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25,000 People Just Watched America Ferrera Encourage a Culture of Activism

Thursday, May 18, 2017
Wilmarie Ríos Jaime Phone: (202) 754-8811 Email:

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The day after the election, Patrisse Cullors was ready to leave.

Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, had a new baby and was deeply concerned about how the incoming Trump administration would affect her family’s safety. After a couple of weeks, though, she was ready to fight back. “I put my big-girl panties on and was like, 'All right. Let's get back to it,’” she said.

Cullors recounted her story Thursday at a panel of activists hosted by and Harness, an advocacy organization headed by actress and activist America Ferrera. Activists gathered at Twitter’s New York City headquarters to hear the activists explain what it’s like to be on the ground in social justice movements, as well as glean tips for how to kick-start their own efforts. Using the hashtags #ActivismIRL and #IWillHarness, audience members — including those tuning into the livestream on Periscope — tweeted and Instagrammed the event.

“We’re rising up,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “This is a really hostile environment, but we’re ready to step forward.”

The panelists all discussed the importance of having a community, of banding together to figure out how to tackle a problem together. “It’s one thing to sit on a computer and read about issues, or watch someone's story,” Ferrera told before the panel discussion. “But what changes us is being in a relationship to other people face-to-face. So whether that’s having a conversation in your community, attending a conversation, attending a town hall, attending a local organization's teach-in, or leading or holding your own, building community is transformative.”

It’s also crucial to expand that community to include people you might not have expected. “It's impossible to hate anyone whose story you know,” said Sarah Sophie Flicker, one of the national organizers of the Women’s March. “As critical as the marches, the protests, and all the activism is, it's as critical in building community and building an understanding for our shared community to really be talking and telling each other stories.”

In a spoken-word piece, poet Denice Frohman also underscored the importance of coexisting with each other. "Liberation is a sweeter song when all the people can sing it," she said. "The closest sun we got is each other."

Ferrera started Harness with her husband Ryan Piers Williams and actor Wilmer Valderrama to connect communities with activists on the front lines and to inspire action. She first realized the importance of this, she says, on a 2010 trip to Mali with the nonprofit Save the Children. On the trip, she learned that “young girls didn’t need books and pencils to stay in school. They needed hygiene products because they were missing school on their period days, which would then just spiral into many absences and falling behind, and then eventually not staying in school,” she told “If you want to show up and help in any issue, you need to have a deep understanding of what is needed. And you need to show up with the right tools.”

One of those tools, Gonzalez-Rojas said, is knowing when to listen. For people who don’t feel as endangered but want to support communities that do, it’s important to look to the women who were involved in activism long before November.

“Stand alongside them. They are the leaders,” she said of those veteran activists. And she cautioned against the “newly woke” thinking they know what’s best. “Don’t get ahead [of yourself] and [think] ‘I know everything, and I have an education.’ It’s so important to follow the leadership of women of color and marginalized communities. Because they have the answers.”

The women also gave action items — such as calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to tell him to stop Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act — that people could take immediately.

With all of her work in activism, editor Amy Odell asked Ferrera before the panel, would she ever consider running for office? Ferrera demurred, saying she's "most interested in being a leader in my space and my circles and my community right now." But she jokingly conceded: "It’s an easy slogan, right?"

Overall, the activists stressed unity, warning that their opponents are trying to divide them into warring factions. But when “we can link arms,” Gonzalez-Rojas said, “no one can stop us. This administration can't stop us. No one can take away that power.”


Three inspiring activists shared their on-the-ground insight and the concrete steps women can take to make a difference.