At a recent
Liberty Hill book-signing, author Nancy L. Cohen read from Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America, in which she aims to
“uncover the hidden history of the sexual counterrevolution,” lately described
as the “War on Women.” Cohen was bringing a historian’s perspective to issues
deeply familiar to her audience of Liberty Hill supporters, some of whom were
recent college grads, some of whom were gray-haired emeriti of feminist
campaigns dating from before Liberty Hill’s 1976 founding.
Women? Been there; doing that. Again. Where do women’s rights fit into the
Liberty Hill picture? Everywhere! We were co-founded and led by feminists from the
beginning, and we’ve been kick-ass on women’s issues for more than 35 years, if we
do say so ourselves.
An L.A. Times story in 1977, describing a
radical new public foundation in L.A. noted that Liberty Hill’s first year of grants
went to “community groups concerned with everything from Filipino and Chicano ethnic
pride to occupational safety and health, feminism, school integration, police
abuse and child care centers.”
Indeed, our earliest grants supported
strong responses to a heated war on women and included grants to the LA Women’s Prison
Project, People Against Sterilization Abuse, Women Against Violence Against
Women, and the Southern California Defense Committee for Marianne Doshi, whose
case reaffirmed the right to have children born at home.
It was just
the start of Liberty Hill’s rich history of investing in women who make change
through community organizing. This feminist tendency continues today with our support
of social justice organizations that maintain a central commitment to gender
justice, reproductive rights, equal pay and other women’s/human rights.
our historic investments include groups such as Los Angeles Working Women, a
group that in the 1970s and 1980s was concerned with issues of equal pay
similar to those addressed in the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that has
recently come under attack. Thanks to Fair Housing for Children, a Liberty Hill grantee, housing
options for renters in L.A. have changed dramatically since 1980, when 71% of all
rental units in Los Angeles were closed to families with kids of any age, This woman-led group documented and made a
national case (via “60 Minutes” and other means) against discriminatory landlords
who also routinely excluded families headed by single mothers.
other organizations that we identified and supported in the 80s and 90s were Mujeres
Unidas en Accion of InnerCity Struggle,
Women in Non-Traditional Employment Roles, Madres del Este de Los
Angeles Santa Isabel, Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, Catholics for Free
Choice, and the Association of African American Grandmothers. And the list goes
Hill’s donor-activist community grew, our supporters’ feminist principles were
noted by, among others, a writer for Ms. Magazine, who described Liberty Hill as
one of the foundations nationally where “women are bringing the values of the
risk-taker and visionary to a new breed of philanthropy.”
Today, 67% of our grantee groups are woman-led, and most
of those groups report that a majority of their members are women. When Liberty Hill reviews applications from the various
economic justice, LGBT justice, and environmental justice organizations we
might invest in, we track the number of women on staff and membership. We also
evaluate the role of women in leadership and decision-making processes, and
whether women are front and center in those groups’ campaigns. We
have found that not only the organizations, but their campaigns are frequently
led by women.
Who is the
homeowner interviewed on TV as she “occupies” her home to fight unfair eviction
by the big bank? Who is the activist trying to shut down the polluting metal
finishing facility near the elementary school? At the Alliance of Californians
for Community Empowerment, those community leaders were Rose Gudiel and Martha
If you haven’t already guessed that yes, women make up most of the lowest-paid
tier of L.A.’s 300,000 restaurant workers, you can check with Restaurant
Opportunities Center-L.A., whose members have documented sex, race and age
discrimination in the restaurant industry as they fight for sick days and
against wage theft.
women, LGBTQ individuals, and women of color are the backbone of a number of
Liberty Hill grantee groups that are not defined as women’s organizations but
that routinely join together in alliance to work on campaigns with a feminist
dimension. You’ll find Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles,
Pilipino Workers Center, and the Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de
California, for example, rallying together for domestic workers rights. Black Women for Wellness, Gender Justice L.A.,
and Khmer Girls in Action have found common cause in health advocacy and
reproductive rights work.
assured that Liberty Hill is not sitting on the sidelines as the struggle for
women’s equality faces yet another round of challenges and attacks. As one of
our co-founders, Sarah Pillsbury, told Ms. Magazine back in 1984, even if we make progress, we can't relax. "If you have a victory one day, you'd better be sure you're up
at eight o'clock the next morning to ensure your victory is still intact."
It is said
that women simply operate with a “nesting” instinct – that realization that
you’re running out of time and really need to get things done. Getting things done appears to be the
hallmark of women as dynamic leaders and strong, successful organizers.