Sanctuary Publisher‘s seventh book is a collection of first-person stories from activists dedicated to all different forms of activism in many different communities.
A Better World Starts Here by Stacy Russo is a book that inspires, re-kindles, teaches, and gives hope.
Here’s what Stacy had to say about the book, her own activism, story-telling, and much more…
1. Call you tell us a little about yourself and what forms of activism you partake in?
Thank you for inviting me. I’m a librarian and associate professor at Santa Ana College, a community college located about 30 miles from Downtown Los Angeles. My activism started in the 1980s when I was awakened to human rights and animal rights issues through the punk rock scene. Back then, I created a political zine with my friends titled Anti-Establishment. Early on and through the years, I participated in various protest actions related to war, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, animal rights, violence against women, and police brutality. Most recently, my activism is directly connected to my writing and art. I also participate in my community in different ways beyond the library, such as organizing an annual community poetry reading and providing zine and art workshops.
I try my best to live a life rooted in non-violence. It begins with veganism for me and spreads out from there into all actions I take during the day, including where to spend my money, how I treat people, and continuously educating myself about the experiences of others, especially individuals from marginalized communities. Because I now receive a steady income through my job, I am also able to donate monthly to various social justice organizations I wish to support and on an as-needed basis when I am made aware of an individual, including a nonhuman animal, needing emergency financial assistance. It is important that people who are able to financially support activism and activists in need do so.
2. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
I have always enjoyed reading oral histories, memoirs, and autobiographies. Something about a first-person story is very compelling. Several years ago, I attended an oral history workshop through a San Francisco, California, based organization called Voice of Witness. This brought together social justice work and first-person narratives. I learned about how to conduct interviews, including the important ethical aspects, such as being aware of power dynamics if the interviewer has more privilege and ensuring the narrator maintains ownership of their story throughout the process. I’m so grateful for that workshop, because it greatly changed my life as a writer.
After the Voice of Witness workshop, I embarked on a long oral history project that resulted in my third book: We Were Going to Change the World: Interviews with Women from the 1970s and 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene. The voices of women are so often left out of historical movements, including those of music and art, so this book presented voices that would otherwise not be heard. I then interviewed ten amazing activists for my next book, Love Activism. After working on that, I decided I wanted to do more to bring activists’ stories to an audience.
This book, A Better World Starts Here: Activists and Their Work, turns the spotlight on activists, who I believe are the real champions in our world – not the celebrities and culture of the wealthy and privileged that dominates the media. With this book, there is the educational aspect of hoping to inspire readers who may be interested in activism work to discover all the different avenues they may take. I also want the book to be inspiring for those who are already deeply engaged as activists. Beyond all of this, I’m hoping that people who may even be resistant to some forms of activism in the book will read the personal stories captured here and deeply listen without judgment or assumptions. I believe it is through stories that we can find our interconnections and shared humanity.
3. You made sure to include the voices of activists from many different communities, including activists from varying ages. Why was this important to you?
I wanted every reader to be able to find voices in the collection that spoke to them personally. It is also very important to me that we move marginalized voices to the center and disrupt white supremacy and other power hierarchies related to gender, sexual orientation, and so on. The culture in the U.S. and other countries is also obsessed with youth. Not only is youth connected to beauty on a societal level, but it is also how someone’s worth is determined. I used to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and I recall all of the statistical reports in our library overwhelming confirming how a person’s perceived worth in the labor market begins to decline if you are 40 or over. This reality is compounded if you are a Person of Color, a woman, or an individual viewed as disabled. It was important to include voices from across all spectrums, including age, which is why readers will discover young activists, those in their middle years, and one who is close to age 90.
4. What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading “A Better World Starts Here”?
I hope that readers will see the interconnections between all forms of oppression and how activism must be interconnected in the same way. All of the forms of activism presented here are necessary. The book is a statement against single-issue activism because you cannot liberate in one direction while being oppressive in another. All beings need to be liberated, and this includes nonhuman animals, which is why several vegan activists are included. The best scenario I can imagine is someone discovering how they may be contributing to a form of oppression, and they decide to learn more and make changes in their life to work against the oppression they were previously promoting.
5. As activists, continual learning and working towards becoming better activists should be something we strive for, did you find yourself learning something new from the activists featured in the book?
Definitely. I learned so much from this project. I talked with individuals who have experienced horrible forms of racism, violence, and what we can call an “everyday terrorism” that I, as a white cisgender woman, will never know. It is not that I was unaware of injustices before but talking with someone one-on-one when you are fully present brings an awareness that I don’t believe happens in other contexts. There were also some very specific things I learned, such as the intersections of race and public transportation rights and access that Lark Lo made me aware of when I spoke with her. I also discovered concepts discussed by the people I interviewed, including “root shock,” “body terrorism,” and “intuitive eating” that I was not familiar with. I have already referred students and friends to some of the activists and organizations I discovered while working on this project. I’m incredibly thankful for the book and the gifts of stories and information others were willing to offer. I absolutely believe the voices in the book show us the path to a better world.
Get a copy from our shop: SanctuaryPublishers.com/Shop
The 25 featured activists and their work:
Aquila Hope, trans activism
Marisela Gomez, gentrification activism
Sandi Torkildson, community activism
Carol J. Adams, ecofeminist activism
Sonya Renee Taylor, body activism
Kate Jessica Raphael, feminist activism
Michelle Carrera, food justice activism
Celeste Chan, queer activism
Helène Aylon, art activism
Julia Feliz Brueck, consistent anti-oppression advocacy
Ruth Behar, anthropology activism
Steve Bell, prison advocacy
Kamekə Brown, vegan advocacy
Judy Grahn, poetry activism
Bamby Salcedo, trans activism
Sarah Rafael García, literary activism
Michelle Habell-Pallán, scholar activism
Hilary Kinavey, body activism
Yago S. Cura, library activism
Beth Pickens, art activism
Lark Lo, intersectional activism
Ardeth De Vries, senior dog advocacy
Sara Vander Zanden, homelessness advocacy
Janet Holmes, photography activism
Edwin Ramirez, comedy activism