Northwest Asian Weekly
The honorees spanned educators to farm workers to politicians. Despite their varied backgrounds, these activists all work to ensure equality, justice, and opportunity for all members of society.
Black activist Harriet Walden said an ill-fated incident spurred her to start her group, Mothers for Police Accountability. Walden says that Seattle police assaulted her two sons after trying to search their car for drugs and weapons in 1990. The officers never ended up searching the vehicle, and the incident left Walden and her children in a state of disarray. She created the organization to hold police accountable for cases of maltreatment.
“I did what any mother would do. I stood up for my children,” she said.
Mothers, as the group is often called, opened 24-hour hotlines, where neighbors could voice complaints about alleged abuse, and conducted workshops to educate community members on their rights.
“We just stepped up to the calling,” Walden said as she accepted her award at the luncheon.
Honoree Rosalinda Guillen also fights for social justice in honor of her family. Her father worked as a farmer since he was 10 years old. Guillen believes more legislation is needed to protect farm workers and the land they tend.
“There’s a lot of work that remains to be done so that the work that farm workers do in this country is valued,” said Guillen, the executive director of Community to Community Development.
“Part of our core work is food justice and looking to make sure that farm workers indeed become equal players in the production of our food — that food is produced in a healthy manner, with the land being respected,” she said.
Iranian-born Someireh Amirfaiz had to overcome internal strife before she became a social activist. As a “painfully shy” person who came to America with a strong accent, she found adapting to life in the United States to be a slow and difficult process.
“When I came here, I had to celebrate my own marginality,” said Amirfaiz. “The first obstacle was myself.”
Amirfaiz said she faced institutional racism for years and had to assure herself that she indeed had a purpose in her life in the United States.
“The first obstacle was to move myself beyond that, to actually say ‘Yes, I can do it,’ that I can actually speak to my own passion and be a service to others,” she said.
Amirfaiz overcame her struggles, which shaped her into the leader she is today. She serves as the executive director of Refugee Women’s Alliance, where she advocates for families affected by racial disparities and poverty.
She recently helped coordinate the first Refugee and Immigrant Legislative day in Olympia, which drew an estimated 1,500 people.
“I ignited the fire, and then it burst into a flame,” said Amirfaiz as she accepted her award.
Pramila Jayapal, founder and executive director of OneAmerica, was also honored at the luncheon. She, too, feels that belief in oneself is a prerequisite to social activism.
“We work on social justice issues because they are issues of the heart,” said Jayapal. “It is ultimately a matter of our accountability to our children, to the rest of the world, to demand that we have justice in the world. The arc of the moral universe is long. It bends toward justice. But as President Obama said, ‘We have to put our hand on it, and we have to bend it, so that we make sure that it happens in our lifetime and no other lifetime.’” ♦
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