THE WISH BEHIND MY NAME by Miho Aida

I am an environmental educator and filmmaker. I directed and produced a short film called The Sacred Place Where Life Begins: Gwich’in Women Speak which advocates for Arctic indigenous Gwich’in women in Alaska and Canada and calls for the permanent protection of their sacred land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from potential oil development. Their way of life depends on this sacred land and through my film they are inspiring audiences around the country to take supportive action.

I have promoted this film on my bicycle over the last two summers, because I love socially and politically driven adventures. Last summer’s adventure was called “1,000 miles for 1,000 allies.” My hope was that by riding 1,000 miles on my bicycle, stopping along the way to show my film at various venues, I would create a community of 1,000 allies along the way. I even prepared myself for spontaneous screening opportunities by inventing a portable theater to show my film anywhere and anytime!

Last summer, I rode solo on my bicycle from Washington D.C. to Bar Harbor, Maine over the course of five weeks. My journey started in D.C. with a surprise invitation to an award ceremony where Sarah James, a Gwich’in elder who is in my film, was to be recognized for her lifetime commitment to protect her people’s sacred place. At the party, I had the most significant political moment of my life – I had the honor of being with Sarah in the presence of Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, as well as President Bill Clinton.

MihoAida002

Photographer: Robert Thorpe

Five weeks later, my journey ended in an epic way. I summarized  the theme of those five weeks in Haiku (Japanese poetry):

Friendly faces, kind hands
Angels whisper when in trouble
Protected always

It was July 22nd at 4:00 AM sharp. Ravens woke me up as if asking me to enjoy the last day of my tour. I packed up my stuff and rode out to see the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. I saw a mama deer with a fawn in the morning sun. It was a quiet, magical and peaceful morning. I rode out to a bus station and held a sign on a piece of paper. It said: “Ellsworth or Portland.” I thought it would be safe to do this in the early morning in Acadia National Park. Some people had an early start and passed by me. Rose, one of the people who came to see my film the night before, drove by. She stopped her car and said that she would take me to Ellsworth. I said, “If you don’t need to go there, no worries. I will take a bus.” She said, “I am just going for a hike today so I don’t really mind.”  I told her to enjoy her day and sent her off.

A little after 7:30 AM, the bus showed up. “We can’t take your trailer,” said the driver. I explained to him that this was how I was traveling and that I didn’t have a car. “I have to ride this bus and get as close to Ellsworth as possible, so I can make it to Bangor today to catch another bus to Portland. I have a flight early tomorrow morning from Portland.” He said, “I can’t let you take the trailer. I will get in trouble. It’s against the rules.” I insisted that he help me out. I started to take the wheels off of my trailer so it would look just like a suitcase. Meanwhile, he called his supervisor. The answer was no.

I stood there speechless. All I could think was how the system is set up to make cyclists – minorities on the road – vulnerable. There was nothing I could do. Feeling helpless, I apologized to all the passengers on the bus for the delay that I had caused. I got my bicycle off the rack and wondered what I was going to do – there were 52 miles and lots of up-and-down between here and Bangor. I wouldn’t make the last bus from Bangor to Portland with my 50-pound trailer unless I made no stops.

Right then, a car pulled up behind the bus. It was Rose again. “Did you come back for me?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “I had a feeling that you were in trouble. Here, I can give you a ride. Let’s get your stuff in my car. Everything will fit.” We rearranged her stuff and surely, everything packed in nicely – her stuff, my bicycle, the trailer and me. She took me to Ellsworth and we had a great conversation on the way.

To me, these people are like angels who give me their hands when I am in trouble. This happened constantly throughout my journey and it makes me feel hopeful. We live in a world of despair, injustice, and violence, where people are hurt every day, but when I meet people like Rose, and so many others like her, I believe that the world is a good place, where people look out for each other, even if they’re strangers. The fact is, we are all connected – we are not strangers at all. This reminds me of a plaque with Rachel Carlson’s words that I saw in Wells, Maine. It says:

” . . . all the life of the planet is interrelated, each species has its own ties to others, and . . . all are related to the Earth . . .”

Most people have never heard of the Gwich’in. On my film tour, I saw audiences connecting emotionally to the women on screen, recognizing what it’s like to lose something so important and sacred. This started driving people to want to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Witnessing this inspired me to hop on my bicycle every morning to reach one more person and ride one more mile.

In the end, I rode over one thousand miles on my bicycle that month. I also rode on trains, buses and support vehicles, which enabled me to reach many hundreds of people. In addition, I collected over two thousand signatures on petitions to President Obama as well as Congressional representatives. Behind those numbers is all the love and support that people provided to me.

I am hopeful – even with the news that I heard as I was getting ready to catch my plane from Portland, Maine the very next day: Shell’s Arctic Ocean drilling permit had been approved. The news was a reminder that we have numerous battles to fight, miles of walls to take down and many barriers to break through. Yet there is always hope, as long as there are people who demand justice and peace.

All this was on my mind on a hot humid evening in Washington D.C. the night before I began my journey to Bar Harbor. It led me to ride my bicycle to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and to view the large stone with these engraved words: Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

In the country where I was born, I write my first name 民穂. The first character 民 (mi) means “people” and is a symbol of democracy. The second character 穂 (ho) means “rice,” which is our staple food and a symbol of our cultural and ecological heritage. My parents chose these two characters as my name with the hope that I would become a protector of people, culture and the environment.

I want to live up to my name. Even when I recognize a mountain of despair, I hope to be a person with optimism and courage who takes action to protect others. Still, on my bicycle film tour, so many people were protecting me. Perhaps that’s what my parents actually intended with my name: a secret wish that I be protected.

Maybe?

Miho Aida, originally from Tokyo, Japan, is an environmental educator, filmmaker, and outdoor adventurer in California. She is recognized for her inspirational media project called “If She Can Do It, You Can Too: Empowering Women Through Outdoor Role Models.” Her award-winning film is titled The Sacred Place Where Life Begins – Gwich’in Women Speak

A LIFELONG DREAM REALIZED by Melissa Haynes

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A story about quitting a high-paying corporate career to volunteer at an animal reserve in Africa  . . .

Read her personal story in a new book.
Released on August 4, 2022
Paperback & Kindle now available! 

“This book holds together the power women find when they are honest and courageous and truthful. Some of these stories moved me to tears, others made me believe in humanity again, many I could identify with. This book brought me tremendous joy, insight and brought me back to believe in the human spirit.”

~ JULIANNA MARGULIES, multiple award-winning actor and author of Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life

ABOUT MELISSA HAYNES

Melissa Haynes is a shark advocate, animal lover, adventure junkie, conservationist, and author of the book, Learning to Play with a Lion’s Testicles. Her book appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and on Ellen

AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN by Sohini Chakraborty

Sohini Chakraborty (Micky Wiswedel photographer Photo Courtsey Vital Voices)

I decided at a young age that I wanted to live my life as an independent woman. I know a lot of women are independent in spirit, but in my case, I also wanted to live on my own, outside of my family’s home. In the cultural context of life in India, this was very bold, as family is a big thing. The traditional way of life in India is that children continue to live with their parents or their families until they are young adults, usually until they marry. I was single, and I wanted to stay single, but I also wanted complete independence. I wanted to not only live in my own space, I also wanted to have financial independence. That was my choice, my decision alone. I was considered a rebel.

My mother died young, so I grew up living with my father. I was a dancer, but I had a degree in Sociology, so I think he wanted me to get a good government job. My decision to live independently was not a decision against him; it was a decision for myself. This was very different from the traditional or “normal” life of a woman in India and it was very, very challenging.

When I was 21 or 22 years old, I had a big idea that dance could change lives. I began to fully pursue that idea when a lot of people were saying that it wouldn’t work. It was a bold decision, but I’ve chosen to live life on my own terms. I think that my independent spirit has helped me to be successful.

Prior to starting Kolkata Sanved in 2004, I had spent about nine years pursuing my dream of changing women’s lives through dance. Most of that time was a constant struggle, but I decided that all those challenges provided me the opportunity to move ahead in life. That’s how I got to where I am today.

I had a daring dream that dance could change lives and I transformed it into an organization: Kolkata Sanved. It was only my dream, one person’s dream, but now it’s the collective dream of many women, and it is truly transforming lives.

For all women who speak Bengali, I share this video message (I have also inserted English subtitles:)

 

Sohini ChakrabortySohini Chakraborty is a sociologist, Ashoka Fellow, dance activist, and Founder/Director of Kolkata Sanved, which has expanded the notions of dance and traditional rehabilitation programs. Through Kolkata Sanved’s groundbreaking dance/movement therapy program, survivors of violence and trafficking release trauma, develop confidence, identify their own potential as human beings, and become independent and empowered individuals rather than victims.

LOVE MADE VISIBLE by Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo-Anne McArthur Sea Shepherd

A story about one year in the life of an animal photojournalist . . .

Read her personal story in a new book.
Released on August 4, 2022
Paperback & Kindle now available! 

“This book holds together the power women find when they are honest and courageous and truthful. Some of these stories moved me to tears, others made me believe in humanity again, many I could identify with. This book brought me tremendous joy, insight and brought me back to believe in the human spirit.”

~ JULIANNA MARGULIES, multiple award-winning actor and author of Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life

ABOUT JO-ANNE MCARTHUR

Jo-Anne McArthur is an award-winning animal photojournalist, author, educator, and the founder of We Animals Media, a photo agency which explores our uses, abuses, and sharing of spaces with the animals of this planet. She is the protagonist in the award-winning documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine (2013) and has authored three books, We Animals (2013), Captive (2017) and HIDDEN: Animals in the Anthropocene (2020). We Animals Media makes thousands of images and video available for free to anyone advocating for animals.

THE LAWMAKER by Rocio Ortega

Respect is paramount in my family. Not only respecting the elders and our traditions, but – most important for me as a Hispanic teenager –  respecting my father, “the lawmaker.” In a traditional Mexican family, this respect is not only expected, but demanded.

As far back as I can remember my father has been the lawmaker in our household. Father gives us permission, provides us with food and shelter, and maintains order in the family. We don’t live in a Confucian society, where the father rules in the family, but a social hierarchy has been established in our home and he has placed himself at the top of it. Anyone that dares to break his house rules faces the consequences. He has never hit my older brother, sisters or mother but he verbally scolds you in such an intense way that he makes you completely and immediately comply. He never shows emotion and rarely communicates with his children; if so, it’s usually because one of us is in trouble and will be scolded. He is a traditionalist and is not open-minded.

So when it came time for me to ask my father for permission to take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I knew I had to be prepared and have a strong strategy before I approached him. I had applied to work as an intern for Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano, and later had been sponsored to be a Congressional Page this summer in Washington D.C., although my position had still not been confirmed. The opportunity is fabulous enough for a teenager but the fact that I was born and raised in East Los Angeles made it almost inconceivable; opportunities here are few and far between – this stuff just never happens!

I knew I would be facing a major struggle because I have never asked my father permission for something this big and I also because I have very limited direct contact with him. I just never really talk to him about personal things; he hasn’t even given me the sex talk.  I  knew that this would definitely be breaking the ice in our relationship.

Before doing anything, I asked my eldest sister, “what are my chances of getting permission?” She was completely honest with me and answered, “If you were my little girl, I wouldn’t let you go because it’s for a whole month and it’s all the way on the other side of the country. I just don’t think he’s ready for that.” Those sharp, painful words haunted me. I started questioning my existence and my reasoning for always trying my best in everything I do. Did I really work all this time just to run into a dead end? Or maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Whether I wanted to or not, I had no choice but to leave the room in burning tears. I just couldn’t breathe anymore. I ended up crying myself to sleep that night.

The next day I woke up furious as hell and I decided to take action. I knew I had been working my whole life to make something good happen and I wasn’t ready to let this opportunity go by. I guess you could say this was my “dare to be fabulous” moment! I had cried a river and now it was time to stand up and rebel against “the lawmaker,” no matter how tough this was going to be.

I printed out a copy of the internship application and waited for him to come home from his daily, exhausting truck driving job. He didn’t come home until 10pm but I stayed up, ready to explain the internship and ask for his permission. I honestly felt like I would stand before him with my mouth open and the words wouldn’t come out, but fortunately the neurons in my brain functioned and I told them to speak. I could tell he was tired and wanted to knock out already but I knew that it was now or never.

I started off by introducing him to some basic information about the program and how I came to be sponsored. He immediately started interrogating me. He questioned why the heck I wanted to go and what it was good for. For once in my life, I didn’t shut-up. I knew I had earned this opportunity on my own and that it was vital for my future. I kept fighting for myself and my life; I knew this internship was something I had rightfully earned and deserved. I was clear and direct, presenting him with all the facts. What surprised me was that I never stuttered. I knew that if I wanted my dream to come true, then I would have to fight against all odds – even if I peed my pants, I was determined to get my point across. Somehow between the previous terrible teary night and the next morning, something had changed inside me: I was confident and completely determined to start making my own laws for my life and give my father no other choice but to obey them.

I implemented my strategy: to show my father the world that was opening up to me. I told him I had already scheduled an appointment with the Congresswoman’s Field Representatives, Benjamin Cardenas and Evelyn Herrera, and I expected him to come. For once I was the one making my demands and I pushed him to fulfill them. He seemed stunned by my certainty and agreed to go to the meeting.

I remember we went to the meeting the same day that the famous, former math teacher at my school, Jaime Escalante, died (March 31st, 2010.)  I wondered if that was an omen of the misfortune that was waiting to happen . . . I tried to breathe deeply and go with the flow. He picked me up from school and boy! The ride from East Los Angeles to Santa Fe Springs seemed like a trip to the moon! It was so long, silent and just plain uncomfortable. He was in his working uniform and I was in plain old jeans and a t-shirt. I know we should have gone more appropriately dressed, but looks didn’t really matter to me at that point because attaining permission was the only thing on my mind.

We arrived at the District Office and right away, I felt like I was in a safe place. Mr. Cardenas and Ms. Herrera welcomed my father in such a warm and friendly way that I thought there was no way in the world that he would say no to me. It felt really good when Mr. Cardenas and Ms. Herrera put in a good word for me, telling my father what a great asset I had been to their office when I was an intern there. (I had recently helped out in their office for the months of January and February after my Senior Army Instructor scored me the job).

My father was in awe the whole time – his mind was blown away – I guess it’s partially my fault for not telling him all that I’m involved in, whether it’s in school or in the community. Hearing and seeing the Congresswoman’s staff made my father realize that this kind of opportunity doesn’t just fall from the sky, it takes a great deal of hard work and he should feel proud that his daughter can take part. In a way, I was really a reflection of all his hard work and proof that his wish of achieving the American dream had been granted, or at least that’s what they made my father understand.

A month after I sent in the application I received the letter from Nancy Pelosi officially inviting me to become a Congressional Page. I felt a huge relief. The twenty page application seemed like nothing compared to getting my father’s approval. I showed him the letter of confirmation and I told him to get the airline tickets because…I’m going to Washington D.C.! I’m going to be the first one in the Ortega family to go to the nation’s capital! That is the best feeling in the world because I’m proving to him that I appreciate all his work and sacrifice and that his coming to this country was completely worth it.

Our relationship is better now because we actually talk! I call him more often from my cell phone and am around him more, too. We recently took a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and thank God we did, because I finally felt like his little girl again. We shared laughs and swam together in the beautiful blue water off the gorgeous beaches. I truly felt like his daughter.

It took me 16 years to stand up to my father, but I did it. Throughout my life I have found that the key ingredient for being brave is – determination. Some people don’t even come up against these sorts of pressures at a young age. While I wish I didn’t have to struggle as much as I have, in a way I’m glad I did because it has taught me to be a better, stronger person. Now I see how civil rights activists like Antonia Hernandez or Latin attorney Monica Navarro have the strength to do it in the real world. This is only the first big step on my journey to becoming the person I want to be, but that first step always starts with daring – daring to take a position, daring to do what you know is right, daring . . . to be fabulous.

Rocio Ortega lived in East Los Angeles and attended high school there. The daughter of two Mexican-born parents, she is bilingual and proud to represent her Mexican culture. This story was written while she was in high school. She’s since graduated from Wellesley College, worked with the U.N., lived abroad, and won notable awards. She currently works with the ACLU.

ON SELF-ESTEEM by Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem "On Self-Esteem"

A story about an experience in her pre-feminist days that led her on the path to activism . . .

Read her personal story in a new book.
Released on August 4, 2022
Paperback & Kindle now available! 

“This book holds together the power women find when they are honest and courageous and truthful. Some of these stories moved me to tears, others made me believe in humanity again, many I could identify with. This book brought me tremendous joy, insight and brought me back to believe in the human spirit.”

~ JULIANNA MARGULIES, multiple award-winning actor and author of Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life

ABOUT GLORIA STEINEM

Gloria Steinem is a writer and activist who has been involved in feminist and other social justice issues for over fifty years. A major figure in the launch of the women’s movement in the 1960s, she is one of the few to span generations and cultures with such newer U.S. feminist groups as the 3rd Wave and Choice USA, and international human rights/women’s rights groups including Equality Now. Steinem is the co-founder of New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine, and author of such touchstone books as Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions; Revolution from Within, and Moving Beyond Words, among other influential writing.

WALKING ACROSS AMERICA IN MY 90TH YEAR by Doris “Granny D” Haddock

Doris Granny D Haddock

A story about taking bold action for an issue at the age of 89 . . .

Read her personal story in a new book.
Released on August 4, 2022
Paperback & Kindle now available! 

“This book holds together the power women find when they are honest and courageous and truthful. Some of these stories moved me to tears, others made me believe in humanity again, many I could identify with. This book brought me tremendous joy, insight and brought me back to believe in the human spirit.”

~ JULIANNA MARGULIES, multiple award-winning actor and author of Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life

ABOUT DORIS “GRANNY D” HADDOCK

Doris “Granny D” Haddock received a lot of attention when she walked across the country, campaigning to raise awareness of campaign finance reform. She likely received more attention for being an 89-year-old grandmother attempting this feat, and she knew this. She continued to speak publicly and travel the country for campaign finance reform until she passed away in 2010, six weeks after her 100th birthday. 

HER NAME WAS HONG by Jill Robinson, MBE

Jill Robinson moon bear

A story about an impactful interaction with a moon bear, and how that led to Animals Asia . . .

Read her personal story in a new book.
Released on August 4, 2022
Paperback & Kindle now available! 

“This book holds together the power women find when they are honest and courageous and truthful. Some of these stories moved me to tears, others made me believe in humanity again, many I could identify with. This book brought me tremendous joy, insight and brought me back to believe in the human spirit.”

~ JULIANNA MARGULIES, multiple award-winning actor and author of Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life

ABOUT JILL ROBINSON

Jill Robinson is founder of Animals Asia, devoted to ending the practice of bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals in China and Vietnam. Through her work with the bears, and her many other programs administered through Animals Asia, she is at the forefront of changing the way animals are being perceived and treated on that continent. In 1998 she was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of her services to animal welfare in Asia. In 2002, she received the Genesis Award in the United States–the only major media and arts award concerning animal issues.