love, joy, & hope

love, joy
& hope




A sepia tone photograph of a group of men and women at a sit-in protest. One white man and a Black woman, Tracy Simms, are speaking into a microphone. Four Black men to the right of Tracy are laughing and embracing.
Dawson co-organized the first Civil Rights Club at Berkeley High School with two friends, including Tracy Sims, pictured here leading the 1964 Sheraton Palace Hotel sit-in.

Photo: Art Frisch, San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 1964

Kipp Dawson & Social Movement Resiliency Since the 1950s

Kipp Dawson built coalitions for over 60 years in some of the nation’s largest movements for freedom and equality. Her astonishing career stretched from the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam anti-war movement, to the women’s movement, gay liberation movement, labor movement, and education justice movement. As a lesbian, Jewish, working-class woman from a multi-racial family, Dawson illustrates the ways in which historically marginalized people have often engaged in collective action for change. 

Dawson co-founded the first Civil Rights club at Berkeley High School, whose leaders went on to organize the major sit-ins that desegregated employment practices in San Francisco. She co-led the Free Speech Movement, coordinated some of the largest anti-Vietnam war demonstrations of the era, and helped plan the enormous Women’s Strike for Equality in New York City as well as the Christopher Street Liberation Day events following Stonewall, which became the annual Pride Day parades. Dawson served on staff for the Women’s National Abortion Action Coalition in the lead-up to Roe v. Wade, worked to desegregate schools in Boston, and ran as the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Senate from New York. She was arrested six times for protesting and spent a month in prison, was harassed by the FBI from childhood, named as a subversive by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and worked on the lawsuit that eventually helped expose the government’s COINTELPRO operations. After moving to Pittsburgh, Dawson worked as a coal miner underground for 13 years, supporting union organizing across the U.S. and internationally, and then taught public school for 22 years. 

Dawson and Tracy Sims circa 1964 at their arraignment following an arrest for a sit-in demonstration.
Dawson and Tracy Sims circa 1964 at their arraignment following an arrest for a sit-in demonstration.

(Photo: Courtesy of Kipp Dawson)
A photo of Kipp Dawson in between two other women, wearing buttons and shirts in support of the Daughters of UMWA.
Abortion Rights March, D. C., 1989

Photo: Kipp Dawson Papers, Box 7, Folder 11

The remarkable breadth and depth of Dawson’s intersectional, feminist, and highly cooperative activism suggests a rethinking of leadership within social movements as “women’s radical collaboration.” This framework reveals the often-invisible labor of women engaged in an intentional, transformational, and diffuse form of leadership. Radical collaboration prioritizes relationship building, creates networks of care, and redefines movement goals – all of which promote resiliency in the face of the very real dangers inherent in movement organizing. As Dawson and her collaborators well knew, the high stakes for their work included loss of life, liberty, livelihood, reputation, friends, colleagues, and careers. There were lower-stakes, too, including personal burnout and movement fatigue from long unpaid hours working for change that was slow to come, or incremental in ways that was hard to appreciate in the moment, with few big, obvious wins.

To form durable and robust movements that could survive and even thrive despite nearly constant losses, state-sponsored oppression, and violent resistance, Dawson and her fellow activists drew strength from the bonds of love, a deep sense of joy, and a shared vision for an alternative future. Dawson makes these connections explicit, saying, “the story of my life is a love story. And it’s a love story – a passionate, very passionate – love story between me and the work, to come together with other people to make this planet what it should be for all the life that is on it, and for the children who are going to be born.”1

Dawson points to a quote from the revolutionary Che Guevara, explaining movement work as “the Big Love” that keeps going: 

“Everything that I have had the honor and pleasure of doing is summed up by … something we used to quote all the time to remind ourselves. He said at some point, “Above everything else, a true revolutionary is guided above all, by great feelings of love.” And you know, people can laugh at that and they can not understand it, but for people like me who had the honor and pleasure of being a part of the movement where people come together out of love to try and make things better, there’s no way really of understanding what has motivated us and kept us going – and keeps us going even now in these crazy times – than that understanding in my personal life has been full of all kinds of personal demonstrations, ramifications of love. Both platonic and nonplatonic and both with men and with women, but primarily with people with whom a period of time was shared in the struggle. And that was both individuals and masses, massive numbers of people … It’s who I am and why I am so lucky because it’s never been unrequited love, it’s been love that has fed me. The personal affairs that I’ve had have been in that context that the Big Love keeps going, and anything that gets in the way of it is irrelevant to me, and I have to leave behind.” 2
A young Kipp Dawson smiles and looks at her mother at a rally for women's rights. Dawson wears a button that says "half of America still waits for Equal Rights, ERA" and Kipp's mother wears a female symbol around her neck.
Dawson and her mother, Ann, at the July 9, 1978 ERA march in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Courtesy of Kipp Dawson
Nurturing the love, joy, and hope needed for their movements, Dawson and her collaborators used tools such as collective music making, solidarity, and community building. These tools were both affective – engaging the emotions and in relation to others – as well as effective, successfully buoying their work across multiple social movements and generations. As Dawson emphasizes, movements persisted and resisted defeat even when victories were few and far between because “the struggle is the victory.” 3 Indeed, Dawson’s reframing of the freedom struggle pushes us to move past a simple binary of wins and losses, to consider the ways in which activists created and sustained a sense of possibility.
Dawson’s lifetime of intersectional movement work demonstrates what resilience looks like in practice as well as the implements of social change that have allowed activists to endure. In her teaching and lectures Dawson often references a “spiral theory of history” that she learned from her mother, explaining, “Our history is not one straight line … not a direct line from bad times to good ones … it’s a spiral, and sometimes as we’re going up the spiral, we’re going what looks [like] backwards. But we are still moving forward.” Dawson says we cannot see the end of the spiral, “but we know what the goal is: a world where everyone and the planet itself are shared with love and dignity.” 4

Click the video to the left to watch Dawson describe her mother’s spiral theory and use the links below to explore StoryMaps highlighting the crucial role of love, joy, and hope in building movement resiliency.


[1] Dawson interview, 3-23-2022

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dawson interview, 4-20-2022

[4] Dawson interview, 4-6-2022