Inspiring oral histories of women fighting for justice and radical social change at community, state, and national levels.
In this timely and deeply inspiring book, award-winning oral historian Lynn Lewis brings together the stories of nine exceptional women who describe the arc of their political work from their earliest, formative experiences, to the strategies they developed as movement leaders, community organizers, and radical cultural workers. Each chapter is dedicated to one activist—Malkia Devich-Cyril, Priscilla Gonzalez, Terese Howard, Hilary Moore, Vanessa Nosie, Roz Pelles, Loretta Ross, Yomara Velez, and Betty Yu. As each reflects on the conditions that forged their political consciousness and the path their lives have taken, we discover what they have learned along the way, what they have hoped for, and what keeps them in the fight for a better world.
Honest, raw, questioning, and wise, these remarkable histories reveal the different ways adversity and oppression can catalyze the commitment to fight for the common good, and what motivates women to make enormous personal sacrifices for the sake of solidarity with others fighting injustice. Essential and timely reading for making a difference in the post-Roe era.
The women interviewed for this book have played critical roles in contemporary organizing struggles and in that process, have participated in making history. In the following oral history interviews, they generously share some of the personal and political choices that moved them to dedicate their lives to constructing justice. Oral History is an act of resistance for oppressed peoples because it is a way to ensure that a more complete history is told, recorded, documented, and made accessible. Beyond knowing what happened when oral history reveals the meaning of historic events, from the perspective of those who have shaped them.
Loretta Ross is an organizer, movement builder, educator, author, and innovator from the local to the global stage, as a Black feminist working on issues of ending violence against women, reproductive justice, and anti-racism. She reflects on the relationships between race and gender in this interview and traces the emergence of her own consciousness around gender equality, racism, and self-determination. She details her work to build collective power with women of color, including her own choice to stay in the movement after her close friend and political comrade was assassinated in Washington, D.C. and the organizations she worked in were faced with COINTELPRO surveillance and repression. Loretta shares her analysis about the need for social justice movements to welcome folks in, and to educate in order to build relationships, movement, and solidarity. Loretta was born in Temple, Texas and now resides in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Roz Pelles is an organizer, strategist, movement builder, and attorney. Joining the civil justice movement as a young teenager, Roz has organized around issues of civil rights, workers’ rights, police brutality, and anti-racism – connecting these issues to broader issues of social justice and liberation. Organizing within an anti-capitalist and anti-racist framework during a period of white supremacist resurgence across the U.S., she is a survivor of the Greensboro massacre in 1979 and is now the Strategic Advisor to the Poor Peoples Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Roz shares her political trajectory and analysis of the need for a multi-racial, multi-issue movement developed from the bottom-up and reflects on her organizing philosophy of leading from behind. She describes what it means to balance parenting and family life within the context of organizing – accompanied by government repression and political assassination. Roz was born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and today resides in Maryland.
Vanessa Nosie is an organizer and spokesperson for Apache Stronghold and works as an archaeology aide with the San Carlos Apache Tribe Historic Preservation office and Archeology Department. She is Chiricahua Apache, enrolled into the San Carlos Apache tribe and resides on the San Carlos Reservation, which was created as a concentration camp for several Apache tribes, where they were forcibly relocated as prisoners of war. Vanessa links her work to that history of colonization and genocide, which doesn’t remain in the past but continues today. In the following interview, she connects the themes of motherhood and lineage to the history of colonization and racism in the U.S. and the need for an understanding of that history in order to heal and identify solutions. Her organizing work is a struggle for the very survival of the Apache people and Mother Earth and calls for unity among all people to confront the forces of greed and power that threaten us all. Vanessa was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and raised on the San Carlos Reservation, where she resides today.
Betty Yu is a cultural worker whose work has focused on issues including workers’ rights, immigration, gentrification, police violence, class, race, and media justice. Her work links anti-Asian violence and racism with the racism experienced by Black and Indigenous communities and creates opportunities for education and solidarity. In the following interview, she reflects on her own process of understanding that the issues impacting her family and community existed within the context of broader struggles for social justice, describes how she initially engaged with community organizing as a teenager, reflects on the meaning of belonging and accountability, explores the role of the arts in social justice work to educate and to create space for the changing of hearts and minds, the importance of collaboration with community, and the power of storytelling in popular education to shift narratives as part of an organizing strategy. The daughter of immigrants, Betty was born and raised in New York City, and grew up in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where she lives today.
Hilary Moore is an organizer, educator and author who works within an anti-racist framework that links movements to abolish the police and the military with environmental justice, racial justice, and anti-imperialist struggles in the U.S. and internationally. She draws connections between eco-fascism, white supremacy, policing, the military, and surveillance that forecasts many of the dynamics we see today. In the following interview, she reflects on the process of her own political development and explores the meaning of belonging, creating community and connection. She describes the importance of mentorship and the role of storytelling as a way to build connection, leadership, and movement. Born in Sacramento, California, and raised in rural northern California, Hilary now lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
Malkia Devich-Cyril is an organizer, activist, movement builder, writer, poet, educator, public speaker, and social justice leader in the areas of Black liberation and digital rights in expansive and profound ways that connect racialized capitalism to the digital economy. Malkia reflects on the responsibility of lineage, conferred by her mother, a leader of the Harlem Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Related to this is the theme of belonging: to family, community, and movement and the importance of narrative struggle to make meaning and build power to change material conditions. At the time of this interview, Malkia was formulating an analysis around the relationship between grief, grievance, and governance as a critical strategy to win freedom. Malkia, who also goes by Mac, was born and raised in New York City and lives in Oakland, California.
The daughter of immigrants, Priscilla Gonzalez is an organizer and certified professional coach who has been instrumental in groundbreaking campaign victories and developing movement building infrastructure in New York City, New York State, and nationally around issues of immigration reform, domestic worker’s rights and ending police violence. Priscilla reflects on the importance of centering relationships in an organizing process as well as the power of storytelling as an organizing strategy to build community, shift narratives and to educate. The importance of lineages, and where we and the movements we work within fit into those lineages, is also explored. Finally, she reflects on the value of learning how to sustain ourselves in movement work, including the importance of creativity and fun. Born and raised in New York City, Priscilla now lives in West Texas.
Terese Howard is an organizer and educator who has been organizing with houseless people for civil and human rights since 2011. She became involved at the onset of Occupy Denver and is a founder of Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) which was formed to defend the rights of people without housing who are criminalized and targeted by the police for basic human activities. In 2022, she founded a new organization, Housekeys Action Network Denver, that is focused on the organizing with houseless folks to guarantee housing is human right for all. Terese describes the anarchist values that inform her approach to her organizing practice and her life, including mutual aid and the sharing of resources, the need to create horizontal and accountable structures within movement and recognizing that we are in relationship with one another and the planet. She reflects on the significance of relationships, particularly within the context of organizing with unhoused folks, and the need to build solidarity and skills across organizations and movements. Terese was born and raised in Spokane, Washington, and rural Colorado. She now lives in Denver, Colorado.
Yomara Velez is an organizer and daughter of immigrants from Puerto Rico and Venezuela. As a single mother attending the U. of Massachusetts, she organized students on welfare to demand access to higher education and better living conditions. She has organized around housing and environmental justice issues in the South Bronx and founded Sistas on the Rise, a collective of young mothers of color. Their work was grounded in transformative practices based on grassroots leadership and uplifted motherhood as an important part of organizing work. After moving to Atlanta, she worked on immigration and economic justice issues, including ten years with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Yomara describes the importance of relationships, of belonging to community and the significance of women mentors in her life. She reflects upon the need for political education and the leadership of community members in organizing and shares her own process of creating alternatives to oppressive structures – including hierarchical structures in movement organizations – and her own journey home schooling her children as a strategy to build alternatives in our personal lives that reflect the world we want to live in. Yomara was born in Massachusetts and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.