Women Who Change the World
Stories from the Fight for Social Justice
City Lights Open Media
Published by: City Lights Publishers
Imprint: City Lights Publishers
Inspiring oral histories of women fighting for justice and radical social change at community, state, and national levels.
Award-winning oral historian Lynn Lewis brings together the stories of nine exceptional women, from their earliest formative experiences to their current strategies as movement leaders, organizers, and 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. Reflecting upon the path their lives have taken, they talk about their struggles and aspirations, insights and victories, and what keeps them in the fight for a better world.
The life stories of these inspiring women reveal the many ways the experience of injustice can catalyze resistance and a commitment to making change. They demonstrate how the relationships and bonds of collective struggle for the common good not only win justice, but create hope, love, and joy.
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.
“I love this book. I love that every chapter is the voice of an incredible woman at the forefront of social justice, sharing her story directly with me and in her own words. And I love that each woman gave me new ideas about everything from organizing and family life to how I think about grief. This is a necessary and radical book for our collective futures.”—Daisy Hernández, co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism
“Women Who Change the World is oral history at its finest. The stories will draw you in; the profound insights about self-care, collective action, trauma, and power will stay with you.”—Amy Starecheski, author of Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City
“Lynn Lewis’s longtime organizing experience, political insight, and loving heart shine brightly through this collection of oral histories. She introduces nine changemakers from across the United States whose lives reflect the intersection of personal experiences with the legacies of history. Each woman describes her transformative journey to becoming an activist and community builder. These inspiring accounts offer urgently needed ideas, strategies, and actions that women pursue to create a more just society.”—Iris Morales, author of Revisiting Herstories: The Young Lords Party
“A bevy of brilliance and tactics to be learned and used by new and emerging generations of activists, Women Who Change the World is at once a gift of witness and a Social Justice master class for a world in need.”—Theodore Kerr, co-author of We Are Having This Conversation Now: The Times of AIDS Cultural Production
“Lynn Lewis’s book is a gift of cool clear water to a world parched of movement histories. If, as Dorothy Allison wrote, telling a story all the way through is an act of love, this collection is a great big hug for all those thirsting for inspiration. The women here are heroes, but as their oral histories reveal, heroes are all around us, made of regular and radical stuff. The voices here will stay with you: personal, political, persuasive.”—Laura Flanders, host of the Laura Flanders Show
“This rich oral history collection of nine women social justice activists is a must-read for our challenging times. The narratives of these working-class leaders speak to the passions, struggles, deep knowledge, and love that shape their practices of resistance and organizing for a just world.”—Tarry Hum, author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn’s Sunset Park
“Lynn Lewis has gifted us with a treasure of powerful narratives by nine brilliant, fierce, and caring women dedicated to social justice—some that I know, some I now know better, and some I want to know. Their individual and collective journeys leave me with radical hope that each of us can and will do what is necessary to keep changing the world.”—Lynn Roberts, co-editor of Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique
“Women indeed ARE changing the world! This truth comes through loud and clear, gently and subtly, humbly and proudly in the oral histories that make up Women Who Change the World, edited by Lynn Lewis. You have got to read the narratives of the nine powerful, fierce women organizers included in this oral history! They tell stories of true social justice heroines whose lives and actions are transforming society from the bottom up.”—Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, pastor, organizer, author, Director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice and Co-Chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
“Lynn Lewis knows that listening and asking questions can spark a revolution. These stories contain all the clues we need to build a better world.”—James Tracy, co-author of No Fascist USA! The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and Lessons for Today’s Movements
“This powerful collection of oral histories provides firsthand accounts of how social change is won through movement organizing. The women at the heart of this book share inspiring life stories behind the barricades, picket lines, and protests. It is a narrative of global resistance.”—Benjamin Dangl, author of The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia
“In Women Who Change the World, Lynn Lewis has worked in the grand oral history tradition of Studs Terkel and the Lomax Brothers, but with an explicitly feminist and intersectional lens. An outstanding collection harvested with great care, the women in this book remind us we are not alone in our struggles against empire—that we have contemporary sisters and ancestral mothers waiting to share plans for liberation. If ‘we must love and support each other,’ as the great Assata Shakur is quoted in the introduction, a great way to start doing so is by listening to the stories Lewis presents in this powerful book and taking them as a call to action.”—Steven W. Thrasher, author of The Viral Underclass and former editor at the NPR StoryCorps project