If civil rights struggles are defined by momentous speeches, Elle Lucier rose to the occasion on Monday, August 18, when the barefoot, bullhorn-wielding 19-year-old addressed a crowd of thousands while standing on the red-lettered CNN logo in Atlanta.
“That was just the spirit moving within me,” said Lucier, explaining her 14-minute impromptu address following the #ITSBIGGERTHANYOU march she organized via social media in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. “I had a speech written and it just didn’t fit my heart, so I just spoke my heart.”
The scene resembled one from an era most in the audience were two generations too young to have witnessed firsthand. Lucier and fellow organizers had only expected a turnout of 500. But an estimated 5,000 came to rally and march from the steps of the CNN Center, through a flash thunderstorm, past the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, and back. Punctuated with call-and-response chants from a crowd composed largely of students and grassroots organizers, her words felt charismatic and cathartic.
The following is the full text of Lucier’s speech, transcribed as best as it could be heard over the crowd’s cheers:
There is a high running through this crowd right now. And it ain’t from weed, it ain’t from no pills, and it ain’t from drink. It’s from the spirit — the spirit of civil disobedience. The spirit of unity, solidarity. It’s not sameness. Solidarity is a oneness and we were one today. And it cannot end here. We can’t march together, and cry together, and pray together, and go home feeling better. Because it does not end here. There are people still being fired upon in Ferguson. There are people still loosing their lives at the hands of the law enforcement we pay for. It does not end because a thousand or 2,000 people gathered in the streets in Atlanta.
So you wanna know what you can do? You wanna know what you can do?
Educate your brothers and your sisters and your community once you have educated yourself. It doesn’t end here. It doesn’t end with you. There are a thousand people you know who did not gather with us today. Go back and preach the gospel to them. Go back and tell them what we started here. It doesn’t end here. IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU.
You learned about this movement through social media. Go back to your Twitter handle and your Facebook pages and type the hashtag and share this gospel with the entire world. Share the pictures, share the videos, share the phone number on the flier. It’s bigger than me, too. It’s bigger than all of us. It’s for our children. It’s for our children.
Young people are not the future. Young people are the right now.
And it’s your job to support and uplift what the young poepole started here today. Cause we don’t have the answers, Sway. And we don’t know what to do. Hashtag IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU. And for all my old heads and my O.G.s in the crowd, once you share something with the hashtag, one only has to click the link to share it with the entire community of believers. Ashe?
[Crowd responds with the Yoruba word for “amen” or “to make something happen”]: Ashe
Hashtag: IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU. Hashtag: UPLOAD THE REVOLUTION since it won’t be televised.
Now the young people in front of the ranks here today, they did this. I don’t wanna see nobody else pointing to me. I could not have done this alone, the same way we cannot do this alone. Black people can’t unify without white people, and brown people, and Hispanic people, and Indian people, and Asian people, and Chinese people. It’s a civil rights problem; we’re all civil!
The #ItsBiggerThanYou campaign will be hosting public panels. We’ll be hosting hip-hop cyphers. We’ll be hosting open mics. We’ll be hosting legal and law classes so you can educate yourself. It does not end here. So it’s your job, I challenge you, I task you, I demand that you go home: Upload the Revolution. Upload the Revolution. And download your education.
I think, I think we can do it.
[Random voice in crowd]: I know we can do it.
[Crowd builds into a rising chant]: Yes we can. Yes we can! YES WE CAN! [repeats x 15]
[Lucier says something inaudible here.]
I want to see every face I see today at our open panels. I want to see every face I see everyday at an open mic where we invite young people to speak their piece so they can find their peace. I implore all of you to go back home and tell your children, and tell your mothers, and tell your fathers what you witnessed today: 2,000 black people stomping and shouting in the rain.
[Applause; whistle blowing]
There’s also a job that we have as citizens and residents of this great, this great — once we make it great — this great country. There’s a petition circulating all over the nation. It charges our government to keep police and law enforcement officials responsible for their actions, and make sure that we take it upon ourselves to make sure that there [are] no more Mike Browns, there are no more Trayvon Martins, there are no more Jordan Davises, and my brothers, and your brothers. Make sure this shit don’t happen anymore. Go sign the petition. Upload the Revolution. Get active. Get active. Get active.
You can’t just march and call it change. You cannot just march and call it change. It’s bigger—
[Random voice in crowd]: Than you!
[Crowd]: Than you!
[Crowd]: Than you!
[Call-and-response repeats x 24]
We are charged. Hands up. Fists up. Chin up. Head up. There’s going to be a public panel on Thursday [Aug. 21]. For our old heads — I say that with utmost respect, utmost respect — for our seasoned professionals, our seasoned civil rights leaders, to gather with our young people and create what the professional folk call intergenerational communication.
Be there. We ain’t got the where. We ain’t got the time. But you got the link. What is it?!
[Random voice]: Hashtag!
[Crowd]: IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU
[Repeats x 3]
And that’s all—
[Crowd chants]: THE PEOPLE UNITED/WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED [repeat]
Before closing out, Lucier asks the crowd to help her lift up the names of other lives cut short like Michael Brown. People shout out names including Jordan Davis, Ezell Ford, Fred Hampton, Emmett Till, Malik El Shabazz. She then reminds them of the meeting on Thurs., Aug. 21, at a time and place to be tweeted later, and urges people to call, tweet, or email with questions, etc.
Our campus movement is going to continue. If no one else does it, who will? It’s your job. Now go back to your communities because we’ve reached the end of our time. And it’s only so long before the children in the crowd audience start screaming at all of us.
It’s our time. Atlanta, it is our time. This was the pinnacle of the Civil Rights Movement for our ancestors. This was the pinnacle of a civil rights movement in the hip-hop era. It will be the pinnacle again if we allow it. I can’t do this on my own.
And, uhm, we know that peaceful gatherings don’t make press. As we can see around us, CNN, WSB-TV and CBS have left, because we ain’t rioting in the streets.
So check it. So we stand together with a group of people watching us, so it’s our responsibility to make sure that we are accountable for what they are watching. Ashe?
[Crowd chants]: HANDS UP/DON’T SHOOT
Our young people are ready. Ashe?
That’s all I have for you. That’s all I have. Please disperse peacefully…. We’re all accountable for our actions.
As the crowd thinned over the next hour from a couple thousand to a couple dozen, people talked, networked, posed for cellphone pics, and listened to an impromptu performance by a duo called Food For Cougars. Instead of hip-hop, the soundtrack for this movement sounded more like ’60s-era folk courtesy Bob Dylan. Max Luger worked the harmonica and vocals while his partner J. Calhoun strummed a guitar plugged into a mini amp. People from the audience picked up tambourines and a cowbell to accompany them.
Free from the crowd that had swarmed in to comfort her afterward, Lucier stood with her mother’s arm over her shoulder, trying to make sense of what had taken place. “I don’t understand the magnitude of what [this] means yet. I’m sure I will when I get home and I’m able to digest and meditate.”
She talked about the seed of a tweet she’d sent out a week ago that sparked the rally. “This entire movement speaks to the power of young people and social media. This entire movement was an accident. My generation is really good at tweeting and Facebook posting and sharing their thoughts via the Internet and not moving after they upload anything. And I was tweeting my anger that we are so quick to post our thoughts but not act on our anger behind the thoughts, so I put my number out on Twitter.”
With a mix of pride and humility, Lucier’s mother doted over her daughter. “I’m at a loss. I knew when she was born that she was different,” said Renee Lucier.
“Everybody’s mom says that,” Elle shot back.
“Yeah, but look at you. I’m humbled. I’m thankful to God,” her mother said. “Look, everybody’s peaceful. It’s loving. We have music. It’s organic, it’s pure,” said Renee Lucier. “People know that it’s time. I think they were affected by Elle’s words and it matched their passion. And I think that as long as somebody can lead and say what’s next, I think that everybody’s ready. But without that, I think nobody knows what to do.”
Elle leaned into her mom and whispered, “I don’t know what to do.”
Mom squeezed her daughter’s shoulder and said back, “That’s for God to show and reveal.”
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