The Mynabirds: The New Revolutionists Week at TVD

In tandem with the release of The Mynabirds’ brand new LP Generals, front woman Laura Burhenn has embarked on an ambitious portrait project entitled “The New Revolutionists,” the purpose of which is to “pay tribute to the vast web of women who do various types of important work: artists, community organizers, doctors, mothers, women who embrace their lives and work to help and empower those around them. It is an awareness campaign for non-profits, women and works of art that empower.”

The week we’re turning TVD over to Laura to delve a bit deeper into the lives and inspirations of five of the many revolutionary American women the project serves to spotlight who are making a difference in their own communities across America. —Ed.

“I first met Jamia Wilson through a mutual friend when we were both living in DC and they were working together either at Planned Parenthood or working together for — was it the historic March for Women’s Lives way back in 2004? My memory is a little hazy on the exact details, but I can tell you this: we were three women met through activism and in love with a good electroclash dance party. We might’ve even drunk Sparks together (remember that stuff??) on the dance floor celebrating the incredible turnout for that march.

Living in DC is electric if you’re an activist. It’s incredible to be right in the middle of history as it’s happening. I remember marching on the Mall in the protests leading up to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; the 2000 inauguration protests; election night 2008 (drinking champagne in the street behind the White House with Joan Baez!); and of course inauguration day 2009. Anyway — this trip down memory lane is making me miss DC like crazy! — both Jamia and I took our DC activist experiences and moved into the next chapter of our lives.

She’s now located in NYC, working as the Vice President of Programs at the Women’s Media Center where she works on amplifying women’s voices and changing the discourse about women in the media. She’s done an impressive amount of work as a feminist activist, organizer, and storyteller. She continues to be my own personal connection into what’s happening in the feminist movement at the top level. She’s not only intensely tied into the news of the movement, she’s one of the movers and shakers. And I, for one, am extremely glad that she’s out there fighting the good fight on my behalf.

The thing I love so much about Jamia’s New Revolutionists portrait is that it’s not taken in a sterile studio — it’s a snapshot of a woman on the go, stopping mid-stride on her way to her next meeting, her next mission. She’s standing in the street, on the ground working, and the American flag is standing tall behind her. This is her taking back her America, helping move her country forward into the next chapter of its newer, better history. To me, that’s a perfect image of the new generation of American revolutionaries — rolling up their sleeves, getting it done, and doing it all with a smile.”

What do you think makes someone revolutionary, particularly in America in this chapter in our history?

Righteousness is revolutionary. Revolutionaries possess a heightened level of vision, faith, and consciousness about what is possible for each of us as individuals and as a collective. Revolutionaries humbly focus their energy on possibilities rather than fear, committing themselves to their passions without regard for immediate rewards.

I most admire earnest souls who dare to stand strong in their principles without succumbing to social and cultural pressures that often push us to impose limitations on our values, our dreams, and our ideas about what we can create together in the world.

I’m inspired by the people who are taking advantage of this challenging time we’re in to be more resourceful, more innovative, and more thoughtful about how we can share our blessings, our skills, and our ideas to make a transformative impact.

Who are some revolutionaries who have inspired you in your own life?

I have such a deep love, admiration, and respect for my mother’s work as an activist, a feminist, a health care provider, and an educator. Her activism as a young woman in segregated South Carolina during the Civil Rights Movement continues to inspire me to honor her legacy. My mom lives her principles in every aspect of her life and is the most fearless and compassionate human I know. Her light burns so bright!

Many other revolutionaries who have inspired me personally including feminist trailblazers Gloria Steinem, Gloria Feldt, and Loretta Ross from Sister Song.

The first revolutionary other than my mother who inspired me to act was Anne Frank. When I read her diary when I was eight, I was forever changed. I urged my parents to take me on a trip to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and became fascinated with her story. After learning about her courage, optimism, and strength, I felt driven to write, to bear witness, and to speak up against in equality in all its forms.

You’re in NYC now, but you lived in DC for a long time and grew up in Saudi Arabia. How has living and traveling all over the world affected your your perception of America’s feminist movement? What would you say to someone who says that American women have it so much better than other women around the world and we should just be grateful for what we have and stop complaining?

My experience growing up in Saudi Arabia and traveling around the world absolutely shapes my worldview. I have learned so much from women everywhere I have traveled from feminists and women’s rights activists to domestic workers, civil servants, entrepreneurs, artists and teachers I have met along the way. The human rights framework that we are beginning to hear more and more about in the US feminist discourse has always been at the core of the feminist discussions I was privy to growing up abroad. My entree into movement emerged from an intersectional global human rights perspective and it has remained a critical part of what drives me as an activist.

Some of the most powerful and independent women I know live and work in cultures where many people in the US might regard as more challenging for women than our own. I have been most inspired by women who have been courageous enough to fight and speak out in spaces and places without freedom of speech, voting rights, and freedom of assembly.

When I think of these women and their ferocity, I’m reminded of how important and necessarily it is for me to use and protect my rights and those of my sisters here in the US–It’s outrageous that the US ranks 78th in the number of women in our national legislature worldwide and only 3% of decision makers in the US media are women. While we (Americans) have made progress in specific areas, we still have not achieved gender parity in the US and have a lot we can learn from our sisters and their allies around the world. There is so much we can learn from each other and share to increase parity world wide.

What do you think are the most important issues facing our generation? And what do you think it will take to really effect change for these issues?

Economic justice is the issue that is the most critical for our generation. I’m a part of the “debt generation” who has been struggling in the recession-era to survive and sustain. My student loan debt and the debt many others are saddled with informs so many of my financial, personal, and familial decisions.

If we organize and work together for economic justice we will address many other social and cultural issues by providing and improving resources and access to comprehensive reproductive health care services, higher education, equal pay, safe workplaces, healthy sustainable food, universal health care, fair housing etc.

We need all hands on deck to make change at all levels from individuals, to non-profits, to artists, to social and cultural entrepreneurs and beyond. I really believe it is possible for us to rethink the way we approach the distribution of resources and power to move towards an economic model that is sustainable and healthy for generations to come.

There are a plethora of feminist blogs, news sites, and even zines (hooray for the return of zines!) out there. What are some of your favorites that you’d recommend we bookmark and check regularly?

There are so many I love, here are some of my top must reads:

Crunk Feminist Collective
Fuck Yeah, Feminists
The Feminist Wire
Women’s Media Center’s Features
SPARK Movement

What 5 songs would you insist be on a New Revolutionists mix tape?

I love this question. It makes me think of that lovely Emma Goldman quote: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.” I love the online feminist community because there are lots of dance parties. The community is so important and music is at the spiritual core of our collective soul–I truly believe this.

My beautiful friend Morley’s music is always on repeat on I-Pod when I’m gearing up to speak, go to an action, or write something where I need to conjure up my inner courage and get rooted in the spirit of revolution. Her songs “Women of Hope” and “Be The One” give me chills whenever I hear them.

I would also add the following songs to The New Revolutionist mix tape:

Queen Latifah – “Ladies First”
Madonna – “Express Yourself”
Cat Power – “Free”

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The Mynabirds’ Generals is on your local store shelves now via Saddle Creek.

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