Preserving Identity in the Face of an Identity Crisis: the Radical Monarchs Plant their Roots

 /  Sept. 18, 2017, 11:56 p.m.


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What do you get when you mix the traditional friendship and education ideals and values of the Girl Scouts with modern-day social justice? The Radical Monarchs have set out to find out.

In Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s recent Guardian documentary short, Radical Brownies, the Monarchs are shown smiling and chatting while they earn their Girl Scout-style woven, iron-on badges—which include a Black Lives Matter badge and a Radical Pride badge.

Founded in December 2014 in Oakland, California, the Radical Monarchs, previously known as the Radical Brownies, is an all-girl organization that “[creates] opportunities for young girls of color to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities, and contribute radically to their communities.” Anayvette Martinez, one of the Radical Monarchs’ founders, told the Gate that when her daughter was in the fourth grade, she wanted to join a Girl Scouts troop with her friends from school. Martinez realized that her daughter would have been one of two girls of color in the Girl Scouts troop, and so conceptualized an idea for a similar organization that would be specifically geared towards young girls of color—and thus the Radical Monarchs were born.

The Monarchs are premised on social justice education, and follow several “units,” whose aim is to inform the girls on topics that are particularly relevant to their own experiences as young girls of color. Especially important to the Monarchs’ education is their application of these ideas—the Monarchs speak with community members whose lives have been affected by the topic at hand, and also often participate in marches for various causes, including the Trans March and the Black Lives Matter March.

The very existence of the Radical Monarchs is symbolic of mounting tensions in the United States. In December 2015, after the Monarchs walked in the Black Lives Matter March in Oakland, they were inundated with emails from people in different states and countries who wanted to form similar organizations in their regions. However, the Monarchs have also been the target of much criticism—in a Fox and Friends clip that aired in early 2015, commentators state their belief that the group is “indoctrinating” its members; on a wider scale, the protests in Charlottesville in August suggested negative sentiment towards people of color, which could indicate more hostility towards the Monarchs in particular.

The Radical Monarchs, however, seem to reject the idea that they do not belong—they have embraced their identity and welcome inclusivity. The Monarchs’ unit on Radical Beauty, which is depicted in the Radical Brownies short, is one such example—in the film, Martinez says that the girls were encouraged to celebrate their physical differences. This campaign for inclusivity is also seen on a nationwide scale—earlier in the year President Donald Trump’s immigration ban was immediately met with harsh criticism.

The Monarchs, who are between the ages of eight and eleven, are able to choose topics for their units. In Radical Brownies, Martinez says that the Monarchs’ leaders—that is, her and co-founder Marilyn Hollinquest—ask the Monarchs which topics that interest them; they want to put together units that the Monarchs can apply to their everyday lives. At the many women's marches around the country earlier this year, there were many photos of children holding signs with political messages. Some argued that these children were participating in an important social movement and holding these signs without actually knowing the meaning. The same could be said about the Radical Monarchs, but in Radical Brownies, it is clear that not only do the girls know what they are doing by participating in social justice movements, they know why they are doing so and the purpose of these movements. Martinez believes that this awareness—also seen in the number of emails the Radical Monarchs received after they received publicity for walking in the Black Lives Matter March in December 2015—is evidence of a larger shift in the social consciousness, perhaps identified as a desire, as Maya, a Radical Monarch, says in the short, “to be heard.”

As the United States grapples with how to maintain values amid rapidly changing notions of identity, the Monarchs may have found the secret.

The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.


Riddhi Sangam

Riddhi Sangam is a third-year Economics major. This past summer, she interned with Rutberg & Company, a boutique investment bank located in San Francisco. On campus, she is a Research Assistant at the Becker Friedman Institute and is also a member of the Women in Public Service Program.