"There’s a Chinese saying, ‘women hold up half of the world’. In the case of the civil rights movement it’s probably three-quarters of the world." - Julian Bond
I love that March is Women’s History Month. To me, it’s the perfect extension of Black History Month in February because Women’s History Month allows us to shine a spotlight on the women who were movers and shakers in Black History. When discussing history, we tend to pay attention only to the great men, and forget the great women and the great number of relentless individuals dedicating their lives to a cause greater than self. Great figures are necessary for movements because they are the rallying voice of millions and can channel the energy of many into a singular persuasive argument that those resisting the relinquishing of power can react to and interact with. But social movements do not happen because of singular individuals. Revolutions require solidarity and a vast support network. The real power of social change lies in the strength of grassroots organization. It requires the people who march en masse, those who bring food to people standing in line to register to vote, organizers for carpool rides so that a bus boycott can continue indefinitely, and behind the scenes volunteers that are the backbone of social justice organizations.
During months like February and March designed to celebrate “radical” history, I remember the leadership and strength it takes to be the face of a movement, but also the amount of commitment it requires from ordinary individuals who simply want to live their lives free from oppression. During these months, I remember the women whose hard work throughout history has often gone unnoticed. I remember the women like Ella Baker, Fanny Lou Hamer, and Diane Nash whose commitment to grassroots organizing and community programs paved the way for future generations, as well as all of those men and women who carried the weight of the civil rights movement on their shoulders unnamed. I remember groups like SNCC and the BPP that went to communities to serve them, who provided services and risked their lives without waiting for permission, and exemplified the idea of participatory democracy.
It doesn’t take a lot to serve. Serving can be as simple as being open and honest with people about injustice, building positive relationships with others, or giving help to anyone who needs it. Especially when it comes to feminism, the way in which you relate to others and the sexual environment you create for yourself can be a radical act in & of itself. To quote the late great Howard Zinn, “small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world”. I appreciate National Months such as these because they have the ability to remind us that we all can make a difference and have a duty as citizens to build the beloved community Dr. King and others have worked for.