By Ciara Reid, staff reporter
WICHITA - On Jan. 21, one day after the nation witnessed the inauguration of Donald Trump to the highest political office in America, more than five million people across the globe participated in the Women’s March – with more than 500,000 marching in Washington, D.C.
The message of the march was clear: the narrow-minded views of the newly elected president were not reflective of those who marched. Among the stellar group of women who made the march happen was Carmen Perez, executive director of The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit founded by activist Harry Belafonte in 2005, that focuses on building a movement to end child incarceration while working to eliminate the racial inequities in the criminal justice system that enliven mass incarceration.
Perez’s speech at the Women’s March in Washington was laser-focused on standing together in the face of discrimination and exclusivity – especially when the discrimination comes from those with the most power at the highest levels of government. “We stand here on day one of the new administration, refusing to let them sleep. Not for one second. We will hold all officials – whether elected or appointed – accountable,” Perez said in her speech. “We will resist islamophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy, sexism, racism, misogyny, and ableism. We will be brave, intentional, and unapologetic in addressing the intersections of our identities.” Those words rang true to all who attended and witnessed the march. It was a sliver of light in an otherwise dark moment in time.
Carmen will be the keynote speaker on Sept. 28 at Wichita State University, as part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s Diversity Lecture Series. Titled Moment to Movement: An Intersectional Approach to Building Resistance and Community, the event will take place at the Eugene M. Hughes Metropolitan Complex, and begins at 6pm. Doors open at 5pm. The cost is free to Wichita State University students with a myWSU ID, $3 faculty and staff, $5 community members, and $1 for ages 12 and under.
Perez says her keynote speech will focus on intentional organizing, the importance of meeting people where they are, and championing them to your cause. She will also discuss being grounded in an ideology, creating entry points for everyone regardless of experience, and ensuring that people are centering those from the most marginalized communities.
“I’ll be speaking through my 20-year journey of organizing which led up to the Women’s March,” she says.
In her 20 years of working in criminal justice reform, Perez says she had never heard of a president stepping foot inside a prison prior to former President Barack Obama. For Perez, that’s progress. “Criminal justice reform is one of the key issues of America right now when for much of my career it was taboo. That’s progress,” she says. “To see five million people marching on one day against islamophobia, sexism, etc., that’s progress. Especially because 70% of those that showed up on Jan. 21st around the world had never marched or had not marched in 20 years. To me, that is progress.”
At the conclusion of Perez’s Women’s March speech, she said we must “Organize! Organize! Organize!” – as organization is one of the key tactics necessary to mobilize people into action. “It’s so important during this time when so many people are trying to get involved,” Perez says. “We need to create entry points for people to become connected to something larger than themselves. The success of the Women’s March was because we were organizing individuals, organizations, and communities to get involved. If we are going to fight injustice we need to create space and opportunity for people to be a part of solutions.”
The organizing continues. After the events in Charlottesville, VA in August, Perez was called to action and is currently helping to organize the Inaugural Women’s Convention, presented by the Women’s March, in Detroit, MI Oct. 27-29 of this year. The goal, says Perez, is to bring thousands of women, femmes, and allies together to move from a march to a sustained movement with a clear vision as well as come together to organize towards the 2018 midterm elections.
There will be keynote addresses, plenaries, workshops, trainings, networking, socials, and panel discussions. For more information, visit Perez’s twitter (@msladyjustice1).
Whatever the cause – whether it is mass incarceration, gender equality, or other civil and human rights issues, Perez is constantly inspired to do something to help make the world a better place. Inspiration is all around her. “Love for my communities and humanity inspires me. My nieces and nephews inspire me to create a better world for them. My parents’ sacrifice and resilience inspire me. And my boss and mentor Harry Belafonte because of his commitment to human and civil rights, along with many other elders and organizers of my generation,” she says. l