“Fundamental” Justice: Fighting Racism and Patriarchy

“Fundamental” is a documentary film series highlighting the stories and voices behind grassroots organizations and community mobilizers working to support and uplift marginalized and historically oppressed people and communities around the world.

The series—brought to life by two-time Academy Award winner, activist and feminist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and the Global Fund for Women—currently features five online episodes that are available to view online, at no cost.

The “Fundamental” series focuses on people living in communities, identifying and recognizing their needs and responding directly to them, within that respective community. (SOC Films (@SOCFilms) / Twitter)

“Fundamental” allows viewers to interact directly with important activists and organizers working tirelessly towards fundamental human rights. It includes episodes focused on:

  • ending childhood, early and forced marriage in Pakistan;
  • building an intersectional justice movement in the United States;
  • LGBTQI+ rights in Georgia;
  • fighting racism and patriarchy in Brazil; and
  • providing comprehensive sexuality education in Kenya

The series focuses on intersectional feminism—acknowledging that any successful, feminist movement must remain cognizant of the disparate realities and forms of oppression women face within individual countries, as well as worldwide.

While watching the series from my home during quarantine—escaping the constant flood of COVID related news cycles—I found myself reminded of and reflecting on the importance of grassroots and community based organizing. The series focuses on people living in communities, identifying and recognizing their needs and responding directly to them, within that respective community.

I decided to use this article to ask the activists featured in the series—as well the filmmakers and producers—about the crucial role of grassroots and community-centered organizing in light of COVID-19, and how we can best support these activists and their causes during these times that have proven to affect marginalized identities at heightened rates.

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M Adams is a community organizer and co-executive director of Freedom, Inc. and a featured activist in “Fundamental” episode “Rising Power.”

As a Black queer person, I know intimately and politically that I must fight and organize for my wellness and safety. Current and historical oppression has created the conditions for what could have been a manageable outbreak of COVID-19 to be an epidemic inside of my community. Who dies and who lives is as much a result of structural policies and histories as much as it is a physiological outcome of the illness the virus induces.

The federal government of the United States is blaming Black poor people for dying from COVID-19 instead of working to undo the structures that have left Black communities vulnerable to COVID all together. Many Black folx, especially women and girls, LGBTQI people are struggling and every day being forced into choosing between our wellness or being able to provide for our families.

Also, for Black folx like me in Wisconsin, we have been recently forced to choose between our health and lives or our right to exercise our vote and participate in democracy.

The same government is taking significant steps to protect wealthy businesses and elites, effectively bailing out corporate America and selling out its people. As a matter of survival and logic, we are left no other choice but to engage in grassroots organizing. To be clear, we assert that the State does in fact have a responsibility to protect and further our lives and we demand that—we are holding those in power accountable.

In the interim, we must save ourselves. It is the current grassroots efforts that are filling the gaps of food systems, supporting parents who are trying to educate their children from home, pushing for equitable healthcare, demanding the release of incarcerated folx, pushing for housing options for those who are homeless. Those of us on the ground are working in real time to directly meet the needs of the people.

At Freedom, Inc. we have developed a 24-hour youth of color teen crisis line because there is a spike of violence inside of homes and relationships during pandemics and crises. We are working around the clock to do our best to help provide safety and relief for survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence. Our hotline is developed and led by young queer folx of color. We are working to meet the full social consequence of our communities and not replicate systems of violence such as prisons, police and criminalization. Solutions developed by communities most impacted can best meet the needs of that community. Groups on the ground  have the strongest understanding of the conditions, are able to innovate,  and are directly connected inside of those communities to meet the needs. They tend to be motivated by survival and wellness and not profit.

Former crises such as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated Black communities in New Orleans, reveal that larger institutions such as the Red Cross are inept in meeting the real time needs, and that a substantial amount of resources never actually make it to those in need. Many of these organizations often have a paternalistic approach in servicing communities.

COVID reveals we are in need of radical change, of radical reinvestment directly into communities most marginalized—and solutions chosen, driven and led by these communities.

Adams, along with Freedom, Inc., has created an emergency fund for Black and Brown women and girls and LGBTQI+ survivors of violence during COVID.

Additionally, they have been running a weekly food program that provides both food and resources to vulnerable Black and Brown families. They are calling for the radical redistribution of wealth, shifting resources directly into the hands of exploited and vulnerable Black and Brown communities. Freedom Inc is helping to facilitate this, ensuring that 100 pecent of resources reach the hands of survivors.

Additionally, as part of the leadership of the Movement for Black Lives, Adams and Freedom, Inc. are organizing across the nation and requesting federal relief and protection for Black communities. 

“Our demands include providing safe and easy access for voting, freeing incarcerated people, protections for all workers in the informal and formal economies, housing for all and healthcare not warfare,” Adams said.

Sign the petition at m4bl.org

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is the director of the “Fundamental” film series.

Fundamental takes us into the lives of gender justice activists around the world who are working to create change at the grassroots level. These groups are at the forefront of responding to COVID-19 in their communities.

As grassroots organizations, they are particularly responsive to community needs during this pandemic—from keeping their communities safe to organizing direct service providers. We are all in unfamiliar territory but it has been heartening to see how quickly the groups featured in Fundamental responded to COVID-19.

The activists you will meet in the series are on the front lines of human rights issues, including this pandemic, yet they are rarely made visible. So often the movements they lead are not widely visible either—and yet they are so critical to protecting human rights. For this reason, they know they have to do this work, for their communities and their countries.

In one of the Fundamental films, you’ll see collaboration between two communities who you rarely see together. Both communities face issues that are similar, they work together in that fight because their values are aligned—they’re fighting the same fight.

Similarly, COVID-19 will not affect us all uniformly but we can all still fight alongside each other to build healthier, more just communities. Within movements there is great community, and there is solidarity in knowing there are others alongside you—your neighbors in your city as well as those across the globe—who are also fighting for justice.

Nattan Guliashvili is the media officer at the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group in the country of Georgia.

If this pandemic brought anything to light, in the first place, it is the very fact that global capitalism, the reason for increasing economic and social inequalities within countries and globally, is the main threat to the pandemic itself.

But we also clearly see that powerful governments, with their financial institutions and super rich business heads, who haven’t even donated 1 percent of their last month’s income to crisis funds, right now are more concerned with their profit and with keeping the status-quo of this system, rather than saving lives of people.

Georgia, which is part of the global neoliberal system, is no exception sadly. The most vulnerable and socially and politically neglected groups have been left alone to take care of each other. And it should be emphasized that the so called “social isolation” and state of emergency which our government declared almost a month ago, has been everyday experience for many people in this country for decades; access to primary social benefits, such as health care, education, right to decent labour and wages, remains largely unrecognized, sometimes not even formally admitted, by our Government. 

Yes, the communities are self-organizing and helping each other, because this has been the only way to cope with the total negligence from the state, but in the given pandemic situation there are too many people in need of basic security, food, safe shelter and healthcare, in order to rely only on individual or even community solidarity.

As an LBT women’s organization we are right now assessing needs and applying for urgent funds—but we are also addressing our government to take rapid measures in order to help the most marginalized and vulnerable groups and take political and legal steps that will prevent such a large number of people to remain completely insecure, whether in the pandemic crisis or generally. 

We demand from our government and the whole state apparatus to re-evaluate human rights and the policy it carries out towards vulnerable groups: LGBTQI persons, single mothers, women in general, ethnic minorities, homeless people, people who work in the service or healthcare sector, people with special physical, mental or health-related needs. We demand from our government to recognize the real value of ‘care work’, which in this time of pandemic has again shown itself as the most valuable and precious.

Right now, the most urgent is to help the most vulnerable and marginalized people in the community. We welcome financial donations for basic healthcare, food, and shelter-related needs for the Georgian LGBTQI+ community.  In the long run, we should strengthen our networks globally and hold our governments accountable for the political changes that will ensure equal and universal access to healthcare, wages and a safe environment for all, not for the privileged only.

Latanya Mapp Frett is the president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has laid bare the systemic inequities built into our world. While we’re still learning a lot about the virus, we can already see disproportionate impact on women, girls, and marginalized communities. It’s important to support these communities at the best of times. In times of crisis, it’s essential.

Global Fund for Women supports grassroots gender justice activists around the world to lead their own responses. This is in great contrast to the vast amounts of international humanitarian assistance that goes primarily to international organizations; less than half a percent of this aid gets to national or local groups. Local groups know best what their communities need and are best placed to build responses to help their communities thrive.

Feminist solidarity and flexible funding are extremely important right now. Global Fund for Women has always offered flexible, general operating support—money our partners can use to keep the lights on in their offices, pay salaries or respond to an unexpected crisis. That sort of flexibility is a lifeline to groups operating in times of disaster. We’ve called on fellow funders to model this flexibility in their funding in response to the pandemic.

And we ask all to join us and support our work. And spread the word—host a virtual screening of our new documentary film series Fundamental: Gender Justice. No Exceptions. with friends to stay connected to gender justice organizing.

Catherine M. King is the executive producer of the “Fundamental” film series.

Gender justice activists around the world are serving their communities in this time of crisis, ensuring that movements stay strong, no matter what comes their way. The activists featured in “Fundamental” are leading efforts on a variety of gender justice issues, and are on the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 crisis in their communities. I’ve been in awe at how responsive the groups have been during this crisis—it speaks to the power, and necessity, of grassroots organizing. 

Coronavirus is another reminder of the limitations of a single-issue analysis and the need for intersectional, grassroots organizing. As we see in the “Fundamental” series, Lucia Xavier and Daniela Duarte at CRIOLA in Brazil are deliberately centering Black women’s needs in their fight for reproductive justice—battling historic Whiteness of the reproductive health movement and addressing the multiple layers of oppression that result in barriers to getting Black women care.

This is important because, in the words of M Adams and Kabzuag Vaj at Freedom, Inc.: “When you fight for those most oppressed, you’re sure to win.”  That is how you build an intersectional movement for justice.

Find and stream the films throughout this post, or on the “Fundamental” film series website.

Or organize and host a virtual screening of the series for you and your feminist friends or colleagues!

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


The team is a collection of Ms. print and digital editors and writers.