• Fenna Milbauer

Invisible Front Line: From the Sidewalk to the Ballot Box

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

We often focus on what we can see in front of us. Whether inspiring or depressing, headlines alter how we reflect on the present and the past. For women in activism, this is especially true. The front line tends to represent how outsiders see the movement unfolding. Yet most of us know that real change happens in our communities and away from the headlines. In what could be categorized as the most crucial challenge in American history, the fight for racial justice is playing out on our phones and televisions. But there is more to the story than what we scroll through or see on the morning news.

Have you ever heard of the Army of Moms from Chicago? I hadn’t until recently during a deep dive into female activism. What is so striking is that community-based organizing, which is arguably the most powerful form of change, often goes unreported and unheard (Michelle and Barack Obama recently talked about community organizing in their podcast). Particularly within Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities, grassroots activism by women is the most powerful and yet invisible form of activism.

The Army of Moms originated in 2015 as a mother led stand against senseless gun violence in Southside Chicago

Women took a stand within their neighborhoods, setting up patrols each day, watching over their homes and children (1). These women mobilized themselves to fight against racial injustice and gun violence, risking their lives, and even dying to protect their community. Yet their efforts are seen as a causality of war and receive little media attention. There are many groups like the Army of Moms, with missions to represent their communities. Groups like Black Mamas Matter, which advocates for Black maternal health and rights (2). Or the Essie Justice Group, led by women with incarcerated children, brothers, or husbands who advocate against the rampant injustice of mass incarceration. BIPOC women often act as directors or active volunteers at food banks or shelters, working to keep valuable resources alive. All organizations and caucuses which are important, yet don't receive the recognition they deserve.

Image by: Chicago Rises

Take, for example, a cause which brought women together: women’s suffrage. BIPOC women were heavily involved in this movement. Yet when women did get the right to vote, their Black and Indigenous compatriots did not receive the same rights. When the time came to fight for their right to vote these women didn’t receive the same level of support as they had shown to their sisters (3). As new movements begin, it is important that more recognition is given to these voices so that they can be amplified.

Not only is it important to bring attention to these women, but it is vital to elect women who actively support the interests of women on the front lines (both visible and invisible). From healthcare to racial justice, there are female candidates around the country who are avidly fighting to bring more attention to local activism. Candidates like Lauren Underwood, who is running for a second term to represent Illinois in Congress. In just her first two years, she has already proven herself a successful activist for affordable healthcare. Or West Virginia’s Senate candidate Paula Jean Swearengin, who hopes to represent and champion legislation that will actually improve the challenges her state faces, like the opioid crisis. In Puerto Rico, the mayor of San Juan and candidate for governor Carmen Yulin Cruz advocates to break a cycle of poverty and inequality on the island. These women are a few of many who are relentlessly trying to bring local issues to light around the country.

Image by: Gabriel Hackett/Getty Images

Although media attention can’t bring about the change that is necessary to alter the course of history, it can empower and bring attention to those whose voices need to be amplified. By recognizing those on the front line -- whether that be a neighborhood patrol, human barrier at a protest, or at the ballot box -- we open up space for new voices, providing a seat at the table which will inevitably bring about the change we need to see.


  1. https://www.thelily.com/the-wall-of-moms-is-not-the-story-black-moms-have-been-in-this-fight-for-years/

  2. https://blackmamasmatter.org/

  3. https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2020/0803/Our-voices-carry-weight-Young-women-of-color-lead-activist-charge

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