What would our world be like if no one cared about what was happening around them? Not a pretty picture, I’m sure, but we don’t have to worry, with people like Jodie Evans rallying to their own passions in order to transform lives.
Jodie was first inspired when, at the age of 18, she marched along with other Las Vegas hotel maids for an increase in pay.
“As soon as you taste activism, it just becomes a part of you because when you’re dealing with any kind of power situation you know you can fall back on yourself and there’s a part you can play.”
It was exciting in 1972 for many 18-year-olds, because it was the first time people of their age were able to vote. Jodie worked on George McGovern’s campaign and “got bit.” Jerry Brown was the chairperson in California and Jodie formed a relationship with him that would continue through the years.
“I gave him his first fundraiser in 1973 when he was running for governor,” she says. She would head up future campaigns, including his 1992 bid for president.
Brown, or “Governor Moonbeam,” as he was nicknamed due to his unconventional thinking and unorthodox ideas, was really a man ahead of his time.
“What we talk about now, they were talking about then but no one would listen,” says Jodie. “The notion of environmentalism was just coming to life.”
Breakthroughs in wind and solar energy occurred while she was overseeing the Office of Appropriate Technology in Brown’s administration.
In 1975, Brown signed the original farm labor bill.
“I was, like, ‘Oh my God, now what do I do with the rest of my life,’ because I couldn’t imagine anything being that big and beautiful — to be able to really change the health and welfare of an enormous amount of people,” Jodie says.
The farm labor bill hasn’t held up in a lot of ways because, like all laws, it has to be enforced, she says, but she does see an improvement in the use of pesticides.
“I had to learn over time that we have to fight that battle every day,” she adds.
Politics was a good learning base for Jodie. She started as a member of Brown’s cabinet.
“To be able to work at that level when you’re in a governor’s office that is transformational — you can’t go backwards,” she says.
Then she came to realize that she could do more good directly involved in the issues.
“I prefer to be outside rather than inside [the government] because, inside the power, you get moved a lot more than you get to move,” she says. “I’d rather be a mover.”
The environment is one of Jodie’s passions. Jodie was a partner in the first environmental store, Terra Verde, in Santa Monica.
“We didn’t even have products,” she says. “We just wanted to create a place for people who really care could come.”
She served as a board member of People for Parks, which was successful in passing an initiative for more funding to save public parks in Los Angeles. In addition, she has been active with numerous other groups that are involved with community, social and political issues connected with the environment.
Giving women a voice is another passion. A group of women who had worked on Brown’s 1976 presidential campaign formed the Women’s Political Committee in Los Angeles to fund women candidates.
“It was a time when we were working with each other to convince other women that if we wanted to sit at the table we needed to be putting our money down at the table,” says Jodie.
A natural progression has been to get involved with projects that support children. The “See Jane” organization was started by actress Geena Davis after watching television with her children and realizing the discrepancy between female role models and male role models.
“We lobby Hollywood to try to be better at what they produce — to get the media more gender- balanced,” says Jodie. “They actually weren’t doing it on purpose. They just never realized the effect of what they were doing. Seeing an all-white-male world is pretty distorting if you’re anything but. It’s also distorting to a white male.”
On a more local front, 826LA at SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center) is a nonprofit tutoring center and writing school for students six to 18. It was modeled after 826 in San Francisco, which was started by writer, publisher and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dave Eggers.
“This is very exciting because when you’re for peace, what you realize is that what we need more than anything is for our kids to be educated, which isn’t happening very well,” says Jodie. “This [826LA] is an after-school program where writers volunteer their time to come in and share their talent and give the kids the capacity to write and tell a story, which is such an important tool for their entire life.
“It also helps you think critically, which is what helps us not go to war — because you go to war, not from critical thinking, but from reaction.”
Jodie’s current major project is Codepink: Women for Peace, which she co-founded in 2002. The color pink, dominant in this campaign against war, is a spoof on the Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded threat level system. Although considered a “girly color,” when the ladies in pink protest in Washington, D.C., the politicos there know that the group is to be reckoned with.
They have staged anti-war demonstrations at the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, disrupted committee meetings, chanted songs in Capitol Hill hallways and unfurled banners in the Hart Building.
The latest mission is to have all the Codepink women around the country going to their pro-war members of Congress to ask why they aren’t bringing the soldiers home from Iraq now.
“I don’t understand it. It seems like insanity to me,” says Jodie. “It’s great to see that the [anti-war] movement is happening but it’s not happening fast enough because what do you say to the families of the soldiers who have died?”
Jodie’s future projects will be to forge on with the anti-war movement until it is no longer needed and to develop the respect for a woman’s voice.
“For the rest of my life I will continue to nurture activism, because it’s always needed,” says Jodie. “We need to remind people that if we want to have a democracy, citizen involvement is necessary. You can’t have a democracy without it.”
Codepink’s West Coast headquarters is in Venice and it has become a popular place for people to visit. Yanar Mohammad, with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, was a recent visitor.
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan had an office there and stayed at the Codepink house before she recently retired.
“People are confused about what peace is,” says Jodie. “It’s not the absence of war, but the capacity to live in the beauty of what it is to be human — and to allow everybody that. It’s not for everybody to get their way, which is what war is about, but it’s the capacity to respect the other.
“Something about Venice carries that — the beauty, the simplicity, the light, the diversity.
“So many people want to come hang out at the Codepink house in Venice to regenerate and recharge.”