People Who Make America Great for Everyone
Photo credit: Vlad Tchompalov
On this day, the 4th of July, America does not deserve a birthday cake. But these non-conforming people do! Here is our curated list of 50 people who are making America great for everyone. Today, we start with 10, and throughout the week we will add to our list. Let's celebrate those who make America great every day. We don't need a holiday to do this. We can actively learn about, read, and discuss the work of these amazing individuals every, single day. Making America great requires strength, determination, endless struggle, vulnerability, and difficult conversations. These amazing humans do that and more. These individuals prove that a better world is not only possible, it is already taking shape. #forceofnature never looked so good.
Jolie Varela is the founder of a cultural revitalization project in Bishop, California. She is a worldwide traveler and lover of mother nature. She grew up in Bishop, California and is passionate about re-connecting native peoples with the earth.
Growing up on the reservation besides fishing she never saw any Natives out doing these activities and as she got older she realized these were not sports her parents could afford. She advocates for Native people, and she works in an effort to make aware how Indigenous peoples were the original stewards of American soil. Her cultural revitalization project aims to promote health through outdoor adventure, and incorporate the Paiute language and tradition into all the activities that occur.
Varela has volunteered all over the world. Last year she worked in Nepal for two months in an orphanage with about 17 girls. Varela stresses that capitalism is no friend to Indigenous peoples. In an interview, Varela says, “I can't really explain my relationship to nature, but I'll try. I was hiking up near Blue Lake a few years back and I found grinding stones, I thought of my ancestors grinding pine nuts and fishing from the creeks. I feel very connected to this land and I feel a great sense of pride when I think of how my ancestors loved and lived in harmony with this land since time immemorial.” Varela stood as a water protector on the front lines at Standing Rock, and works fiercely as a #forceofnature to keep that torch burning.
You can't help, but get sucked into a conversation with Varela. You won't be without laughter or intense mind-wanderings. She tells stories like nobody's business, and in her movements, hand gestures, and welcoming energy, she ushers you into the memory and you feel like you were there.
Bancroft is a #forceofnature born and raised in Lone Pine, California. She is of Mono, Shoshone and Paiute descent. She attended Stanford University where she learned about the value of a good library and the destructiveness of overzealous competitiveness. She went back to school after the coaxing of her two sons (who she raised as a single mother). She attended Cerro Coso Community college and continued her education at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. She then went on to graduate school at Montana State University and received her MS in Organic Chemistry. She enrolled in the new Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience for her PhD and then became a part of the Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program involving modeling complex biological systems.
Due to family illness she put her formal education on hold and now involves herself with anything for the betterment of her Tribe. Her priorities concern the youth and preservation of cultural resources. Bancroft serves as both the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) and the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Representative, among other duties. Bancroft also serves as an advisor and logistical coordinator for Walking Water.
When the white women in Portland, Oregon organizing the Women’s March decided that minorities, immigrants, and trans people weren’t a priority, they were quickly booted and Margaret Jacobsen stepped in to rebuild the march. Jacobsen is a writer, photographer, activist, organizer, and #forceofnature in Portland, Oregon. Jacobsen has organized countless facilitated events called, “Let’s Talk.” Jacobsen’s raw writing gets to the heart of the matter with topics ranging from motherhood, to depression, to white fragility, and gender. Their presence is much appreciated in the Portland community and without them the city would be at a huge loss. Thankfully, Jacobsen is here to speak the truth, spread compassion, and fearlessly advocate for new systems and ways of thinking.
Jacobsen, with her bright smile, breaks barriers and destroys any notion of walls, while unapologetically writing her heart out.
Stevens is a fearless #forceofnature in Portland, Oregon. She organizes meaningful events to support the houseless, eloquently speaks to the ills of capitalism and patriarchy, raises the bar on humanity while raising hell, gives the biggest hugs, and has the best laugh. She is also a leader of Portland’s Resistance, alongside the inspiring, Gregory Mckelvey.
Stevens is an activist and speaker. She is the founder and executive director of The Miller Scholarship Foundation, a scholarship program for the houseless, and outreach program that works fiercely to make this world safer and healthier for houseless individuals. She works full-time resisting Trump, and working at New Avenues for Youth. Stevens is a Co-Located Advocate of SAFE of Columbia County, volunteers with Street Librarian, and was an International Case Manager at Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center. She graduated with a B.A. in Psychology from University of Portland in 2014.
She is a writer, editor, and cultural critic based out of San Francisco, California. She earned her MA in Visual and Critical Studies at California College of the Arts in 2016, where she wrote her thesis on prosthetics in Western contemporary pop culture. Her work focuses on the discursive and material intersections of technology and the human body. She is especially interested in the ways in which technologies define socio-biological norms and render only certain bodies culturally and scientifically intelligible.
An avid outdoor enthusiast, Mailee also writes about environmental conservation, rock climbing, and reclaiming adventure narratives and mountain literature for marginalized perspectives. When she’s not reading or watching sci-fi, she can usually be found somewhere in or near the Sierras, chuffing up trad routes or heckling other boulderers from a crashpad. She is easily bribed with dumplings or gummy candy.
Amor, a torrential #forceofnature, centers their writing around decolonizing tourism and travel. Amor writes about everything from “Misogynoir and Climate Change,” to “Unnatural Disasters,” to talking about how to be a responsible tourist, in their essay, “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Someplace Else: A Guide to Responsible Summer Travel.”
Amor is a queer nonbinary travel writer, editor and photographer from Brooklyn by way of Ecuador who explores diasporic identities, the decolonization of travel culture, and the intersections of race, place and power in their work. They have been published in Paste Magazine, Bitch Magazine and Nowhere Magazine, among other outlets, and is a two-time VONA/Voices Fellow.
They hope that, “wherever you are, you are being extra gay, whether you’re gay or not.”
bell hooks is a internationally recognized #forceofnature, scholar, poet, author, and radical thinker. She has published dozens of books and articles that span several genres, including cultural and political analyses and critiques, personal memoirs, poetry collections, and children’s books. According to Dr. hooks, topics such as gender, race, class, spirituality, teaching, and the significance of media in contemporary culture are interconnected in the oppressive and class dominating systems we find ourselves in.
hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952, and raised in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. After high school, hooks accepted a scholarship to Stanford University. She started her book, Ain’t I a Woman, at 19 despite being in school. Working through several drafts over six years, hooks published Ain’t I a Woman which is now a central book in discussions of racism and sexism.
hooks holds a doctorate degree in English literature and became a teacher holding several positions at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In the early 1980s she left for Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where she taught African American Studies. In 1988 she joined the faculty at Oberlin College, in Ohio, where she would teach Women’s Studies.
In 2004, she joined Berea College in Berea, Kentucky as Distinguished Professor in Residence, where she participated in a weekly feminist discussion group, “Monday Night Feminism,” a luncheon lecture series, “Peanut Butter and Gender,”; and a seminar, “Building Beloved Community: The Practice of Impartial Love.”
Her 2008 book, belonging: a culture of place, includes a candid interview with author Wendell Berry as well as a discussion of her move back to Kentucky. She has engaged in public dialogues through the New School with Gloria Steinem, Laverne Cox, and Cornel West, among others.
The bell hooks Institute was founded in 2014 to celebrate, honor, and document the life and work of bell hooks. It is located close to the Appalachian hills in Berea, Kentucky. The Institute brings together academics with the local community members to study, learn, and engage in critical dialogue.
On the Institute’s blog, hooks writes, “As a black woman writing about Appalachia, I receive little notice. I can talk race, gender, class, and be heard, but when I speak on environmental issues and all the ways agrarian black folks hold the earth sacred few listen. As a voice for Appalachia, Wendell Berry is heard. Suddenly, I listened to his words and learned. Fervently, he teaches me. But like a mighty giant, a goliath, as a Kentucky black female writer I stand always in his shadows. I am not considered a companion voice. We do not join together to speak our love for Kentucky, our hopes for an earth free from exploitation."
hooks is a force of nature and a key contributor to discussions on environmental politics and social justice. hooks coined the phrase, "imperialist-white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarhcy."
Blackman is an award-winning #forceofnature, author of the books, Tradition, Po Man’s Child, and Bike NYC: The Cyclist’s Guide to New York City. Po Man’s Child received the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award for Best Fiction and the Firecracker Alternative Book Award for Best New Fiction. Their second novel, Tradition, was noted as one of the band of Thebes best books of 2013.
Blackman is an avid cyclist and veteran of the Sister Spit Rambling Road Show. They once spent six weeks in a van with 11 queer writers on a cross country spoken word tour and 12 weeks, alone on a bicycle, pedaling from San Francisco to the outer banks of North Carolina.
Alexander's ground-breaking book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, calls out how systemic racial discrimination is still alive and well today even after the Civil Right Movement. It is embedded in the US War on Drugs and other governmental policies and is having devastating social consequences. Her book brings light to the fact that mass incarceration in America functions as a system of racial control in a similar way to how Jim Crow laws of the 19th and 20th centuries once operated. Alexander is a legal scholar, human rights advocate, and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. Alexander’s writing traverses topics from Susan Burton, a Modern-Day Harriet Tubman, to Why Hillary Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote, to Obama’s Drug War.
As a #forceofnature, she has served for several years as director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement.
A #forceofnature, writer, poet, activist, Munson “blows the buttons of contemporary lit wide open.” Her work incorporates magical realism in a stunning kick-ass, wet dream of honesty and queer experience. Munson was a finalist of the Lambda Literary Award. Her work intrigues and kaleidoscopes as it explores illness, medical authoritarianism, immunity, humanism, chemical warfare, diagnoses, the scientific method, chronic fatigue syndrome, pesticides and chemical sensitivity, to name a few.
Munson became severely ill with CFIDS in 1992, following a sudden infection. Her book, Stricken, is a compilation (edited by Munson) of many voices of CFS sufferers, talking in their own words about what it means to live with a debilitating disease. Munson raises political and social consciousness by speaking about issues realted to CFIDS, like assisted suicide, poverty issues, and relationship concerns. In an interview with Prohealth.com, Munson says, “Stricken was definitely a daunting task – I had gotten to the point of being almost completely homebound and mostly bedridden by the time I began the book ( and remain so), and my cognitive impairments made it very difficult. Doing Stricken was almost like climbing Mt. Everest and seeing the signs of those whoe didn’t make it to the summit - I was contacted by other CFIDS patients who had attempted similar projects and gotten too sick to finish, and I didn’t know I would make it to my goal.”
Outdoor culture often prides itself in pursuits in the mountains and foregoes mentions of how people living horizontally struggle up their own mountains. Munson’s writing gives life to those who are pushed out of society and into their homes due to the severity of their symptoms. She brings awareness and understanding to those who society does not even know about. Munson says, “I learned a lot about the nature of oppression, especially oppression having to do with bodily weakness or failure, and about how people seek out hope, community, and connection in the midst of oppressive circumstances.”