17 Women of Color Who Rocked the Resistance in 2017

By Miriam Zoila Pu00e9rez Dec 18, 2017

It’s been a difficult year, to say the least. Natural disasters. Political gridlock. Attacks on reproductive justice, LGBT rights, and immigrant communities. And more. But amidst it all, folks have been stepping up to the plate to organize and resist. It’s now an annual Colorlines tradition to highlight women we think deserve extra shine as the year ends, and in 2017 we’re focusing on ones who’ve been leading the resistance in the movement for social justice. We hope they provide you with some inspiration for your own acts of resistance.

1. Tarana Burke


It’s not hard to argue that #MeToo has been one of the most influential campaigns of this year. It exploded on social media in mid-October, fueled by a tweet that actress Alyssa Milano wrote in response to accusations of sexual assault and harassment by producer Harvey Weinsten. #MeToo has propelled a conversation about the prevelance of sexual violence and harrassment to the forefront and created an environment where there are (finally!) consequences for longtime and known perpetrators in media and politics. But Tarana Burke has been working on her own version of ‘Me Too‘ for a decade, and that work is now back in the spotlight. Burke details how she began the movement when a young girl she worked with disclosed her own story of sexual abuse, and Burke thought the phrase focuses on the idea of "empowerment through empathy." Burke has brought a critical race perspective to the conversation and further elevated the voices of survivors. She was recognized by Time Magazine in their package on "Silence Breakers," who were named Person of the Year for 2017. Of the recognition, she said: "Today’s announcement is bittersweet and so much has happened…Men who have been lionized in Hollywood are having to answer for their actions, but what of our most vulnerable communities? In our case, this isn’t a reality show. Today’s announcement should be an opportunity to ask ourselves: are we really committed to the hard work of ending sexual violence?"

2, 3, 4. Women’s March organizers Tamika D. Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez


2017 started with an incredible wave of resistance to the incoming Trump administration, and the Women’s March was one impressive symbol of that resistance. After the call for the march began organically on Facebook post-election, organizers and activists Tamika D. Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez stepped up to lead the effort. Likely the largest single-day protest in U.S. history with half a million participants in D.C., it’s estimated that over 3 million people in the U.S. alone participated in marches around the country. These three women took on the difficult task of being the faces of the D.C. march, in addition to the incredible organizing required to mobilize such a large number of people. Internal criticism of the effort came in multiple ways, including questions about racism, biological essentialism and cooperating with police. But the organizers responded and persisted, and The Women’s March has now become an independent organization, continuing to fuel this wave of resistance into political engagement into the future.

5. Carmen Yulín Cruz


The vast devastation facing Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria is arguably one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Many on the island remain without access to reliable power and water sources almost three months after the September storm. The disaster quickly became politicized, as the Trump administration was criticized for its slow and insufficient response. Delayed aid and funds for recovery and political scandals involving contracts to rebuild the power grid have dominated the response to this crisis. San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz became a key figure in this fight, and has been incredibly vocal in her criticism of the U.S. government and President Trump, including wearing a t-shirt with the word "Nasty" on the front in the wake of Trump’s attacks on her leadership. Cruz has been mayor of San Juan since 2012, and her impassioned pleas for help have given a human face to the tragedy on the island. 

6. Andrea Jenkins


Local and state elections this year gave evidence to the strength of the resistance, as a sizable number of progressive candidates won in elections across the country. Andrea Jenkins of Minneapolis was among those winners, as she became the first openly trans woman of color to be elected to the city council of a major U.S. city. Jenkins is a poet, activist and historian, and she had been working for other Minneapolis city council members for 12 years before running herself. During her acceptance speech, Jenkins said, "As an African American trans-identified woman, I know firsthand the feeling of being marginalized, left out, thrown under the bus. Those days are over. We don’t just want a seat at the table, we want to set the table."

7. Rana Abdelhamid


While Rana Abdelhamid‘s work for social justice did not begin this year, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of International Muslim Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment (WISE), moved further into the spotlight after L’Oreal nominated her for a 2017 Women of Worth Award. That experience, and particularly the hateful backlash she received on social media including comments like “Will Americans ever wake up to the real reason these people are in our country? They are here to destroy us!", prompted L’Oreal to issue their own statement on social media in support of Abdelhamid. The backlash demonstrates what inspired Adbelhamid to start WISE at just 16 years old in 2010, after being attacked by a stranger who tried to pull off her hijab. WISE works with Muslim girls on self-defense, social entreprenuership and leadership development. 

8. Maxine Waters


Representative Maxine Waters has been vocal and unrelenting in her resistance to the Trump Administration. She’s been calling for impeachment since February, and has been an outspoken critic of President Trump on twitter. An exchange between Representative Waters and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin during a hearing about Trump’s financial ties to Russian banks resulted in the infamous "Reclaiming my time" meme. Waters is the most senior of the 12 Black women serving in Congress, and has been serving in Congress since 1991, representing California.

9. adrienne maree brown


The political climate this year has pushed many to look for hope in new places, and adrienne maree brown‘s work offers not just hope but inspiration through writing and new approaches to activism. This has been a big year for the writer and activist, who published her first solo-authored book, Emergent Strategy, to critical acclaim and started a podcast called "How to Survive the End of the World" with her sister Autumn Brown. Her column for Bitch Magazine, "The Pleasure Dome," also continues to center pleasure as a form of political resistance. 

10, 11. Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala


There were many wins for the progressive resistance on the night of this year’s November election, and Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala represent two more of them. Both Latinas shared the historic fact of becoming the first ever Latina women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Both women beat incumbent Republican representatives to win their seats. Guzman is an immigrant from Peru, a social worker and the mother of four children. Ayala worked as a cybersecurity specialist with the Department of Homeland Security for 17 years, and helped organized Virginia attendees to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. this past winter and is the former president of the Prince William County NOW chapter.

12. Kathy Tran


Kathy Tran made history in Virginia this year when she won her seat in the the state’s House of Delegates. Tran came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam at 7 months old and she is now the first Vietnamese American* woman to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. Tran is formerly of the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Immigration Forum.

13. Tara Houska


While the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock have faded from the headlines this past year, the work is far from over. Tara Houska is just one of many indigenous activists continuing the fight. Houska is Ojibwe, a lawyer and a longtime activist. This year she began working with Honor The Earth as the national campaigns director, an organization dedicated to creating support and awareness for Native environmental issues. In addition to being profiled by Outside Magazine earlier this year, Houska was chosen as one of the Grist 50 fixers for her work defending DAPL protestors facing legal charges. 

14. Yesika Salgado


Sometimes the revolution has to be fought in our bedrooms, in our relationships and in our hearts. Yesika Salgado (also known as Yesika Starr) is a love warrior if there ever was one. Her poetry is raw, open-hearted and an oh-so-real take on navigating romance as a woman of color. A Los Angeles-born Salvadoran self-described "fat fly poet," Salgado has a dedicated social media following with whom she shares her poetry as well as experiences dating. Those sharings inspired this Mitú video, which compiles her no bullshit approach to dealing with men online. Salgado also released her first book of poetry this year, Corazón, and was a finalist at the 2017 National Poetry Slam.

15. Ruby Ibarra


The arenas of arts and culture have been remarkable sites of political resistance this year, and hip hop artist Ruby Ibarra‘s work is no exception. Her latest album, "Circa91," (released in October) chronicles her experiences as a Filipina immigrant growing up in the Bay Area, grappling with assimilation, racism and, ultimately, resilience. This is likely just the beginning for this burgeoning artist who got her start seven years ago releasing bilingual tracks on YouTube

16. Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed


A Los Angeles-based activist, storyteller and politico, Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed‘s work crosses the lines of media, entertainment and politics. The co-host of the podcast #Good MuslimBad Muslim, a comedic take on the Muslim American experience, Ahmed also works with 18 Million Rising which uses new media to organize Asian Americans around identity, collaboration and building power. Earlier this year, Ahmed was named Alumni of the Year by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and honored by the City of Los Angeles for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. She’s also the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), a group dedicated to giving voice to South Asian Americans.

17. Rebecca Jones


Rebecca Jones brings her activism—and her art—into all aspects of her work. The Diné punk musician is a sexual health counselor with Planned Parenthood by day, and a singer guitarist in three different punk bands by night. She organized a benefit show this past May which featured all Native groups, centering women and LGBTQ people, and incorporating education about gender-based violence, suicide, poverty and substance abuse. Weedrat, Jones’ latest punk band, features an all Diné line-up.


*Post has been updated to reflect that Kathy Tran is the first Vietnamese American woman to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates, not the first Asian American woman, as Filipina American Kelly Fowler also won a seat this election.