What does it mean to be an activist? The answer to that question is always in flux because activism looks differently for individuals and organizations, but often, we see single leader-driven movements upheld as the standard. Women of color activists are pushing against that, instead relying on collaboration as a leadership model for progress. This list honors their work, and illuminates how they’re shifting communities every single day.
1. SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective sign (Photo credit: SisterSongWOC/Facebook)
Since 1997, the SisterSong collective has worked to center women of color in reproductive justice movements by training the next generation of feminist activists; creating spaces that progress reproductive justice; and building a network of organizations that are focused on reproductive justice in marginalized communities. SisterSong includes 80 grassroots reproductive justice organizations, the foundational book, Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique, and their annual Let’s Talk About Sex conference. Through their work, SisterSong illuminates the origins of reproductive justice, and pushes for equity for those who are most vulnerable.
2. Rebecca Nagle, codirector and cofounder of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture and the Monument Quilt
Rebecca Nagle, a two-spirit citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is an anti-rape organizer who focuses exclusively on fellow Native people. In May 2013, Nagle worked with FORCE cofounder Hannah Brancato to create the Monument Quilt, an “ongoing collection of stories from survivors of rape and abuse” that are literally stitched together. Over 1700 survivors have contributed to the Monument Quilt, and it has been displayed in 28 cities to support survivors and “create and demand public space to heal.” It also raises awareness about the sexual violence inflicted on women of color, particularly Native women.
3. Alicia Garza, creator of the Black Futures Lab
In 2013, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi cofounded the Black Lives Matter Organization as an “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” Now, Garza is turning her focus on increasing Black political power through the Black Futures Lab, an organization that wants to help Black people “transform our communities” on a local, statewide, and national level. The Black Census Project is the Black Futures Lab’s first initiative, and will aim to survey 200,000 Black people to get a clearer idea of what the community’s collective political priorities are.
4. Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director of Equality Labs
Thenmozhi Soundararajan is a Dalit transmedia artist who uses a multitude of different platforms to raise awareness about social injustices, including sexual violence and colorism-and teach other marginalized communities how to use them for a similar purpose. She’s currently the executive director of Equality Labs, a South Asian organization that uses a variety of community-based methods to “end the oppression of caste apartheid, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and religious intolerance.” She believes that “story is the most important unit of social change.”
5. Sandy Ho, organizer of the disability and intersectionality summit
Sandy Ho is working to make movements and protests more accessible to people with disabilities. She’s a queer Asian American woman who is hard of hearing, uses a wheelchair, and has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (O.I.), and found that when she attended the Boston Women’s March, many fellow women thanked her for attending-a clear sign that the event wasn’t cross-disability conscious. Ho was also one of the organizers of the 2016 Disability Intersectionality Summit in Boston.
6. Michaela Ivri Mendelsohn, founder of TransCanWork
Michaela Ivri Mendelsohn (Photo credit: MichaelaIvriMendelsohn/Facebook)
In 1988, Michaela Ivri Mendolsohn bought her first El Pollo Loco restaurant in California. Now, the trans business owner owns six restaurants across Southern California, and intentionally hires trans employees—a necessary move when unemployment among trans people is three times the national average. In 2016, Mendolsohn told NPR that between trans people comprise between 8 and 10 percent of her total workforce, and now, she’s encouraging other workplaces to become more inclusive. TransCanWork helps businesses, schools, and organizations hire trans people and create a safe environment for them through trainings and also connects trans people directly to job opportunities.
7. Marisa Franco, director of the #Not1More deportation campaign
Marisa Franco is a Phoenix-based community organizer who has been primarily working against Arizona’s xenophobic immigration laws since former Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law. She was the lead organizer for #Not1More, a national organization that focuses on unjust immigration laws in an effort to stop deportations. Immigration advocacy is her life’s work, and she’s committed to changing America’s laws.