Organizing for the Monarch-acy

Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary We Are the Radical Monarchs portrays Oakland’s alternative to Girl Scouts — and a way forward for community organizing.

AOC — or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for the Twitter uninitiated — made headlines last month ago at South by Southwest when she labeled moderates as “anti-intellectual.” A smaller yet also notable media blitz occurred when two girls in brown berets and vests adorned with atypical badges asked what advice Ocasio-Cortez had for girls of color. These young girls belonged to Oakland’s Radical Monarchs, an intersectional reiteration of a traditional Girl Scout troop which cultivates the leadership skills and activist experience of girls of color. Depicted in the world premiere of a new documentary, these girls were a real-life manifestation of the bold vision AOC had espoused only a day before.

The documentary, Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s We Are the Radical Monarchs, is one of a number of insurgent visions growing from the concrete of Oakland. But Black Panther, Sorry to Bother You, and Blindspotting all centered heroic men in their narratives. Echoing this is a fact stated in the documentary: Programs supporting boys of color are better funded than those for girls of color. So it is fitting that the counterbalance is told through the non-fictional story of a group of girls and women of color — and it screens on Saturday, April 13 at the Castro Theatre as part of SFFilm Festival.

Instead of traditional Brownie troop badges, Monarchs earn merits when learning about such social justice topics as Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ pride. For example, the girls are seen studying the Ferguson, Mo., uprising, culminating in a visit from Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza. They also fervently participate in the San Francisco Trans March. More broadly, the film focuses on the growth of these girls and the challenges they face throughout. At face value, they may seem like the most valuable parts of the documentary. (None other than Fox News’ Sean Hannity even makes a cameo, specifically to disparage them.)

Yet when it comes to the work of social change, the documentary tells an equally important story: the struggle to develop the organization itself. What has yet to be proven, though, is whether a storyline about organizational development can be captivating to the average viewer, especially if it’s not about music-festival corruption and fast cash. But for those enticed by the drama of organizational start-up woes, particularly of the do-gooder kind, We Are the Radical Monarchs offers intriguing insights.

Co-founders Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest proclaim themselves the perfect outward- and inward-facing duo, respectively. For three-and-a-half years, they ran the Radical Monarchs as a part-time job, with Martinez also a full-time mother of two. Her struggle is real, as she at one point tears up when thanking Hollinquest for supporting her in building the organization. Their organization’s fun, supportive learning environment is designed to preempt an insight Hollinquest shares: that the onerous nature of organizing can be a turn-off, especially to youth. The girls build the vision and the fortitude needed to organize, through their joyous first experiences of comradeship, all of which facilitated by the program’s nurturing environment.

This stands in contrast to why many organizers start: as a direct result of trauma. And, unlike the romantic storylines of their tech-bro counterparts, Martinez and Hollinquest methodically strategize about programming and fundraising throughout the film. They are unwilling to sacrifice diligence and values in exchange for a fast track to success. Thus, when they get a small injection of funding mid-way through, it quickly goes to expansion. Through these examples, we see Martinez and Hollinquest as a dynamic duo scaling and sustaining their business in an unconventional way. They seek multi-generational, movement-oriented change through the methodical development of a modest program.

The real question though, is whether this model is sustainable. The ladies are still working hard and fundraising at the same time. And, as director Linda Goldstein Knowlton noted in her Q&A at SXSW, she is still looking for a distributor and continues to fundraise to cover film production costs. To her credit, she urged the audience to contribute to the Monarchs before giving any money to her, something you can do here. Small-donor, people-led campaigns can work, as AOC’s campaign proved.

We Are the Radical Monarchs, Saturday, April 13, 1 p.m., at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St. Free,


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