If this year has shown us anything, it’s that activism works. From the women’s marches to the airport protests to the town halls, we’ve now seen firsthand that when people stand up and make their voices heard, it can have a tangible impact. Even so, it's easy to let yourself feel like it's impossible to make positive change as an individual, that making serious change is only reserved for certain special people.
Two people whose stories counter that notion are iO Tillett Wright and Melody Ehsani. Wright and Ehsani weren't born into extraordinary circumstances or handed their platforms. They simply dedicated themselves to activism in their respective ways. Together they offer a dual portrait of how people from different backgrounds and life experiences forge activist identities to drive change.
iO Tillett Wright is an author, photographer, writer, and activist living between Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. His 2016 book Darling Days is an intimate memoir exploring gender and identity through his life growing up in 1980s New York City. In 2010, he launched the Self-Evident Truths photo project, for which he is gathering 10,000 photographs from all 50 states of individuals who identify as anything other than 100% straight or cisgender. Upon reaching his goal, he will display the images on the National Mall with the aim of humanizing a vast community that experiences ongoing discrimination.
Melody Ehsani is a designer living in Los Angeles. Known for her iconic store on Fairfax and collaborations with brands like Reebok, Ehsani commits a portion of all proceeds from her creations to the advancement and education of women. In December 2017, she will debut a new collaboration with Reebok, in which she worked alongside indigenous groups in Standing Rock, Guatemala, Lebanon, and Japan to create a profitable, sustainable business model for these communities’ talents in beading and weaving.
At a time when “activism” has become a buzzword, hash-tagged, and included in countless influencer’s bios, Wright’s and Ehsani’s stories demonstrate their dedication and support for marginalized communities. As two people on the front lines of the contemporary movement, we wanted to know how these activists have stayed inspired, grounded, and rested over the years of making change, so we hit the road one recent Sunday and headed for the desert, a place of peace, perspective, and reflection.