Online and in real time, women everywhere are rising up to demand justice, stop sexual violence and put an end to the silence that women have felt forced into for so long.
But here’s the thing: women will never be free unless all women are free. And not just the women who are at the heads of movements or the women uplifted online, but the women who have been abused by the system as well. The only way to change the conditions from a divisive feminism to an intersectional feminism is to begin with marginalized women. There are few who understand this as deeply as Mary Hooks.
Mary is an Atlanta-based mother, feminist, lesbian, freedom fighter and co-director of Southerners On New Ground, a regional Queer Liberation organization in the South. She is a pillar in Atlanta and a leader in the Movement for Black Lives. She is also someone I am privileged enough to call a friend. Mary is one of those people who, to borrow from To Kill a Mockingbird, is “the same inside of her house and in the public.” She’s authentically herself in every room she enters and every street she mobilizes.
We are living in a time where today’s iteration of the Civil Rights movement—Black Lives Matter—was co-founded in 2013 by three Black women; this year, the Women’s March, a feminist movement that resists the blatant misogyny in the White House, was co-founded by three women of colour; and #MeToo, a movement started a more than a decade ago by Tarana Burke, a Black woman, recently went viral as thousands of people around the world shared their experiences of sexual violence in solidarity.
Despite the overwhelming contributions women of colour have made, white women are still considered the champions of feminism. Alyssa Milano was initially given credit for creating #MeToo, while women of colour fought to bring Burke’s name to the forefront. Until recently, white women were largely considered the architects of feminist theory, ignoring thought leaders like Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lorde and Assata Shakur.
Without a diversity of experience, people begin to think of their experience as the only one that matters. This was clear when Rose McGowan recently compared her trauma as a woman to being called the n-word, completely erasing Black women’s experience of both racial and gendered oppression. The term white feminism has come to represent the ways in which white women consistently overlook or erase the experiences of Black women, Indigenous women and women of colour.
This year, Mary Hooks thought of the women who get left behind even at feminist tables.
Together with several racial justice groups, Mary began bailing women out of jail as part of a nationwide Black Mama’s Bail Out Day. The effort took place in 20 cities across the U.S. and raised money to bail out as many Black women as possible in time for Mother’s Day celebration with their families. Within four months, more than 13,000 people raised funds to bring home nearly 200 mothers.
Sometimes this work is about humanizing people whose dignity has been stripped away. But it wasn’t the first time Mary has responded to the needs of society’s most vulnerable.
Motivated to join movements that focused on racial justice, Mary helped out when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and Black people were abandoned in dire need. Not long after, she rode a bus to Jena, Louisiana in 2007 to help ensure that Black youth were treated fairly by the court system in a city that was overwhelmingly white.
Mary believes in the idea that you have to serve communities before you lead them. She often recites a mandate that has become part of freedom discourse; that it’s our responsibility to, “earn the respect of future generations and to be willing to be transformed in the service to the work.”
Recently, Mary became a Racial Equality Atlantic Fellow for 2018, a recognition of her deep commitment to radically change the conditions of oppressed people in the South, and everywhere.
In every room we have shared, I have witnessed Mary hold the line, ensuring that our conversations and work continue to be the best we can produce for people enduring the worst conditions in society.
More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:
Day 1: Anne T. Donahue on Fierce Truth-Teller Scaachi Koul
Day 2: Sadiya Ansari on Fearless Supernova Jane Fonda
Day 4: Meghan Collie on “Unf-ckwithable Voice of Reason” Lauren Duca
Day 5: Nakita Valerio on Effervescent Community Leader Nasra Adem
Day 6: Anne Thériault on Tanya Tagaq Singing Truth to Power
Day 7: Laura Hensley on Unapologetic Activist and Entrepreneur Jen Agg
Day 8: Jennifer Berry on Exuberant Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante