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Women’s March Organizer, Activist Carmen Perez to Visit Campus

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In January of 2017, the Women’s March set records as a worldwide protest with over 5 billion participants, becoming an annual event for feminists and activists. Carmen Perez was one of the national co-chairs for the first march, but her career as an activist goes beyond that.

Perez will visit campus on April 2nd at an event coordinated by Student Association, Middle Earth, and the university. She sat down with the ASP last week to talk about her legacy.

“My work started 20 years prior,” Perez said. “I feel that the work that I’ve done in different communities from Little Rock, AR, to Columbus OH, to New York City, and the state of California really prepared me to create an environment where we created entry points for people to get involved, and really try to create an intersectional platform in asking experts in their own issue areas to look at how their issues intersected through a gender lens.”

The 2017 Women’s March, largely regarded as the largest single-day protest in history (although the exact numbers are still hard to find), was no small feat. The turnout certainly did not surprise Perez.

“So as we were being intentional, grounding this march in the ideology of Dr. King, which is part of the organization that I work for, I did feel that we would get the numbers that turned out on Jan. 21, 2017. I also think that the reason that happened was because, not only were there four national co-chairs, there were 70 national organizers working day-in and day-out for 10 weeks.

“There were 400 state coordinators and there were global 90 coordinators, and so everyone coming together and keeping their eyes on the prize. I think is what led to people feeling like they were a part of something bigger than themselves. That’s what really led to the numbers.”

For many, the significance of the march is that it was the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. For Perez, it was so much more than that. Jan. 21 is her birthday. More importantly, on that date in 1994, Perez was turning 17 and burying her 19-year-old sister. It is for that reason that she felt inspired to fight for causes she believed in.

“What I feel inspires me to keep going is that as I was burying and a life ended, I had six eyes that were looking at me, and those were my nephews and my niece…At the time, when I was 17, they became my why. I woke up inspired to always want to be a positive role model for them. So that they could know that they could accomplish anything regardless of what life had handed them. And I feel like now in the present moment it’s been the younger generation.”

Currently, Perez serves as the Executive Director of The Gathering of Justice, a social justice organization founded by Harry Belafonte which advocates against wrongful incarceration. Working with The Gathering for Justice is now Perez’s main work.

“I get to work with somebody like Harry Belafonte, and I get to wake up doing what I love,” Perez said. “And, it gets tiring… you can’t lose hope when there’s so much coming at you. But I feel that all that I’ve been through has really prepared me to stand in my power.”

Despite the endless variety of issues to fight for in this world, Perez uses challenges as a motivation instead of a setback.

“Whether it’s a small act of kindness or it’s organizing the largest single-day protest, I feel that people automatically have gifts. They also have things that have happened to them that aren’t so fortunate. I was also given the opportunity to transform my pain into gifts, and to not keep them for myself but to share the with the world…As I get tired, I know that I’m creating these pathways for young people to lead, one day I will be able to rest.”

To continue progress towards social justice, Perez emphasized the importance of younger generations such as college students becoming active in their own communities.

“I just want to remind young people that although we say to you ‘you are the future,’ you are also the present, and you are the greatest gift that we have. It is our responsibility to cultivate you, and I hope you know it is your responsibility to reach out and ask for support and guidance. So to have this intergenerational relationship is something that I feel is important in both of our evolutions as activists. I just want to remind students that your voice is your power.”

Carmen Perez will be visiting UAlbany on April 2, a rescheduled date due to last week’s snow storm. More details on her visit are to come.

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