcerated people and their families.
Opal Tometi is a writer, strategist and the executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, an organisation created in response to anti-immigrant attitudes in US Congress.
The Black Lives Matter movement began in July 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal of the murder of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin, when Garza wrote an open letter on Facebook titled, “Love Letter to Black Folks”. She wrote: “Black people, I love you. I love us. We matter. Our lives matter.” Shortly after this, Cullors created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and Tometi created an official website and social media profiles.
Now, four years later, Black Lives Matter is a highly influential movement with chapters all over the globe, working together and fighting against police brutality, injustice in the workplace, violence against trans and gender non-conforming people of colour, and all other manifestations of racial inequality.
While the Black Lives Matter movement is primarily active in the US, it is significant that the movement and these three women in particular are being recognised in Australia with this award.
The discussion surrounding police brutality and racial inequality in the justice system is far too often exclusively centred on the US, but the truth is Black people are persecuted on a global scale.
In Australia, the Indigenous community makes up 27% of the male prison population, 34% of the female prison population and 48% of all juveniles in custody, despite only making up 3.3% of the national population.
In the 26 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, there have been more than 350 Indigenous deaths in police and prison custody. The Australian government continues to turn a blind eye to the rampant abuse of Indigenous people, but demonstrations such as the Melbourne Black Lives Matter rally last year get national attention.
BLM said it accepted the Prize “in solidarity with organisers throughout Australia who in the face of egregious oppression fight back against the state and proclaim that all Black Lives Matter”.
Continued organising and vocalising, is how we continue this fight, and thanks to Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter is giving a voice to people of colour everywhere.
[The 2017 Sydney Peace Prize will be awarded on November 2 at Sydney Town Hall. Tickets available here.]