“I got to be a hero. Not many people get that shot.”
After fighting a real-life war, David Harris feels at peace. The activist and author, famous for leading the Vietnam War draft resistance—and going to prison because of it—is battling two kinds of stage four cancer. Despite his diagnoses, Harris is happy and hopeful, and he has a message for modern-day resisters: you get what you do. Harris is the subject of a profile by Alta contributor Alan Goldfarb, and of our latest Alta podcast. Read and listen here.
Californians like to think of ourselves as politically progressive—and we are. Harris’s draft resistance is one of many movements that originated on (and continue to emerge from) the West Coast. Two of California’s best-known activists are César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, who founded the National Farm Workers Association (later renamed United Farm Workers) in California’s Central Valley in 1962. That historic movementsecured rights for agricultural workers throughout the nation.
The West Coast is at the forefront of several environmental and conservation movements. In recent news, California’s benchmark vehicle emission standards, which are some of the strictest in the nation, are currently under attack from President Trump. In response, the Sierra Club and eight other California environmental organizations are suing the Trump administration. On a positive environmental note, the California condor population, once extinct in the wild, is booming, thanks in large part to the organizational efforts of the Ventana Wildlife Society. Government agencies have spent about $20 million on returning the California condor to the wild (along with private donors like Alta editor and publisher Will Hearst), making this conservation effort the most expensive in the country.
Hollywood, too, is a source of activism. Following reports of sexual harassment and dramatic gender inequity within show business, over 300 powerful women, including Meryl Streep and Gwyneth Paltrow, signed an open letter “pushing for swift and effective change” in the entertainment industry. This letter marked the formation of Time’s Up, an organization targeting fairness and safety in the workplace. Last year, Time’s Up launched a legal defense fund to assist victims of sexual harassment and retaliation. The movement, not yet three years old, has transformed the conversation about gender in Hollywood and beyond.
While anti-fascist movements have early roots in Europe, one of the first reported stateside Antifa groups was founded in Portland, Oregon. The controversial and mostly anonymous political protest movement has gained traction in the United States since the election of President Trump, notably during 2017’s violent protests on the UC Berkeley campus. Antifa was the subject of an in-depth feature in Alta’s inaugural issue.
And while California remains a solidly blue state, the conservative LGBT Log Cabin Republicans were founded here in the late 1970s. When it comes to political movements, whether you like them or not, the Golden State leads the way.