Alicia Garza declines award linked to coal developer Tagami

  • Youth March Against Coal - 2018-01-31. Photo credit: Rhonesha Victor.

Oakland activist and community leader Alicia Garza, cofounder of the Black Lives Matter movement, has announced that she will decline to accept an Innovator Award that was to be presented this week by coal developer Phil Tagami for the East Bay Innovation Academy.

Garza declined the award after members of Youth Vs Apocalypse drew her attention to the central role Tagami is playing in the attempt to ship coal through Oakland, threatening the lives and health of our community and degrading our environment. Youth Vs. Apocalypse is a community of Oakland activist youth who oppose Tagami’s lawsuit, which aims to overturn the unanimous July 2016 vote of the Oakland City Council to ban storage and handling of coal in the city.

Youth Vs. Apocalypse planned to interrupt the awards ceremony on Thursday May 17th with a direct action at its original venue, Tagami’s own downtown Rotunda Building. The event location has been changed, in apparent response to the planned direct action and the toxicity of associating the EBIA awards with the coal developer.

Information about the youth speakout that will take place at the new venue on Thursday May 17, 5:30-7:30 pm, at the East Bay Innovation Academy’s Lower School (3400 Malcom Ave., Oakland), can be found on the NCIO Events Calendar and on Facebook.

Ms. Garza’s complete statement, as posted on Facebook, follows:

I have decided to decline the East Bay Innovation Academy’s Innovator Award. I am grateful to the young people in the Academy who nominated me, and because it was young people who made that nomination, it feels important to me that I embody the values that led them to make that nomination in the first place.

Here is the statement I shared with the event organizers:

I’m reaching out to you to let you know that I have decided to decline the EBIA Innovator Award, as I have a number of concerns.

First, it has come to my attention that Phil Tagami, who is set to present the award, is supporting bringing coal to Oakland–a move that will have devastating impacts on the environment and on local communities. I do not support bringing coal to Oakland, and accepting an award from Mr. Tagami would signal support for that agenda, which I cannot do in good conscience. While Phil is a friend, I cannot allow my presence or my acceptance of this award to be understood as supporting something that I firmly stand against.

Second, it’s come to my attention that you also plan to award District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. As you may know, Nancy O’Malley threatened to prosecute a group of Black activists and organizers who conducted a civil disobedience in 2014 to call attention to the unequal treatment of Black people in the criminal justice system. I was a part of that team. While we successfully resolved the issue after a year of community pressure, organizing, and the like, I cannot in good conscience accept an award alongside the District Attorney.

For those reasons, I cannot accept the East Bay Innovator Award. It is important to me that as a community leader, that I demonstrate to young people in particular how important it is to stand up for what you believe in, to stand on the side of truth and justice, and to work for a world where all of us belong. Until these issues are resolved, and Phil agrees to no longer support bringing coal to Oakland, I cannot allow my platform to be used in this way, damaging the trust of the people who I have worked hard with and for.

My very best,
Alicia Garza


No Coal in Oakland salutes Alicia Garza as she takes a principled stand for the people and city of Oakland. And we applaud the dedication and initiative of Youth Vs. Apocalypse, who continue to take an exemplary leadership role in securing Oakland’s future, and their own.