Be The Change: We Are Our Own Legacy

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Welcome to Be The Change, a series on grassroots activism, community organizing, and the fundamentals of fighting for justice. Primarily instructional and sometimes theoretical, this series creates space to share tips, learn skills, and discuss “walking the walk” as queer feminists.


We published the first Be the Change piece on November 14, 2016. The first post, “5 Ways to Stand Up to Trump’s Tyranny Right Now,” had over 7,000 views and still holds the comments record over any other post in this series. It was a simple post that outlined ways that people could take action if they wanted to, if they were ready to. It was just bulleted lists of tangible ways to do something.

It was less than a week after the 2016 election in the U.S. The Women’s March was barely a whisper of a Facebook event of an idea. The nation was reeling. Most of us were caught in some spot between outrage and grief with many variations in between. We had no idea what a Trump presidency would bring, but we knew it would not be good for civil rights.

Frankly, it wasn’t my best writing in the series. There are several other instructional pieces and theoretical pieces I’ve written for this column that I feel more deeply proud of, that go deeper. That said, it was one of those posts that seemingly came at the right time for a lot of people. Sometimes we simply need to know that we aren’t alone and that there’s a way forward.

“Try imagining a world worth living in, and then ask yourself if that isn’t worth fighting for.” – Leslie Feinberg

It’s hard not to think of the column as somehow related to the shit going down in the U.S. right now. What you may not know, though, is that the idea for Be the Change started months before November 2016 under a totally different administration. I pitched this idea to the editor goddesses on October 4, 2015, a full year before that first post. I drafted a first piece that was never published later that month. I trashed it a while ago when I was cleaning out my unfinished drafts, so I don’t even remember what it was about, but what became this column was originally approved as a three-part mini-series on community organizing.

In my notes for the pitch, I wrote, under “additional factors”: Needs a name — “Queer Justice” “Stand Up” “Resistance” I DON’T KNOW HELP. How could I have foreseen then that resistance would become a post-Women’s March buzzword, that everyone would be wearing those damn pink pussy hats with “RESIST” emblazoned across the front, that even I would capitalize on the moment and allow the title of my first book to be Girls Resist! (a book that only exists because of this very column)? I’m just glad I didn’t title it “The Resistance” — or maybe I should have and then demanded credit for the branding of this particular flavor of feminist anger.

The moral of this story is that despite this column very much aligning with the rise of the Trump administration, it’s never been about Trump. Organizing and fighting back were important before Trump. Perhaps more important in that the suffering of marginalized people was more widely ignored, was out of sight for those with more institutional privilege under the Obama administration. It was still happening. People’s bodies were still in peril. Lives still were lost. The grotesque and dehumanizing aspects of the Trump administration were happening in the shadows. The topics covered in Be the Change were super important in 2015 and long before then.

“Our armies are rising and we are getting stronger. And when we come a knocking… they’re going to know that you don’t fuck with the transgender community.” – Sylvia Rivera

That said, it is false to say that all tyrannies are equal. The Trump administration not only made shit more visible; it made everything worse. So much worse. It was the catalyst for me to actually take this pitch off the shelf and develop it into something. The three-part miniseries we’d originally envisioned became this regular column and that was, to some degree, very much in response to what was happening in the U.S. and the reverberations around the world.

It’s still an odd feeling that this column will always be tied to Trump in some way. The information itself is evergreen. It’s stuff I learned back during the Bush administration, some of it knowledge passed down through generations of direct action activists, some of it learned in professional advocacy, all of it part of my story way before Trump. It lives on beyond this administration, whatever the outcome of the 2020 election.

It’s possible to fight back. We have to. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again. It’s not magic. But sustained activism does make a difference. – Kelly Cogswell

Women activists have been around forever and queer and trans women have been leading activist moments and movements throughout history. I’m of course reminded of this during this month, the 50th commemoration of Stonewall. Trans women were there. Gender benders and dykes and bisexuals were there. Whether it was the Gay Liberation Front or Gay Activists Alliance or the first Christopher Street Liberation Day or the Salsa Soul Sisters and ACT-UP or the Transsexual Menace or the Lesbian Avengers or reaching back to the Daughters of Bilitus, we’ve always been up front doing organizing work. We are our own legacy.

What we haven’t had is the infrastructure to pass down information within our ranks. Fuck, we’ve been largely written out of our own histories by the gay cis men who ended up writing our histories, by the straight people who gatekeep our histories despite being outside of them. Ultimately, that’s what this series was always about for me. I wanted to share information, make it accessible even if you’ve never stepped into an activist meeting before, even if you just woke up on November 9, 2016. Not because of Trump, because of the power of organizing within our own communities, because of the power of stepping into our individual and collective power.

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde

This is the last Be the Change column. I’m still writing for Autostraddle and you may even see me drop a new organizing piece once in a while, but it feels like the column itself has come to a natural stopping point. We went way beyond a three-part mini-series.

I hope that you’ll continue to use these pieces as tools for action. I hope you’ll keep finding ways large and small to resist in your life, to add value to our collective liberation. Mostly, I hope it’s been useful for you, that this little column will play some role in how we carry forward the knowledge and history of activism and organizing within our communities. Thank you for being in this moment with me. I’m standing with you in solidarity, always.

KaeLyn is a 35-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 208 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. I literally just recommended Girls Resist! to someone online about an hour ago – which I read because I came across it in the library and recognised your name from this very column.

    I’m sad to see it go, but it’s been so helpful in turning organising from this mystical rocket science into something with tangible steps that you can do when you feel like you’re made of screams.

    Speaking of which, I would absolutely read a column called “I DONT KNOW HELP” because like, forever mood.

    • Thank you, @valentine! It’s pretty wild to encounter the book out in the wild. I love, love, love seeing it in libraries where anyone can access it for free!

      I’m also sad to see it go, but so glad for the opportunity to write it!

      I think “I DON’T KNOW HELP” is kind of my forever mood….haha….at least over in the Baby T. Rex column. :

  2. Thanks for your work on this series KaeLyn. You know it’s importance and now many more do to.
    Taking on authority. Getting your opinions and needs heard and standing with and for others is life changing in so many ways. Never easy but always rewarding in the end.

  3. Thank you thank you for your work on this! I absolutely have passed articles along and will return to them regularly.

    Thank you for this line, especially: “What we haven’t had is the infrastructure to pass down information within our ranks. Fuck, we’ve been largely written out of our own histories by the gay cis men who ended up writing our histories, by the straight people who gatekeep our histories despite being outside of them.”

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