Yuri Kochiyama

We March for Her, Part 4

If you missed Part One, start here.

If you missed Part Two, start here.

If you missed Part Three, start here.


Yuri Kochiyama


Yuri Kochiya was an extremely vocal and sometimes controversial Japanese-American political activist. Born to immigrant parents in 1921, her life took a turn, when in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Yuri’s father was falsely imprisoned. His imprisonment took such a toll on him that he died the day after he was released, and Yuri and the rest of her family became some of the 100,000 people forcibly relocated to US Japanese internment camps. After WWII, she and her husband (whom she met during her family’s 3 year internment) eventually moved east to Harlem, and it was there that she became deeply involved in the civil rights movement, and in opposition to the Vietnam war. Her activism was influenced by meeting and becoming friends with Malcolm X in 1963, and at that time she began to focus on Black nationalism and separatism. She went on to agitate for reparations and a government apology for the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and partially in response to her efforts, President Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 which included reparations. After September 11th, Yuri was involved in activism opposing the profiling of and bigotry against Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asians that became more intense after the attack. Her relentless work on behalf of social justice for People of Color, especially Asian-Americans, continues to inspire activists today. We march for her.


For more on her life, visit here.


Winona LaDuke


Winona LaDuke is an environmentalist, an economist, and an activist for issues involving tribal land claims and preservation. She was born in 1959 to an Ojibwe father, actor and activist, and Jewish mother, artist and teacher, both of whom she credits for her activism. At Harvard in the late 70s, early 80s, she first became active in the school’s Indian political community, and at age 18 she addressed the United Nations on Indian issues. Winona graduated with a degree in rural economic development, and moved to the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota to become principal of the high school, eventually gaining a Masters Degree in Community Economic Development through distance-learning at Antioch College. There she founded the Indigenous Women's Network in 1985, and worked to bring awareness to the forced sterilization of Native American women. In 1989 she formed the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which is working to reclaim land that belongs to the Anishinaabeg people, reforest the land, create jobs on the reservation, and bring back wild rice cultivation. In 1996 and again in 2000, LaDuke ran as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Green Party. Today Winona works with the organization she helped found, Honor the Earth, doing speaking engagements all over the country on the topic of the Native environmental movement. Winona is currently standing with the Standing Rock water protectors, against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and against our environmentally-toxic reliance on fossil fuels. We march for her.  


To learn more about Winona LaDuke, go here. To find out about her current projects, go here.


Audre Lorde


Audre Lorde is a black feminist/womanist poet and activist. She was born in Harlem in 1934 to Caribbean immigrants. She learned to read and write at age four. When someone would ask young Audre how she was feeling, she would respond by reciting a poem. In grade school, when other people’s words no longer sufficed, she began writing her own. She went to Hunter College and then Columbia University, earning a degree in library science. She worked as a librarian for many years while continuing to write poetry and be involved in the civil rights, antiwar, and feminist movements. In the sixties she also began to write about her different identities as a black woman, a feminist, and a lesbian. Her poetry was being published regularly in literary magazines and anthologies, garnering her a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and finally a poet-in-residence position at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. She would go on to teach at John Jay College and Hunter college. Her writing won her acclaim and in 1973 Audre’s third volume of poetry, From a Land Where Other People Live, was nominated for a National Book Award. Black Unicorn (1978) is considered by some critics her best work. In 1980 she published a book of essays about her battle with breast cancer, The Cancer Journals, and in 1991 she was named New York State’s Poet Laureate. Audre died in 1992 of cancer, which had spread to her liver. Audre’s writing, both prose and poetry, focused on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality. She gave voice to the complexities of motherhood and family, the complications of multiple and shifting identities, and global politics. She was one of the most influential and outspoken critics of the lack of intersectionality in mainstream, especially academic, feminism. We march for her.


To learn more about Audre Lorde and her writing, go here. To see what work is being done today in her name, visit this site.


Wilma Mankiller


Wilma Mankiller served as the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief for a decade (1985-1995) and oversaw many positive changes for the Nation and its people. Wilma was born in 1945 in Talequah, Oklahoma. In 1956 her family moved to California via the Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation program when the US government claimed the land of 45 Cherokee families in Talequah, citing eminent domain for military purposes. In 1963 Wilma married and went on to have two daughters. At that time she was involved with San Francisco’s Indian Center and became an activist in the late 1960s. She earned her BA in social science from Flaming Rainbow University, and did graduate work at the University of Arizona. In 1977 she divorced and moved back to OK with her daughters, and sought an entry-level position in the Cherokee Nation. By 1983 she’d risen to deputy chief of the Nation, and in 1985 she became principal chief. Despite the challenge of being a woman in a male-dominated arena, Wilma would go on to run two successful re-election campaigns, finally choosing not to run a third time for health reasons. Until her death in 2010, she remained active in the fight for Native American and women’s rights. Mankiller accomplished so much during her leadership including the following: the Cherokee Nation’s population swelled from 55,000 to 156,000, the tribal high school in Talequah was reopened, a hydroelectric facility was built, the Cherokee Nation Community Development Department was founded, and relations between the Nation and the US federal government were strengthened. We march for her.


To learn more about Wilma Mankiller, click this.  


Diane Nash


For decades, Diane Nash has been an effective activist, strategist and leader in the civil rights movement, particularly the student’s arm of the movement.  Diane was born in 1983 and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Her grandmother was a particularly big influence on her, instilling in her the self-confidence that would inform her future activism. When she transferred from Howard University in Washington, DC to Fisk University in Nashville, TN, she came face-to-face with the full effect of Jim Crow laws. The outrage of segregated bathrooms and the like sparked the beginning of her activist career. She soon became a leader and a spokesperson for non-violent civil disobedience, such as the Nashville sit-ins that eventually spread to 69 other cities across the US and directly led to the desegregation of Nashville lunch counters. In 1960, after heeding the call from NAACP leader, Ella Baker, for students to follow their own principles and path, Diane co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  She also worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); and with the Congress of Racial Equity (CORE), coordinating the Freedom Riders and their non-violent protests against state segregation of interstate buses and facilities. SNCC, SCLC, CORE, and the NAACP would come to be known as “the big four” civil rights organizations. In part due to Diane’s repeated successful organization, these groups finally got a seat at the table. In 1963, President Kennedy appointed Diane to a national committee to prepare civil rights legislation, the outcome of which was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We march for her.


To learn more about Diane Nash and the Freedom Riders and to watch the PBS film, click here.


Sylvia Rivera


Sylvia Rivera, a trans woman of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican descent, was a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, and a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activist Alliance (GAA), and the Street Transvestite/Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Born in 1951 in New York City, Sylvia’s home life, as it was and is for many trans people, was difficult. By age 11 she was living on the street and working as a prostitute, eventually taken in by the drag queen community. Her earliest activism was with the civil rights movement, but she was also became involved with the anti-war and feminist movements of the 1960s. Her persistent focus in all her work was the intersection of race, income, and gender in gay rights activism, and she fought tirelessly against the erasing of the most marginalized groups - homeless, people of color, drag queens and transvestites - from the movement as it sought mainstream support. In 1970 she co-founded STAR to help homeless queer youth of color on the streets of New York, and resurrected it again in 2001 to work on more overtly political action. In 1986 the New York City Gay Rights Bill was passed, in part due to Sylvia’s hard work with GAA. At the 2000 Millennium March in Italy, Sylvia was hailed as “the mother of all gay people” for her work. Even as she lay dying in 2002, she met with leaders of the Empire State Pride Agenda to push for transgender inclusion in the organization and its agenda. We march for her.

To learn more about Sylvia Rivera’s legacy, go here.