53 pages 1 hour read

Alicia Garza

The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart by Alicia Garza recounts her history as an organizer before and after she co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement. It begins with the childhood lessons imparted by her mother and ends with her current projects at the Black Futures Lab. Throughout its pages, Garza revisits her career as an organizer and shares the expertise she has gathered along the way. The Purpose of Power examines how to effectively organize and enact positive social change. Garza analyzes how to create powerful movements and reflects upon her mistakes and successes over the years.

Garza’s model for activism is a marked departure from the works of an older generation of Black organizers, who largely rely on a patriarchal structure and a male charismatic leader. The Purpose of Power proposes a decentralized and intersectional model for organizing that encourages non-male members to take up leadership roles. Thus, in addition to being a memoir of Garza’s life and a recounting of the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement, The Purpose of Power offers a novel blueprint for organizing that actively rejects the traditional patriarchal model. Garza hopes this information may help improve the sociopolitical environment at a time of “profound catastrophe and limitless possibility” (13).

Since its first publication in October 2020, The Purpose of Power has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. It was nominated as one of the 100 Must-read Books of 2020 by Time magazine.

This summary references the 2020 One World Kindle edition.


The Purpose of Power is separated into three sections. Part I covers the Introduction to Chapter 2. It is mainly an overview of the history of Black civil rights movements from the 1960s to the 1990s. It provides historical context both for Garza’s early life and for the current state of Black-led organizations.

The Introduction details Garza’s reasons behind writing this book, noting the importance of her mother to her story. Chapter 1 covers her earliest years and her initial interest in organizations and movements. Garza discusses the sociopolitical context her parents, especially her mother, had to navigate throughout their lives, and how her observations of them informed her own fight later in life. Chapter 2 explains how the right-wing movement consolidated power throughout the 70s and 80s, fighting to roll back the gains of the civil rights movement of the 60s. It also explains why Garza believes the current generation of Black youths need successful movements and social change.

Part II of the book turns to Garza herself. It encompasses her life from college to the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement, focusing mainly on her experience with organizing.

Chapter 3 covers Garza’s time working for AmeriCorps and SFWAR immediately after graduating from college. Garza spent this time providing HIV counseling and supporting survivors of sexual assault. Chapter 4 details her experiences organizing in Bayview Hunters Point, which she considers a formative period in her career. Chapters 5 and 6 explain her reason for turning to organizing, particularly in relation to societal power imbalance and racial police violence, and how this ultimately led her to tweeting #blacklivesmatter in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial.

Part III is the longest and covers Chapters 8-18 and the Epilogue. It is arranged thematically and aims to provide readers with adequate information on how to build successful movements. It closes with Garza’s hopes for the future.

Chapter 8 defines the meaning of movement and challenges the idea that hashtags or online following are movements. Chapter 9 explains why movements must look to include people whose politics do not completely align with their own. In Chapter 10, Garza explores different avenues for leaders to distribute power equitably within their movements.

Chapter 11 defends the necessity of voting and participating in politics to enact change, even when the political scene is deeply disappointing. Chapter 12 defines identity politics and defends its use in organizations. Chapter 13 explains how Black women grapple with impostor syndrome not because of a lack of self-confidence but as a result of the patriarchal system constantly delegitimizing their work. Chapter 14 explains why creating diverse and large bases is crucial to movement building. Chapter 15 highlights the importance of political education for interrogating existing societal structures and shifting the status quo. Chapter 16 differentiates between united fronts and popular fronts and argues that each serves its own purpose.

Chapter 17 explores Garza’s opinion on organization leaders developing platforms and profiles. It also addresses the problems with idealizing these leaders. Finally, Chapter 18 concludes with Garza expressing her hopes for a future with Black leaders at the forefront of American politics. The Epilogue ends as the Introduction started: with Garza’s mother. After her mother’s sudden passing, Garza realizes that the work of movements is to provide care for those who are ailing and to plan care for those yet to be born. She concludes that power is about people coming together when they have fallen apart.

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