Born to parents of Mexican heritage on January 21, 1977 in Oxnard, California, Carmen Perez dedicated herself to political activism at age 17, shortly after her 19-year-old sister had died as a result of “hanging out with people who weren’t doing good things,” as Perez put it. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a psychology degree in 2001, Perez took a job as an executive assistant with Barrios Unidos, a Santa Cruz-based organization that provided non-violence training and re-entry services for prison inmates.
In 2005 Perez met Harry Belafonte, who was in the midst of forming The Gathering For Justice (TGFJ), a nonprofit group that aimed to end what it viewed as racial inequities in the American criminal-justice system. Perez joined TGFJ at Belafonte’s invitation, though she continued also to work for Barrios Unidos. In 2006, she took on an additional job as a bilingual probation officer in Santa Cruz. In 2008 and 2010, respectively, TGFJ promoted Perez to the positions of National Organizer and Executive Director, the latter of which she continues to hold. Perez has developed a deep affection for Belafonte, calling him “my mentor and boss.”
Since 2010, Perez has been a salaried employee of 1199 SEIU, a powerful local branch of the Service Employees International Union.
From 2011-13, Perez helped 1199 SEIU develop its “Purple Gold” program, which provides leadership training for SEIU members aged 35 and younger.
In 2013-14, Perez co-founded Justice League NYC and founded Justice League CA, a pair of task forces designed to promote juvenile- and criminal-justice reform in New York and California, respectively. She also organized a number of national conferences on juvenile justice, like Justice League NYC’s “Growing Up Locked Down” event.
In early January 2015, Perez participated in a delegation that toured “Palestine” in order “to witness firsthand the effects of Israeli apartheid and occupation.” Other noteworthy participants in this delegation included journalist Marc Lamont Hill, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, and five members of Dream Defenders. Perez helped organize a “solidarity demonstration” in Nazareth where the delegates voiced support for the Hamas-inspired Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In 2015, during the Obama administration, Perez was invited to testify before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. That same year, she was a featured speaker and co-convener of “Justice Or Else,” the 20th Anniversary commemoration of Nation Of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan‘s 1995 Million Man March.
In April 2015, Perez and Islamic activist Linda Sarsour were among the leaders of a nine-day, 250-mile “March2Justice” from New York City to Washington, the purpose of which was to demand an end to racial profiling and police militarization.
In November 2016, Perez expressed her admiration for a former Black Panther who had been convicted of attempting to murder six police officers in the 1981 Brink’s armored car robbery in New York. “Love learning from and sharing space with Baba Sekou Odinga,” wrote Perez.
In the fall of 2016 as well, Perez posted a photo online that showed her holding hands with Louis Farrakhan. Next to the photo, Perez wrote: “There are many times when I sit with elders or inspirational individuals where I think, ‘I just wish I could package this and share this moment with others.’” On other occasions, Perez has promoted video footage of Farrakhan “dropping knowledge” and “speaking truth to power,” as Perez describes it.
Perez co-chaired the so-called “Women’s March” of January 21, 2017 – a massive anti-Donald Trump, anti-conservative protest that was held in Washington, D.C. and numerous other cities the day after Trump’s inauguration as president. Perez’s fellow co-chairs were Linda Sarsour, Black Lives Matter leader Tamika Mallory, and fashion designer Bob Bland (a woman originally Mari Lynn Foulger), who developed the “Nasty Women” T-shirts that became associated with the March.
According to a December 2018 report in Tablet magazine, Perez and Mallory, during the first meeting of Women’s March leaders in November 2016, “asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people — and even, according to a close secondhand source, claimed that Jews were proven to have been leaders of the American slave trade.” “The thoroughly debunked notion that Jewish people organized and profited from American chattel slavery,” Tablet noted, “was popularized by the Nation of Islam’s book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, which casts Jews as a historic oppressor of black people.”
In February 2018 in Washington, Perez spoke at a pro-illegal-alien rally titled “A Day of Action Against Trump’s White Supremacy.” Asserting that “we are all American citizens” regardless of immigration status, Perez said: “Some of us didn’t cross the border – the border crossed us.” Lamenting further that “xenophobia impacts immigrants from every continent,” she emphasized that “no human being is illegal.” Among the organizations that helped sponsor the rally were Good Jobs Nation, iAmerica Action, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, the Center for Popular Democracy, United We Dream, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, CASA, Make the Road New York, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Credo Mobile.
In addition to the activities and associations cited above, Perez also founded the youth leadership organization R.E.A.L. (Reforming Education, Advocating for Leadership) and co-founded The Girls Task Force (dedicated, in Perez’s words, to “improving gender-specific services to … all girls in our communities”). Moreover, Perez supported a number of “Youth Summits” where young people could convene to discuss topics such as drug and alcohol reform, gangs, violence, and alternatives to prison.
Perez has been a featured speaker at a number of prestigious universities, including Harvard and Columbia. In 2016 she received the Justice, Peace, and Freedom Award at the annual AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Awards ceremony. In 2017 she was named one of Fortune magazine’s “Top 50 World Leaders,” and one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People.”
Further Reading: “Carmen Perez” (Keywiki.org, InfluenceWatch.org, MsCarmenPerez.org, GatheringForJustice.org); “When Progressives Embrace Hate” (NY Times, 8-1-2017); “Report: Women’s March Leaders Spread Anti-Semitic Trope During Inaugural Meeting” (National Review, 12-11-2018); “Women’s March Co-Founder Perez at DACA Rally: ‘We Are All American Citizens; Some of Us Didn’t Cross the Border, It Crossed Us’ (by Penny Starr, 2-7-2018); “Is the Women’s March Melting Down?” (Tabletmag.com, 12-10-2018).