Meet the Radical Monarchs – a group of young girls of color from the Bay Area at the front lines of social justice whose mission is to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities, and contribute radically to their communities.
This week, the documentary We Are The Radical Monarchs made its world premiere on PBS POV. Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, the doc has been making the film festival rounds for the past year since debuting at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2019. It’s premiered on Monday and is now available to screen for free on the PBS app and website for the next 30 days.
Set in Oakland, the film documents the journey of the Monarchs as they form, grow, and earn badges for completing units on social justice, being an LGBTQ ally, the environment, and disability justice. Although they do wear berets and vests, don’t expect to see these girls selling cookies! The Monarchs earn their merit badges by learning about social justice movements and participating in marches.
The Radical Monarchs were formed in 2014 when Oakland community organizer Anayvette Martinez invited her friend Marilyn Hollinquest to help her launch a more inclusive alternative to Girl Scouts their daughters. As queer women of color, they were committed to creating a future for their kids that more traditional groups like the Girl Scouts and the Brownies didn’t provide.
A particularly special moment came during the film’s SXSW premiere during a keynote presentation by newly-sworn-in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When two young Radical Monarchs asked her, “What advice do you have for girls of color who want to break into politics?” “Stop trying to navigate systems of power,” AOC replied, “and start building your own power. There are so many subconscious forces that make us try to act like somebody else … but when you’re a woman of color, there are so many things about you that are non-conforming.”
— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) March 10, 2019
The Monarchs even made their debut on the GLAAD stage at our San Francisco Gala in September 2019 and we’ve been huge fans ever since!
GLAAD caught up with Anayvette and Marilyn this week to celebrate the documentary’s premiere and to learn about what’s next for the ever-expanding troupes.
GLAAD: HOW DID THE IDEA BEGIN FOR YOU TO START THE RADICAL MONARCHS?
Anayvette Martinez: In 2014 my 4th-grade daughter desperately wanted to join a young girl’s scouting troop. As she was blooming into a young tween of color, I watched her begin to critically think about and navigate through her identity and radical values. I saw the need for a group that would empower and encourage her to form bonds of sisterhood with other girls in her community. I began to imagine what a radical young girl’s social justice troop looked like; a group that centered and affirmed her experiences as a beautiful and brilliant brown girl and where badges could be earned that were tied to Social Justice movement work. I shared this idea with her and she lit up with excitement! I knew, however, that I could not possibly do this alone so I called on Marilyn, a close friend and chosen sister, who I knew would be a fantastic Co-Founder. She accepted this challenge and together we launched the Radical Monarchs in December 2014!
AND FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE DOCUMENTARY YET, TELL US ABOUT THE MONARCHS AND WHAT THEY STAND FOR?
Marilyn Hollinquest: The Radical Monarchs is a social justice-focused group for young girls of color, we earn badges based on topics that are important when advocating for ourselves and our communities.
HOW HAVE LGBTQ RIGHTS BEEN A CORNERSTONE FOR THE MONARCHS’ CURRICULUM?
AM: As Queer Women of Color, LGBTQ rights have been at the core of our work since inception! In addition, as Queer femmes of color who inhabit multiple identities and communities we believe that our ancestor Audre Lorde said it best “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”, therefore we do not only talk about gender and sexuality in the “Radical Pride” badge just like we don’t only talk about anti-Blackness in the “Black Lives Matter” Badge and ableism in the “Radical Bodies” badge. Our work and curriculum are intersectional because our lives are intersectional.
WHAT HAS BEEN DIFFERENT FOR THE RADICAL MONARCHS SINCE THE DOCUMENTARY WAS FINISHED?
MH: What has been different is the exponential increase of interest in the work we do from community members who want to start a troop, to individual donors who are excited to financially invest in our growth. Since the documentary was finished we continue to be knee-deep in the work and this last Fall launched our biggest expansion to date, which is a cohort of 4 new troops here in the Bay Area!
HOW DID IT FEEL TO PREMIERE THE FILM AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST IN 2019 WITH THREE OF THE MONARCHS?
AM: It was surreal! The highlight for the Monarchs was listening to AOC speak and getting the chance to ask her a question about what her advice is for girls of color who want to run for office! The Monarchs still reference that moment today and it’s inspired many of them to think about a future in politics.
HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FOR THE TROUPES SINCE THE DEATHS OF GEORGE FLOYD, BREONNA TAYLOR, AND SO MANY OTHERS HAVE LED TO NEW CONVERSATIONS AROUND RACIAL JUSTICE IN AMERICA? HAVE THEY BEEN TAKING NEW ACTIONS OR ARE THEY LEARNING TO PRACTICE ACTIVISM IN ANY DIFFERENT WAYS?
AM: To be honest it’s been a little like Groundhog Day for us. As women of color, one of which is Black, police violence and state violence is not new to us and our communities. What has changed is the visibility around this issue that has existed for hundreds of years from slavery to attempts of indigenous genocide with our ancestors. When we launched in December of 2014 this was immediately following Ferguson. We had intended to launch a unit called “Radical Beauty” but knew we had to pivot to address what was happening around us and create a safe and empowering space for young girls of color to process and respond.
Our Radical Troop Leaders have been holding space for our Monarchs to process and respond to the continual attack on Black lives. We’ve attended several local marches and rallies. Our alumni planned and organized a socially distanced vigil to honor all the Black womxn and femmes that have been killed by the state.
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS FOR THE MONARCHS? AND HOW CAN FOLKS WHO WANT TO BE SUPPORTIVE BEST LEND A HAND?
MH: The next steps for the Radical Monarchs are to launch troops where they are wanted and needed. We had plans to launch our next cohort of troops in the Los Angeles area pre-COVID 19 those plans were slowed down but we are still working on securing funding to launch those troops. For those who want to invest in our growth you can become a monthly donor or send us a one-time4 donation to https://radicalmonarchs.wedid.it/ You can also help by connecting us to foundations, and signal boosting our work.
We Are The Radical Monarchs is available to screen for free from now through August 20th on the PBS website.