I met up with two of the women behind Tucson’s new Black Lives Matter chapter on one of those Arizona days where you see blue skies to the south and thunderstorms rolling in from over the Catalina Mountains.
Katie Litchfield greets me at Sky Bar on Fourth Avenue, her 2-year-old daughter Sage trotting close behind her.
Litchfield orders a sandwich from the bar, modified for her vegan tastes (take off the avocado, add artichokes, toasted please) with a glass of riesling. Sage bounces around making friends with the other guests as we find a seat.
As we sit down on the patio and start talking about Litchfield’s time in Tucson. When she’s not working with organizing Black Lives Matter Tucson, she’s a massage therapist, a single mom, and looking to go back to school in the near future.
Lucy LiBosha joins us later, riding up on her bike just before the rain starts again. She takes a seat after ordering a light beer and opens up a leather case laying her tablet and notepad.
Taking notes as we speak, she articulates calmly and thoughtfully. LiBosha is gay and a math teacher at Sunnyside High School. She is originally from Washington, D.C.
During our hour together, we spoke about how Black Lives Matter Tucson got started, the local activist climate, and what it means to be an activist in Southern Arizona.
Q: What is the activist climate like here in Tucson?
Katie: I guess compared to major cities where [there’s] just very prominent activism (she points to her previous home, Chicago, as an example). Here it’s just a very chill vibe, just ‘everyone loves everybody.’ And I don’t know the word for this, but there’s not a sense of urgency for activism here. I came here and I was like, you know, what type of groups are here that I can join into? And there wasn’t any. So we decided to start this up and create a Facebook page.
There was a man named Radeem Robinson, he started the Facebook pages and organized the first march.
I actually contacted him because I wanted to get involved because I’d seen the page and noticed that [they] hadn’t done any meetings since then.
And he was like ‘I’m actually moving so you can just take it over and do whatever you want.’ So that’s basically what we did. I started admin-ing the pages and I created the event page for the first meeting that we had which was a really good meeting.
Lucy: I’ve been in this town for about seven years. As a queer black woman I know how religion is connected to black communities and so that’s a reason why I didn’t reach out to the black community.
Because people are so separated in Tucson, there isn’t a real black population that congregates and that has a lot to do with why there isn’t an activist culture.
To sum it up, religion, lack of black neighborhoods and lack of black professionals in the town.
I think that we are less of a threat as a community in Tucson and I think that’s why we haven’t had the larger issues the bigger cities are having.
Q: Why is it important to have a Black Lives Matter chapter in Tucson?
Katie: It’s important to have a Black Lives Matter chapter everywhere that there’s black people. I feel like there needs to be more of a community and just somewhere where you can look up and say, ‘okay, here’s a safe space. Here’s where black people are doing something, I’m gonna come to this.’
The first thing I did when I came to Tucson was look up online ‘Tucson black’ anything because I wanted to make that connection.
The internet for me is kind of how I find people. I want to find meet ups and I want to find where the black people are at. So I feel like Black Lives Matter is like that but with the whole activism aspect.
We want to stay up-to-date and to talk and empower each other and also to protest and have marches and [be] more in solidarity with what’s going on with black people as a whole.
Lucy: I’ve noticed that the NAACP and other organizations in town that have a significant number of black people aren’t necessarily in support of Black Lives Matter and that’s important to note.
As black people, we aren’t just one thing. We don’t have and share one voice. The space and life that is BLM is so important because there’s that element of queerness, there’s that element of all these other issues and -isms that BLM represents and wants to voice.
I’m a teacher and a public servant and there’s an issue of me belonging to BLM. But it’s difficult to divorce myself from the fact that I’m black, that I’m a woman, that I’m a lesbian, that I’m all these other things that BLM are important to.
To have Black Lives Matter for me, it’s not about just telling people we want the crime against black people to stop. It’s about how do we as black people talk about our internal issues. Unless you decide to deal with the internal stuff, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter at all.
I think that Black Lives Matter has the opportunity to open this gate of issues within ourselves.
Q: How does leadership work in the group?
Lucy: It was really decided at the first meeting that we’d have this leader structure not be this hierarchal structure. So I think we’re still trying to figure it out.
Katie: We don’t have a hierarchy or a structure but it kind of creates itself when you only have a small group of people that want to further organize.
Anyone who wants to organize further we can add you onto the group IM and you can have your voice heard in an organizational and strategic way.
Q: What do you all have planned for BLM Tucson?
Katie: Right now we’re just trying to get people that want to get involved and want to organize with us. Ever since our first meeting we’ve been consistently doing something. It’s important to get together and talk and educate.
Lucy: In terms of events one of our main focuses is to become nationally recognized. So in addition to continuing conversations and having our monthly meetings, there’s going to be an emphasis to connect with the national component.
Sydney Haliburton is a reporter for El Independiente, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org