There are people who become the face of a movement. They attend press conferences, head panels at conferences, and claim to speak for those who do not traditionally have a voice.
Then there are the “behind-the-scenes” activists. They are the people in back rooms who make repetitive phone calls, and do the tireless, thankless work which allows the faces of a movement to emerge. They allow others to take the credit and do not demand any for themselves. That was Maria Leavey’s role in her lifetime as a progressive organizer.
After her passing in 2006, the progressive community wanted to honor other activists and organizers who embodied Maria’s spirit. Today the Maria Leavey Award went to Samantha Corbin for her work as an actions coordinator for The Other 98 Percent.
Corbin’s work as an actions trainer at Occupy Wall Street has spread innovative protest tactics all over the country.
Borosage noted that the decision to honor Corbin was based on online nominations and voting on the CAF website.
Leavey not only helped bring media to the Campaign’s conference and link young journalists with powerful people in Washington. She was “tenacious, persistent, and creative,” in the words of Bob Borosage. He called Corbin’s work an embodiment of “the backbone of the progressive movement.”
“When you’re shut out of traditional media, you have to have some fun, get in the face of the media, and make them take notice,” said Alex Lawson of Social Security Works, who introduced Corbin.
Corbin’s modesty and humility as an activist showed during her speech. She took the emphasis off her own accomplishments and emphasized the struggles of other activists and organizers. Corbin also learned a very important lesson on September 16, 2011 at Zuccotti Park.
“Our liberation is connected because we share core values,” said Corbin. “At (Zuccotti) Park, (for example), the veterans were talking to the environmentalists, and they realized that their struggles were combined.”
She mentioned her involvement in the anti-stop and frisk march in New York City and how her participation reflected her values as an activist for money out of politics.
“In addition to my job, I will protest against stop and frisk and incorporate equity, justice, and love into my organizing.”
At the end of her speech, Corbin called on every person in the room to connect their struggles and stand in solidarity with others.
“We have to show up in every way. Every tactic is on the table. Everybody has to come. No one gets to sit this one out.”