Influential figures like Mahatma Ghandi, Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, and Cesar Chavez transformed our lives through mass movements. These leaders motivated multitudes to get involved in shaping the society in which they lived. Ordinary people changed laws, molded a new culture, and drove America closer to ideals of social justice. We believe social movements, which can engage millions of people, are part of the answer to solving the big issues facing our nation - issues like poverty, climate change, health care, and immigration. Leaders of these movements must be innovative, tenacious, and willing to build on the wisdom of the iconic women and men who preceded them. They must be able to get you to pay attention and take action.
To support them, Hunt Alternatives Fund created Prime Movers: Cultivating Social Capital, a multi-year fellowship for emerging and established social movement leaders working primarily in the United States. Prime Movers represent huge numbers of people who share their experiences and aspirations.
This spring, we inducted six new fellows:
• Kevin Bales was drawn into leading the movement to end modern-day slavery after examining the issue through his scholarly book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. He co-founded Free the Slaves, focused on eradicating slavery around the world. This nonprofit also provides pathways for everyday citizens to join the abolitionists' fight.
• Roseanne Haggerty realized her volunteer work at a shelter wasn't going to solve the growing problem of homelessness. She founded Common Ground, which has become the nation's largest builder and operator of housing for the homeless. She has demonstrated that with public support, we can create affordable housing at a fraction of the cost of shelters, hospitals, jails, and other institutional responses.
• Bill McKibben authored The End of Nature, the first mainstream book on climate change, and realized the need for mass mobilization to change behavior that was adversely affecting our environment. He and his team of activists at www.350.org are inspiring people on every continent to catalyze a coordinated worldwide response to global warming.
• Billy Parish dropped out of Yale in 2004 and founded the Environmental Action Coalition, an alliance of 50 organizations empowering young people to turn K-12 schools, colleges, and universities into models of sustainability. In 2009, Billy co-led more than 10,000 young leaders who converged in Washington, DC, for Power Shift '09. They demanded that the President and Congress pass bold climate and energy policy by the end this year.
• Maria Teresa Petersen recognized the need to engage the growing Latino youth population in the American political process. She transformed Voto Latino from a public service announcement campaign into a full-fledged organization that leverages new media, the latest technology, and celebrity spokespeople to increase civic participation across the Latino community.
• Rinku Sen began her racial justice work as a grassroots organizer at The Center for Third World Organizing, where she trained new participants and created public policy campaigns. Now, she is president of the Applied Research Center, a racial justice think tank that popularizes the need for racial justice and prepares people to fight for it. In 2008, ARC launched Compact for Racial Justice, an interactive Web-based policy platform creating a continuing conversation with activists in thousands of workplaces, congregations, schools, and other nonprofit organizations.
Our goal is to bolster Prime Movers' identities beyond their organizations as they take on broader, more pivotal roles within their movements. After participating in a comprehensive and highly competitive nomination and selection process, the fellows receive $60,000 over two years to strengthen their ability to get average Americans off their couches and into their communities.
Fellows also learn from each other through small seminars and retreats. Eboo Patel, selected in 2005 and founder of Interfaith Youth Core, asserts, "It's the gestalt of the program, it's the people you meet, and the fact that every time I go to a Prime Mover event, I walk out thinking bigger." That's quite a statement from someone who already thinks about creating seismic changes in how people of different faiths move through life together instead of in opposition.
Prime Movers aren't simply good people doing great work. They're women and men stirring masses of people to combat injustice, to become engaged in the civic decisions that affect their common good. One of these individuals may have already inspired you to get involved, to be an active citizen in your democracy. If they haven't yet, they will soon.