March 23, 2018

From Emma González to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Celebrating young women’s voices this Women’s History Month

The Rebel Girl

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks,” said Emma González , an 18-year-old survivor of the mass shooting at her high school in Parkland, Florida. After decades of government inaction thanks to the National Rifle Association and gun corporations’ interference, González promised that she and her fellow students would produce the change we need to see. “We call b.s.,” she exclaimed in response to the see-through reasoning often offered by politicians who she says, “have become more easily swayed by money than by the people who voted them into office.”

Like many of you, I’ve been stirred and energized by the activism of González and her classmates, and I’ve been dazzled by what they’ve already accomplished at such a young age. On the occasion of this Women’s History Month, she and her peers have me reflecting on the history of young women activists and revolutionaries in whose footsteps they are following. Here are four such heroes — some no longer with us, some very much living and changing the world — whose dauntless spirits inspire me to push on:

  • Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964). 16-year-old Flynn stepped up on a soapbox in Harlem to deliver her first public speech and within a year was an active labor organizer. In 1912, emboldened by the leadership of the 22-year-old “Rebel Girl,” strikers at Lawrence textile mills in Massachusetts doubled their numbers from 10,000 to 20,000, braved beatings by hired armed militias, and succeeded in securing better pay and working conditions. In the process, they launched a new consciousness for women as workers. Singer-Songwriter and Activist Joe Hill’s popular 1915 release “Rebel Girl” is about Flynn.
  • Anne Moody (1940-2015). As a teenager and college student, Moody marched and endured white violence alongside such luminaries as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers. She organized protests, coordinated direct actions to desegregate public facilities and businesses, and registered Black people whose right to vote had been obliterated by systemic violence and targeted terror. This month represents the 50th anniversary of the publication of her groundbreaking and much-loved memoir of the civil rights movement, “Coming of Age in Mississippi.
  • Lidy Nacpil (born 1960). At age 20, Nacpil boldly campaigned against the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines in the face of severe violence and repression. Since then she has proven an unstoppable campaigner for environmental justice and economic and gender equity in the Philippines and internationally. She reminds us, “There is no gender justice without climate justice. And the reverse — there is no climate justice without gender justice.” Nacpil is coordinator for the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development and co-founder of the Fight Inequality Alliance.
  • Teresa Cheng (born 1987) first became involved in labor rights activism as a college student at the University of Southern California, where she led an anti-sweatshop campaign that culminated in the occupation of the university president’s office. As a national organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops, she trained and coordinated a network of student labor organizations across the country to wage several successful campaigns in solidarity with unions to demand that global corporations respect workers’ rights.

And as for Emma González and her powerhouse peers? If you’re inspired by her actions, on March 24, there will be nearly 900 events around the world where people will take to the streets to call for an end to gun violence in schools and in our lives. Find one near you.

Across the generations, we see women boldly making history by refusing to be silent in the face of injustice. Thank you for your commitment to justice and your partnership with us. You make transformative change possible!

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