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.
War on 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.
Examples of 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.
Among the 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 on.
As Liberty 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 Sanchez.
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.
Immigrant 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.
So, rest 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.