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2002 ALSTON / BANNERMAN FELLOWS 

EDDIE BENAVENTE

Hagatna, Guam
Since the early 1980s Eddie Benavente has been a leader of the fight for self-determination of the Chamoru people, the indigenous people of Guam, who have lived under colonial rule for 400 years. Eddie is the elected Maga'lahi, or chief, of Nasion Chamoru, whose victories include legislation requiring all students in Guam's schools to take courses in Chamoru language and history. Through direct action, including camping out for months in front of government offices, Nasion Chamoru forced implementation of the Chamorro Land Trust Act, passed 20 years earlier to provide Chamoru people with plots for farms and homes. Protests and occupations continue at properties seized by the U.S. military. Nasion Chamoru continually lobbies and organizes around redefining Guam's political status and decolonizing the island.

ASHAKI BINTA

Riverdale, GA
Over the past 20 years Ashaki Binta has been a member, organizer and national officer of Black Workers For Justice (BWFJ), a workplace-based community organization whose primary mission is to build a broad-based labor movement in the South. She edited the organization's newspaper, Justice Speaks, and organized campaigns including the national movement to protest the death of 25 workers in the plant fire at Imperial Foods in Hamlet, North Carolina. She opened BWFJ's office in Georgia, helped create the Brisbane Institute: Southern Center for Labor Education and Organizing at Morehouse College and was lead organizer of two International Workers Schools. Ashaki is also on the National Coordinating Committee of the Black Radical Congress and a board member of Zami, a collective of lesbians of African American descent in the Atlanta area.

VIOLA CASARES

San Antonio, TX
When Levi's closed one of its San Antonio plants in 1990, it threw Viola Casares out of a job and into a life of activism. She became one of the primary leaders of Fuerza Unida, a community organization formed to fight for fair treatment of displaced workers. With its protests, national boycott and hunger strike, Fuerza Unida was a pioneer in the anti-free trade movement, and its efforts forced Levi's to provide better severance packages to workers affected by subsequent plant closings. Fuerza Unida has grown into a vibrant mutual aid group as well as an organizing and leadership training center for working class women of color. Viola is also a leader in local environmental justice organizing and has served on the Coordinating Council of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice.

RICARDO GARCIA

Granger, WA
Since the UFW boycotts of the 1960s Ricardo Garcia has devoted 40 years to fighting for farm workers in the Yakima Valley. The anti-poverty agency which he directed for a decade was defunded because of its aggressive advocacy and pro-union stance, but the day care centers, health clinics and radio station it created continue to serve farmworkers today. Radio KDNA, the Voice of the Farm Worker, was the first full-time Spanish language community radio station when it went on the air in 1979. Ricardo is a founder of KDNA and Executive Director of its parent organization, Northwest Communities Education Center. In addition to using radio as a tool for education and mobilization, the Center plays a leading role in pushing for immigrant rights and building the power of the growing Latino population.

LYDIA LOWE

Boston, MA
For 20 years Lydia Lowe has been part of building the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) and is currently its Director. CPA is a grass-roots organization which works for full equality and empowerment of the Chinese community in Boston and beyond, to raise the living and working standards of Chinese Americans and to involve ordinary community members in decision-making. Lydia's work at CPA has included cofounding a Workers Center for immigrant workers to organize for their rights, securing bilingual job training for displaced garment and electronic workers, stopping construction of a parking garage in the center of residential Chinatown and establishing multilingual access to public meetings through an interpreter system provided by the City of Boston. She has led coalitions on multilingual voting rights, Chinatown development and English plus.

GILBERT SANCHEZ

Santa Fe, NM
Long before the term environmental justice was coined, Gilbert Sanchez was investigating and organizing around the adverse impact of the nuclear weapons cycle on Pueblo people and their natural resources. While developing the tribe's land use plan and its environmental protection, economic development and cultural preservation offices, Gilbert also led efforts to force Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Department of Energy to establish the first site-specific advisory board which was truly citizen-based. In 1992, he founded Tribal Environmental Watch Alliance (TEWA), a grassroots indigenous environmental and health organization which educates communities about the health risks from nuclear research and defense facilities and takes action to hold public officials at all levels accountable.

VERNA TELLER

Isleta Pueblo, NM
As leader and candidate of a grassroots movement to democratize tribal government and protect the environment, Verna Teller made history when she was voted governor of Isleta Pueblo in 1986. Attempts to derail the election on the grounds that women should not hold office failed and the results paved the way for passage of a constitutional amendment changing the tribe's system of government by making the tribal council elected rather than appointed. Under Verna¹s leadership, Isleta Pueblo was the first tribe to assert its right under federal law to establish water quality standards. Because this meant the tribe would have authority over upstream discharges from the City of Albuquerque, the issue went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Isleta Pueblo prevailed. Recently, Verna has focused on the consequences of climate change and cancer prevention.

MILY TREVINO-SAUCEDO

Pomona, CA
A teenager when she began speaking up for her co-workers in the fields, Mily Trevino-Saucedo worked with the United Farmworker Union and then with California Rural Legal Assistance representing and educating farmworkers. In the late 1980s she began organizing women in her community and buoyed by their success began reaching out to others to form a statewide network of farmworker women. She is now Executive Director of the organization, called Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, the first of its kind in the country. Dedicated to giving farmworker women the necessary skills and solidarity to assert their rights in the workplace and at home, Lideres' trainings and grassroots organizing focus on domestic violence, sexual harassment, pesticide poisoning, AIDS and other health issues.

RON WILKINS

Los Angeles, CA
An organizer since 1964, Ron Wilkins joined SNCC in 1967 and has focused his work as an activist, educator, journalist, and photographer @ bunbraids ever since on Black liberation struggles in Africa and at home. He is a member of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition and in the 1980s chaired the Cultural Boycott task force of Unity In Action, which played a major role in securing pledges from artists and film companies not to work in South Africa until apartheid was ended. For 12 years, Ron produced and hosted a weekly public affairs program on Pacifica Radio KPFK titled Continent to Continent, examining political and cultural issues critical to the Black community. Recently, Ron has concentrated on promoting Black-Brown unity by demonstrating the shared history of Indigenous Mexican and African peoples.

KENT WONG

Los Angeles, CA
An organizer since leading protests against the Vietnam War in high school, Kent Wong has been an attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center for Southern California and for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1 Local 660, one of the largest unions in California. He has served as the Director of the UCLA Labor Center since 1991. The Center is one of the country's foremost promoters of popular education and immigrant organizing, of progressive change within the labor movement and of international labor solidarity. Kent also helped organize and served as the first president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the first national organization of Asian American workers, which played a leading role in convincing the AFL-CIO to adopt a pro-immigrant rights position.

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