From Hunger Strikes to Kitchen Table Activism

Today marks the last day of Women’s History Month and the birthday of civil rights activist César Chávez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. As I pay my respects to the many freedom fighters that came before me, I can’t help but think about the way marginalized communities have always been resistant to oppression and exploitation. From slavery to sexism to chemical poisoning to poverty, suffering has never been a natural human condition; therefore oppressed peoples have always resisted their subjugation. While we love to celebrate iconic heroes or momentous movements and dates in time, I struggle with narrow conceptualizations of history and change, considering most acts of resistance and activism will never be noted in fancy books or timelines. Yes, I respect and honor César Chávez’s bravery and leadership (which white supremist states like Arizona want to erase from history altogether) and I choose to also remember Dolores Huerta (co-founder of the UFW) and the thousands of nameless organizers and farm workers whose sweat, labor and tears were sacrificed for workers rights. And yes, I acknowledge the significance of contemporary women’s rights movements, yet I look beyond the traditionally framed feminist movements to find teachings and the power in being a woman of color. I can look to my own ancestral linage of powerful women for feminist teachings, be it my mother who worked full time as a single mother, my grandmother who nurtured and raised four healthy children in a time of Mexican bashing, and my great grandmother that traveled the border of Arizona and healed the sick as a curandera. I find it ironic that the heroes and histories the U.S. celebrates as actors of change often lay in a narrow vacuum that exclude many women of color who have been fighting against the exploitation of their bodies and land since the inception of colonization. In the process of being dehumanized and subjugated under repressive systems, many women of color have always been involved in an activism of resistance and co-existence. We can look to the works and writings of women like Maria Steward, Anna Julia Cooper, and Ida B. Wells who expressed moral outrage at social injustices like enslavement, women’s subjugation, and lynching. This continuum of feminist/womanist activism called for peace, justice and human dignity that rejected the limitations of narrow-focused politics. The historical legacy of these women of color activists has provided a rich foundation of humanist visions which many contemporary activists draw from today. In acknowledging the major significance women of color have played in liberation movements, it is important to note their unique positionalities and leadership women of color hold in their communities. Due to the systemic forces of colonization, of racist and sexist exclusion and of socioeconomic injustices, U.S. Third World Feminist frameworks have shown the interconnectedness of oppression and the ways in which woman of color have organized against the dominant social order. Activism often lies where people don’t expect it, as  M. Lagarde notes: “It takes place not only in public struggles but also in new forms of human sharing and of everyday life. It happens around coal stoves and kitchen tables, in the food markets, in hospitals, and in churches. It is found in classrooms, in concert halls, and in productive projects” (as sited by Maria Pilar Aquino 2002:138).  It is this very type of  “everyday” activism which many participants partaken in at the grassroots. By utilizing a gendered lens, we can begin to draw a correlation between the major leadership roles women of color have served in social movements, and the roles they occupy be it woman, mother, wife and/or worker. This practice of caring and protecting has allowed women to approach their community as a kind of web, where health, safety, schools and incarceration are all connected. Instead of approaching issues as separate, many women of color activists have practiced a “coalition politics” which is a “strategic, relational vision of social and environmental change” (Di Chiro 2009: 276).  Under a political vision where love and care are valued, and oppression and suffering are interlocked and non-singular, women of color can provide a holistic approach to change. Therefore, on the birthday of Cesar Chavez and the conclusion of “women’s history month,” I choose to broaden my lens of liberation herstory to remember and honor the ongoing legacy of resistance and survival, particularly of women of color. It goes beyond memorable protests and inspiring visionaries to include everyday acts of survival and care. Be it a hero or shero, a hunger strike or kitchen table, there are heroic acts and sites of revolutionary love all around us.  It is just a matter of us opening up our hearts and minds to see them. Feeling motiviated to do something? Consider joining/supporting one of Dolores Huerta’s programs from her foundation.