During Women’s History Month, we want to highlight three individuals that have dedicated their lives to social justice: Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta, and Helen Zia. Each has demonstrated their dedication to pushing for racial equity and inclusion in America.
The first woman we would like to highlight is Angela Davis. She is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
As an educator, author, and revolutionary activist, Davis is highly regarded for her civil rights and abolitionist work. In 1972 Davis gave a speech at the Embassy Auditorium in Los Angeles after being acquitted of conspiracy, kidnapping, and murder charges. Davis stated, “Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle it must be for a lifetime.”
True to her word, Davis has spent most of her life advocating for social issues pertaining to gender, race, class, and abolishing the prison–industrial complex. The prison industrial complex is the idea that imprisonment and policing are a solution for social, political, and economic problems. She is one of the founders of Critical Resistance, an organization that aims to dismantle and challenge the prison-industrial complex. As a Marxist feminist– a variant of feminism that extends Marxism to analyze the ways in which women are exploited through capitalism– she published a book in 1981, ‘Women, Race, and Class’, which examines gender, race, and class in the United States. She continues to be an active revolutionary author with recent releases such as ‘Freedom is a Constant Struggle Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement’ which was published in 2015 and examines the concept of attaining freedom in contemporary world conflicts.
The second woman we would like to highlight is Dolores Huerta who is a prominent American labor and civil rights advocate and leader. Though she has had a distinguished career as a social activist and feminist leader, she began her labor activist career after seeing the farm children she taught in the 50s struggle in their studies due to hunger. She got involved with the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO), which led voter registration drives and fought for economic improvements for Hispanics.
In 1962, she founded the National Farm Workers Association– later changed to the United Farm Workers of America (UFW)– alongside César Chávez, a notable labor rights leader. Her time as a leader in the UFW included organizing the union’s grape boycott effort which forced grape producers to improve working conditions for migrant farmworkers.
Hailed as one of the most prominent leaders of the Chicano civil rights movement, she has worked to elect more Latinxs and women to political office and has championed women’s rights.
In 1972, Arizona’s Legislature pushed a bill that denied farm workers the right to strike and boycott during harvest seasons, effectively making it impossible for them to organize. She coined the movement’s famous slogan ‘¡Sí se puede!’ to rally Arizona’s farm workers in an effort to revive morale during unfavorable circumstances. The slogan was later adopted and translated to English as ‘Yes We Can’ by the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign. She is the founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation which sets out to inspire communities to pursue social justice and she continues tirelessly advocating for the working poor, women, and children.
Our final figure is Helen Zia, an activist, award-winning author and former journalist. According to the Asian Pacific American Institute at New York University, “Zia has been outspoken on issues ranging from civil rights and peace to women’s rights and countering hate violence.” Throughout her career, she has advocated for LGBT and Asian American rights and has written multiple books on Asian American issues. In 1982, she came to prominence as an activist for Asian American rights after becoming the public spokesperson and getting involved in organizing a campaign that sought justice for the victim of a hate crime. Vincent Chin—a Chinese American man who was brutally murdered in a hate crime in Detroit, Michigan.
Recently, Zia spoke on the racism Asian American and Pacific Islanders have faced due to the fact that the Coronavirus disease was first identified in China. In a virtual discussion with students of the Taft School, a private Connecticut-based high school, she said, “The pattern of the way Asian Americans are treated in American society throughout history has been to blame, to scapegoat, to target, or to make Asian American and Pacific Islander people as though they are always the ‘other’—never belonging.”
All three of these powerful and courageous women have seen the injustices in their communities and have committed themselves to actively making a difference.