AMANDA HAUSMANN ’21
On Oct. 27, Trinity College’s Women and Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC) hosted three civil rights activists as a part of their presentation, “Courageous Women of Resistance.”
Pamela Selders and Bishop John Selders, leaders in the Connecticut chapter of the faithbased civil rights activist group Moral Monday, began the event by introducing the presentation’s moderator, Trinity Associate Professor of Philosophy Donna-Dale Marcano. Before introducing the panel of activists, Professor Marcano stressed the importance for “women to take risks, especially when you’re in an environment like Trinity where risk-taking is not always what you’re encouraged to do.”
The event’s panelists included the advocacy coordinator for the Palestinian, community-based organization Grassroots Jerusalem Fayrouz Sharqawi, Native American rights activist Madonna Thunder Hawk, and the founder of Boston’s Black Lives Matter chapter movement, Daunasia Yancey. The panelists shared their personal stories of why they resist. Despite coming from varying backgrounds, all three activists shared concerns for the lack of political representation about their communities, the belief that resistance and leadership must start from within, and the notion that resistance is a continued struggle that unites all marginalized people.
Fayrouz Sharqawi began by stating that as a Palestinian living in Jerusalem with Israeli citizenship, she believes “Palestinians in Jerusalem are living in a political vacuum.” Sharqawi’s acts of resistance include restructuring discriminatory maps that favor Israeli businesses in Jerusalem, a policy that is “suffocating the Palestinian economy.” While Sharqawi expressed frustration at Palestinians’ inability to form long-term strategies because of the “immediate crisis facing Palestinians while Jerusalem is under Israeli occupation,” Sharqawi hopes to unite the fragmented Palestinian communities within Jerusalem and resist against both the long-term and short-term struggle.
Thunder Hawk began by reflecting that for Native Americans, “it’s a continued struggle but the issues are basically the same over the years… it’s hard to say that things are getting better.” In the early 1970s, Thunder Hawk played significant roles in organizing the occupation of Alcatraz and of Wounded Knee as a part of the American Indian Movement (AIM). Today, after spending all of last spring fighting to protect the water at Standing Rock, Thunder Hawk is still resisting, stating that it is her choice to “hold down the language, the culture, and the land base.” Thunder Hawk spoke of the inspiration she discovered while at Standing Rock from the mass amounts of young people who, “whether they realized it or not, were putting their lives on the line by going up there and standing on that line as a water protector.”
Daunasia Yancey, the final panelist to speak, began by reflecting on her earliest acts of activism. At twelve and thirteen, she refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance to protest the Iraq war and fought to organize a Gay-Straight Alliance in her middle school. Yancey went on to explain how in 2014, during the Ferguson uprising in reaction to the murder of Michael Brown, Yancey organized a freedom ride of complete strangers, united by one issue, to Ferguson from Boston. Today, Yancey wants to remind others that “Ferguson is everywhere” and therefore “there’s a role for everyone in the movement.” Yancey encourages all people to stay engaged by “following black-thumb leadership” on social media, calling out white supremacy, and “connecting the theory of resistance to the people that we are fighting for.”
After sharing their stories, the panelists answered a few questions from the audience and Professor Marcano. The questions touched on subjects such as being taken seriously as female activists, what today’s political climate means for their particular struggles, and how to sustain oneself “as a radical freedom fighter.” All three activists agreed that to them, it does not matter who takes them seriously as they know they are being taken seriously when there is such strong resistance against their fights for liberation. With regard to the impact of today’s political climate and the need to “keep the fire burning,” Thunder Hawk said, “my world is we, not me…I’ll do what I can in this lifetime, that’s what my ancestors did in their lifetime and they had a lot more to to deal with than I ever did. They didn’t stand doom and gloom, they just stood strong.”
To support any of these women’s acts of resistance, you can donate on their websites (Fayrouz Sharqawi: Grassroots Jerusalem, Madonna Thunder Hawk: Tree of Life Educational Fund, and Daunasia Yancey: Black Lives Matter).