The titles and roles of activists may differ, but a good activist can be spotted by their passion and dedication to their work. Most of us choose our paths of activism based on the impact we want to have or life sort of decides for us by placing us in social locations where the only path that makes sense is one of resistance. High levels of recognition are typically reserved for men, the wealthy, or those who have been doing this for so long that their fame is an accumulated fame. This blog series is not a remedy to this situation, but rather designed as a way to highlight activists and their justice work through brief interviews.
This installment is an interview with activist, writer, and community organizer, Lucky Garcia. Responses were provided during a one-on-one phone interview, and this write-up was reviewed and approved by the interviewee prior to publication.
How would you define yourself as an activist?
It seems like it would be an easy question to answer but it’s really tough because I’ve never thought about it in a way of coming up with a definition. I’ve always thought of it in terms of what I’m not, but trying to figure out who I am as an activist is interesting. I fight for the liberation of the oppressed, of communities I’m a part of, but there’s not a single word to define my work. I’m a leftist if we’re talking politics, but I don’t consider liberals and Democrats a part of the left anymore. I’m engaged in community organizing, education, resistance through art, and subversive action, which I define as civil disobedience. My existence as a queer woman of color is in itself resistance to the white supremacist and patriarchal systems of oppression that we live under right now. So just the fact that I’m breathing is a sign that I’m resisting. I do subscribe to a label regarding my identity but the work I’m doing is not done because of my identity, but because it’s the work that needs to be done. I don’t think it’s fair to call myself a radical – though others call me that – because we don’t have radical action like other countries do. I don’t know what terms I would even use, mostly because I don’t care about that. I also don’t care what folks call themselves. I care about what they’re doing. I don’t think we should name activists by the issues we work on or what may be perceived as our abilities, though I do believe that what you do is based on your abilities. I don’t have a label. I don’t know one. And I’m happy with that.
How did you get started and connected to the work you do?
My activism has been lifelong work even when I didn’t realize it. I’ve always been a little subversive, and I have been able to show that through my autonomy and resistance. Basically, I’ve been standing up to things I didn’t agree with long before I identified as an activist. When I was in the military it was very dangerous and illegal for me to protest the government so things I did then were quiet, but impactful. After I served my time, I started working with LGBTQ youth and doing what I could for marriage equality. I began to feel a strong pull to the far left because of my values and political alignments. I love to read, so I was reading and meeting with academics and philosophers. I met some great people through my work with Occupy. I started working with peace activists, which led to work on freeing Chelsea Manning. I met other feminists who were doing work on reproductive rights, which connected me with people nationally and locally, especially people of color who were doing work with other people of color, poor people, and incarcerated people. This is where I found I could be the most impactful. That’s the history in a nutshell, I suppose.
I should add that being in the Army – where there’s so much to disagree with and speak out against – made it very easy to become an activist. The military groomed me to hate them. I’ve done a lot of interviews and talks on veteran issues. On average, there are currently 22 active duty service members and vets committing suicide each day, which means more people have committed suicide in association with the Iraq War than people who died there in combat. There’s something like 48,000 sexual assaults in the military per year, and this number is derived from how many assaults actually happen which accounts for multiple assaults from the same person, as opposed to how the military calculates based on the number of people assaulted. One in three military women are sexually assaulted and often by someone in their chain of command, leaving them helpless to the military’s judicial system. The imperialism of the U.S. military was enough for me to turn totally against them. They sent us to the Middle East to kill other people of color and steal their resources. I was lucky enough to return to a good support system, which has allowed me to work on my own deconditioning to get out of that mindset. Ironically, the military created a good activist against them.
Which of your personal characteristics help you the most in this work?
I think skills are different than characteristics, so I think that first is my thirst for knowledge. I’m always reading and trying to acquire knowledge through books, people, and experiences. I try to understand things by connecting the dots, but I have to be careful because I don’t want to obsess over getting answers, which is easy to do. I also think that my fearlessness contributes, not that I don’t fear anything, but seeing what an actual war looks like has made me fearless in my work. Being in the worst situation I thought I’d be in helps me keep moving forward. I have this deep need to grow community through equity, which makes the work personal. The work is all personal because it’s about me and people like me and our families. I come from a long line of strong Chicana, indigenous women who didn’t have much, but through sharing their resources were able to illustrate their resilience. The power of women is all I’ve ever known. Perhaps that could be a skill that was taught from a very young age. I’m grateful for the strength my mother and grandmothers have grown in me. Though we don’t agree on all issues – like abortion – they have taught me to get loud and use my privilege to help other people. Women in my family didn’t believe that anyone should starve, which sounds basic but serves as the foundational reason for what and why I do everything.
We’re currently in a time where the political and economic landscape looks bleak to many people, which means a lot of people are dealing with feelings of despair. How do you continue to stay engaged as an activist and not give into feelings of despair?
As an Iraq War veteran, I am very familiar with feelings of despair and low self-worth. The work itself can be very traumatizing especially when we are dealing with militarized and racist police forces. When planning and organizing, it’s important that our direct actions have an outcome that we can see, although sometimes agitation is the desired outcome, and that’s okay. Art and my writing help a lot with processing intense feelings of hopelessness. They have been the most useful and therapeutic activities for me. I write about political things and topics, not just my feelings. I don’t worry about anything when I’m writing, which helps because I can write freely without worrying about censoring anything. I also keep a very strong and loving support system around me. My support system mostly consists of people who are also doing movement work, have also had issues with the police, and who are also stretched thin, and feeling low and hopeless within this current political climate. We try to hold each other up and respect when we need breaks. We take care of each other. I’m getting better at expressing my feelings, like when I’m reaching my limits. We also process and share our resources, like where you can go to get free and sliding-scale mental health care, but it can also look like having conversations amongst ourselves.
There are so many social issues in the world that need to be addressed. How do you decide which issues to devote your time and energy to?
When I was just getting started I wanted to do everything. Plus, I live in Kansas City where there’s so much work to be done. I look at where my resources and efforts can be most impactful and what I have capacity for. We all have personal power in some way, which can look like donating money or time. When I have money, I give what I can to organizations and community groups doing good work. When I have time, I donate my time and skills. Sometimes I don’t have much money or time. This is when I use my body for civil disobedience, if I’m able. Many people with different abilities can organize communities without having to throw their bodies into the streets. Our oppressors want us to believe we can’t do anything and have nothing to give, but that’s not true. We resist with what we have. Sometimes it’s small and sometimes those small things accumulate. My point is, we can all do something.
What would you tell yourself if you could talk to yourself as a young activist?
I would tell myself so much. The number one thing I would do is tell myself not to join the Army. That put me on a track that will affect me for the rest of my life, a path that will make it difficult for me to live and love, and connect with people. The second thing is that self-care is very important so take care of myself. Learn the power of saying “no” – that’s part of self-care too, knowing when it’s best to decline something. We all have to take time to heal and recharge so we can fight strong. You can’t please everyone and you can’t fight every fight. It’s not your burden to educate your oppressors. They will educate themselves or have to fight you. Sometimes, showing up is all you need to do, which goes back to times you feel you have nothing to give. I would tell myself that I would be surrounded by other people with trauma, fear, and rage. This work is much bigger than you and much bigger than you even know so listen to others who are oppressed; the youth, the elders, and your gut.
Looking ahead, what do you think are going to be the most pertinent issues of 2019?
It’s difficult and unfair to say which issues are more important. Fascist, big money, blood money, and oppressive religious dogmas currently control what we like to call our democratic government. There is so much to fight. In 2019, I plan to focus my fight with the Movement for Black Lives and police violence in communities of color, prisoner support work, immigration issues and going to work for undocumented folk, and trans rights. I would really like to raise my voice more through my art this coming year as well.
Sometimes the best art comes out of times like this and I think art is a key component of revolution. I’ve been really pleased with the art I’m seeing and the art I’m creating. I think of art as anything creative: from street art to paintings to writings, poetry, stories, and theatre. The art I’m seeing tends to be more intense and candid, but truthful. They say art is a reflection of life and I agree, but it is also resistance if we do it right. We should all be resisting the current administration – and the fact we have actual Nazis walking around in the streets and white supremacists in elected/political offices – because it’s wild and unbelievable; yet, we have artists depicting that very well.
Lucky Garcia (she/her/hers) is a Latinx/Chicanx lesbian writer, community organizer, sex educator, and software engineer. She has lived in Kansas City for 14 years. As an Iraq War veteran turned political anarchist, she has dedicated her life to social and racial justice. Lucky hosts workshops and speaks publicly at schools, conferences and community events on relationships, sex, sexuality, as well as LGBTQ, political, women’s rights, and racial justice issues. She is an organizing member of One Struggle KC in the Movement for Black Lives, Brown Voices/Brown Pulse which centers LGBTQ people of color, Showing Up for Racial Justice – Kansas City (SURJ), and Kansas City Food Not Bombs.
Reproaction is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse or oppose candidates for political office. Views expressed by our activist interviewees should not be construed to reflect the stances of the organization.