It’s always interesting to hear what triggers an activist to become an activist, and to determine which elements are at play when someone decides to dedicate their lives to bettering the world. It’s different for each one of us. Many are born into families that are driven towards justice, while some find the path on their own.
Michele Pred was born into an activist family in Berkeley, California. Her first action, alongside her father, was challenging the ‘Title Nine’ rules at her middle school that required girls to wear uniforms (skirts) during gym class and allowed boys to wear whatever they pleased. Her action forever changed the rules for the entire Berkeley school district. She was 13.
Ever since, Pred has been challenging all sorts of matters: feminine stereotypes, the perpetuation of patriarchal norms, and is even raising an influential little feminist of her own to carry her legacy into the next generation. I first met with the changemaker at the Women’s March in D.C. in 2017. The group with whom I attended the March was full of badass feminists and activist artists, and that trip cemented important friendships and alliances that continue to develop deep, enduring roots. Pred, based in Oakland, brought along with her a police riot shield with the words: MY BODY MY BUSINESS spread across. An image of her posing boldly with the heavy police presence has become an iconic photo for advocacy.
Pred is best known for Power of the Purse — a fashion movement which incorporates electroluminescent wires sewn into vintage handbags with statements such as ‘SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL’ and ‘PRO-CHOICE.’ They are serious show-stoppers and have been carried by celebrities like Sarah Jones, Angela Bassett, and even Hillary Clinton. The bags have been included in Hank Willis Thomas’ national collaborative project, “For Freedoms” and were recently on view at Untitled Art Fair in San Francisco.
However, my personal favorite works by Pred are her parades. Each parade includes womxn and femmes (as well as a few men), all bringing to the forefront their creative best. The first, The Parade Against Patriarchy, was held during Art Basel Miami in 2017. More recently, the We Vote Parade took place in NYC coinciding with her solo show, “Vote Feminist” at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in October, 2018. These parades, while being beautifully creative and defiant spectacles, are actually much more profound. They build community. They’re inclusive, inspiring, and spark the kinds of discussions our nation desperately needs to have right now. These conversations center around equalizing the pay gap, voting more womxn into office (yay 2018 midterms!), and dismantling the systemic racism and bigotry that is woven into our national psyche.
Often, something that white womxn artists often fail to recognize or respond to in their art is their privilege. In her work, Pred references the inherent biases found within our very white, very patriarchal driven society. As a white womxn artist in 2019, she’s acutely aware that feminist movements of the past have centered around whiteness, and she works to dismantle that misplaced centering with her creative practice.
Her “Pay Gap” series reflects on the income disparities of womxn compared with white men. While people often lament the statistic that womxn make 77 cents to every man’s dollar — but people fail to realize that’s just white womxn. Pred’s work brings into the spotlight that it’s actually a lot less for womxn of color. Indeed, Latinx make just 54 cents and Native American people identifying as womxn make 59 cents to every white male dollar.
Pred practices being vulnerable enough to have difficult conversations — not only with white people, but also with people of color. She poses the question: How are we ever going to truly come to an equal society if people are terrified to talk about it? We can’t get there without white people recognizing and dismantling our privilege (and yes, that dismantling can often be uncomfortable).
She encourages people to be present in their discomfort in the unlearning of privilege, which pales in comparison to the centuries of violence and oppression inflicted upon people of color and womxn.
It’s this same unlearning that so many of us need to incorporate into our daily lives to actually bring about a more just society. One example Pred notes is Womxn’s Equality Day. It celebrates womxn’s equality on the anniversary of white womxn winning the right to vote on August 18, 1920 while Black, Native, and Asian womxn’s suffrage wouldn’t come until decades later. It’s problematic in all sorts of ways to celebrate womxn’s equality when it’s centered only around the successes of white womxn. How about we change the date of Womxn’s Equality Day to the day when all womxn get paid the same as men? Or the day Native American womxn stop disappearing from their communities? Why are we celebrating equality when our society is so far from equal?
Yes, it’s a big step, but the staircase to a just society is long, and until all our sisters are free from fear, discrimination, and are truly equal, we must never ever stop climbing.
The one thing we can and should be fiercely celebrating is the power of sisterhood and the growing communities of intersectional feminism all across the US. These intersectional threads throughout our nation are how we weave a new national psyche — one actually founded on equity and justice, one founded on radical love.
Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects on social and environmental justice issues.