In a political environment such as our own, it becomes customary to question what is going on in our environment and look to those who acted before us for inspiration. Be that looking hundreds of years ago at revolutionaries and how they overcame monarchs, or even only fifty years ago and looking at labor unions.
The latter comes far more easily, since we have one of the greatest activists during the 1960s to hear from: Dolores Huerta. The name may sound familiar to some: she was the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, currently known as the United Farm Workers. That brought her to the limelight, and from then forward, she went on to advocate for women’s, workers’ and immigrants’ rights. She’s won countless medals, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.
The Athena Film Festival was proud to premiere Dolores as its closing night feature. However, just prior to the start of the film, the festival held a town hall meeting featuring several activists prominent in today’s marches and activist movements. The town hall, dubbed, “Building a Movement for Change in Challenging Times,” featured a number of well-known people, including Gloria Steinem and Huerta herself. Two leaders from the Women’s March were there as well, Carmen Perez and Paola Mendoza. Perez, the Executive Director of The Gathering for Justice, co-founder of Justice League NYC and founder of Justice League CA, is an expert in juvenile and criminal justice and has testified on 21st Century Policing before the President’s Task Force. Mendoza, a filmmaker who had her film Entre Nos premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and go on to win over 20 awards, is the artistic director of the Women’s March. Jamia Wilson, the Executive Director of Women, Action, and the Media, was present as well. In addition, two Barnard College student activists were there to offer their thought as well.
The town hall’s essential message was to keep fighting and not wait for something to happen. Part of being active means being preemptive, and so every person in the town hall made sure to emphasize looking for opportunities and using whatever power or privileges you had to help the less fortunate. Dolores, directed by Peter Bratt, is an official 2017 Sundance selection and follows Huerta’s life from actively fighting for farmers’ rights to today, meeting with fellow supporters like Steinem, Hillary Clinton, Angela Davis, and more. You can check out the film’s website here for any upcoming screenings, and read some highlights from the town hall below.
I want to thank all of you who had joined in the march and there are so many organizers that helped with the event. I just want to recognize that Gloria Steinem was one of our honorary co-chairs, along with Harry Belafonte and my boss. But there are about 400 state coordinators and about 90 countries that participated for a total of six million people that marched on that date. It’s recognizing that when people really come together, that’s the kind of change that we can really see. The march was really a catalyst that ignited such a spark in so many people. It helped activate not only a new wave of activists but also inspired people who have been active for decades. It’s recognizing that there are different organizations that have been working on different issues for decades and it’s an opportunity for us who were working on the partnerships to really work on the intersectionality to create and demonstrate not only a new wave of activism but also feminism because we are a new wave of people. But the next thing we’re looking at is that we have ten actions being released within the next 100 days and we’re also several general strikes that we’re going to be working on and one of them is “A Day Without A Women.”
We’re going to be announcing that very very soon, but just to give you a sense of that action, it was one of our most retweeted and commented on post that we put on Twitter or Facebook, so there’s a lot of buzz around it which is great. That’s the long term and short term, but immediately we’re seeing what’s next in the movement. The town halls. We’ve partnered with numerous people that are going to be organizations people to those town halls so make sure our voices are heard and to make sure that our issues are being talked about. And if you’ve been following it on social media, the three, four town halls have been successful with thousands of people talking, chanting, protesting, talking to their congress members and telling them exactly what they want. We see the women’s march as a mover of people and energy and so that’s what we’re focusing on in the long term and in the short term. We just came back from meeting with tech leaders in Silicon Valley. We went down there specifically to talk about strategizing and we met with Sheryl Sandburg and Charles Dorsey and so we had closed doors sessions with them and talked about this is what the resistance is and what is the tech community going to do to help and help let others be part of the resistance. Our next stop is Hollywood, we’re going down there and meeting with the agencies and the artists.
I want to emphasize that we all have so much work to do. And we have to constantly remind people that that march on the street has to finish up at the ballot box. Sadly enough, we know that there are women that did not vote and there are those who voted the wrong way. We have a woman that had more qualifications ever than any other person who ran for president and she lost and she lost because there are women who did not vote. And there are women out there who didn’t realize that they have power and so they didn’t make it to the ballot box. So what we have now is what we have. And we have to organize for the next election to make sure our values will be heard. This kind of activism needs to get out there. There are a few things we can do, and that is to make sure that we teach women to vote.
In the beginning when I knew that I was in trouble, Dolores organized me for the farm workers in 1966, and when you’re organized by her, you stay organized. So because of her, I learned how to march in the street and likewise. And I especially want to thank the great collective that organized this march because they put online great practical actions and greatly put to use the energy of the marches all over the world. I remember getting word of marches, and especially Berlin got me because they said, “You’ve got to tell them that walls don’t work.” I’m a little concerned since the march, the question has been “what do we do now?” but that is a passive question, not an active question. the thing is that each of us knows action that no one else knows. that if we get up in the morning and think “I can do every possible thing I can” instead of “I’m going to wait until someone organizes something else” we will have those, but each of us knows that we can go to our offices and we can encourage each other something we all know: our salaries. We had to get a law passed in Albany in accordance to the Free Speech Act that we had the right to state our salaries, to not get fired for telling your salaries.
I had to take a deep breath because everything that has come to me since 11/9, that’s what I call it, the day that changed for me, has made me think of the mass that my ancestors left. I have never felt more in my life; I have never felt the need to enact change than in this moment. Those of us who wondered what would we have done under different circumstances, would we be complicit, would we be collaborators? This is our moment to find out who we are and to find the realness of our character. I think what is needed is for some real solidarity action. less talk and more walk. put our bodies on the line for each other. especially for those who have privilege to use that privilege for those who don’t. to do what happened at JFK. New Yorkers let the whole world show what we’re made of and that we’re not going to let this happen. to really hold up to the light what we hold true and to ensure that attacks on religion and free speech are called out for what they truly are. and we support the people that create the media that largely influence those who vote and those who organize.