Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (born September 10, 1939) grew up in rural Oklahoma, daughter of a landless farmer and half-Indian mother. Her paternal grandfather[1], a white settler, farmer, and veterinarian, had been a labor activist and Socialist Party USA activist in Oklahoma with the Industrial Workers of the World in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The stories of her grandfather inspired her to lifelong social justice activism.

Married at eighteen, she moved to San Francisco, California, where she has lived most of the years since, although the marriage ended.


Dunbar-Ortiz graduated, majoring in History, from San Francisco State College, but was selected for History graduate school at University of California at Berkeley, transferring to University of California, Los Angeles to complete her doctorate in History.

Early activism


From 1967 to 1972, Dunbar-Ortiz was a full time activist living in various parts of the United States, traveling to Europe, Mexico, and Cuba.

This time of her life and the aftermath, 1960-1975, is the story told in Outlaw Woman: Memoir of the War Years.

Dunbar-Ortiz was also a dedicated anti-war activist and organizer throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During the war years she was a fiery, indefatigable public speaker on issues of patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism, and racism. She worked in Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade and formed associations with other revolutionaries across the spectrum of radical and underground politics, including the militant Students for a Democratic Society, its terrorist offshoot the Weather Underground, the Revolutionary Union, and the South African Communist Party-controlled African National Congress.[2]

Indian rights

Dunbar-Ortiz took a position teaching in a newly established Native American Studies program at California State University at Hayward, near San Francisco, and helped develop the Department of Ethnic Studies, as well as Women's Studies. In 1974, she became active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the International Indian Treaty Council, beginning a lifelong commitment to international human rights.

Her first published book, The Great Sioux Nation: An Oral History of the Sioux Nation and its Struggle for Sovereignty, was published in 1977 and was presented as the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indians of the Americas, held at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. That book was followed by two others in the following years: Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico, 1680-1980 and Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination.


In 1981, Dunbar-Ortiz was asked to visit Sandinista Nicaragua to appraise the land tenure situation of the Miskitu Indians in the northeastern region of the country. Her two trips there that year coincided with[3], the beginning of United States government's sponsorship of a proxy war to overthrow the Sandinistas, with the northeastern region on the border with Honduras becoming a war zone and the basis for extensive propaganda carried out by the Reagan administration against the Sandinistas. In over a hundred trips to Nicaragua and Honduras from 1981 to 1989, she monitored what was called the Contra War. Her book, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War was published in 2005.

Line of March

In the late 1970s/1980s Dunbar-Ortiz was active[4]in the Oakland based Maoist organization Line of March.

In the early 1970s, universities purged both radical untenured faculty and radical student leaders, particularly under Governor Ronald Reagan in California (1966-1974). Others began behaving accordingly. Movements also went inward, trying to figure out how to restart the mass movement, taking stock, also doing some good organizing. The group I was with, Line of March, and other groups in the San Francisco area got radicals into key local positions, which has had a permanent effect on local politics.

Guatemala book

Susanne Jonas the author of "The Battle for Guatemala: Rebels, Death Squads, and U.S. Power" (Westview Press, 1991) thanks Elizabeth Martinez...Jon Frappier, "who first introduced me to Guatemala in 1967..." Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Richard Adams, Jorge Castafieda and Barbara Epstein ".... for their help with the book".


In the mid 1990s Dunbar-Ortiz was[5]a contributing editor to Oakland based Institute for Social and Economic Studies- sponsor of CrossRoads magazine, which sought to promote dialogue and building new alliances among progressives and leftists... and to bring diverse Marxist and socialist traditions to bear while exploring new strategies and directions for the progressive political movements.

Key CrossRoads supporters

Among the more illustrious supporters of CrossRoads were Gil Green, Harry Hay, Elizabeth Martinez, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, David McReynolds, Muhammed Ahmad [Max Stanford] and Peter Camejo.[6]

CoC National Conference endorser

In 1992 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz endorsed the Committees of Correspondence national conference Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s held at Berkeley California July 17-19.[7]

Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s

The Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s was the Committees of Correspondence's first national conference held in Berkeley, California July 17-19, 1992.[8]

Workshops that were held at the conference on Saturday, July 18 included:[9]

Quincentennial Five hundred years of resistance. The quincentennial: racist distortions and myths


Dunbar-Ortiz, her friend Betita Martinez and others connected to Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, have worked closely with young Bay Area activists involved in STORM, SOUL and POWER.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz says;

"I talk to the young people at SOUL all the time...I keep bringing up the problem. The reliance on nonprofit funding is frightening to me because of what I've seen in the past. It's hard not to become dependent, to be undermined by the foundations. It's like an invasion of the body snatchers.
"In the '60s, we intimidated liberal funders into giving us blood money, so we wouldn't come and kill them,"

According to Dunbar-Ortiz[10], Abby Rockefeller used to write checks without asking what it was for -- sometimes it was for weapons.

Opposing the "War on Terror"

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 supporters[11]of STORM and the Bay Area Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism established Ad Hoc Committee 'On Poitical Strategy' to fight against Bush's war against terrorism.

The committee included Betita Martinez, Cindy Wiesner, Max Elbaum, Edget Betru, Harmony Goldberg, Clarissa Rojas, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, John Trinkl, Hany Khalil and Bob Wing.

The group issued an October 5, 2001 statement to other activists;

As we immersed ourselves in the fightback to Bush's war against terrorism, we felt the need to get our political bearings as leftists. So we organized a discussion attended by 27 diverse left activists in the San Francisco Bay Area on Sept. 30.
September 11, and the Bush administration's reaction to it, is a defining historical moment, ushering in a new and dangerous period in international politics. Washington's agenda is to entrench the national security state and a new level of international dominance on the basis of a permanent war on terrorism--bringing the "new world order" to fruition.
The defining political axis of this new period is Washington's international war on terrorism--and the fight against it...The political and ideological balance of forces, demands, and outcomes of all struggles will be affected by this central issue, to one degree or another.
Given this, the fight for peace should be the central demand for the people's movements...However, peace is not a centrist, liberal demand, but in fact is central to an anti-imperialist agenda. Its main content is that of staying the hand of imperialist war and fighting U.S. militarism in all its forms.

War Times

In January 2002, a group of San Francisco leftists, mainly involved with STORM or Committees of Correspondence, founded a national anti-Iraq War newspaper[12] War Times.

Endorsers of the project included Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Not In Our Name

In August 2004 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz a professor endorsed an anti “Bush Team” Protest at the Republican National Convention in New York, organized by Not In Our Name, an organization closely associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party[13].

Sacramento Marxist School

On Apr 18 2002 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz lectured at the Sacramento Marxist School on International Human Rights.[14]

On Jan 19 2006 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz lectured at the Sacramento Marxist School on Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War.

On Dec 20 2007 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz lectured at the Sacramento Marxist School on Roots of Resistance: History of Land Tenure in New Mexico.

Beyond Chicanismo

Colorado based Beyond Chicanismo ran a Conscious Journey speakers series, mainly featuring veterans of Colorado's Chicano/a movement. But it has also included figures from the Puerto Rican, Black and Chicano/a freedom movements, and Anglo radicals from outside the state including Max Elbaum and Betita Martinez.

Beyond Chicanismo launched a Women of Principle Speaker Series in February 2003. Participants have included Georgia Congress-woman Cynthia McKinney, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and locally based Dr. Mary Lou Salazar, daughter of the former head of Colorado's Communist Party, Robert Trujillo[15].

Center for Political Education

In 2002 Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of "Outlaw Woman, A Memoir of the War Years" and member of the Annual Marxist Study Group: Organization Building, was the speaker at a book reading entitled: "The War Years from a Woman’s Perspective." The reading was held at the San Francisco based Center for Political Education, an organization closely associated with the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.[16]

In 2003 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of "Outlaw Woman, A Memoir of the War Years", Signe Waller, author of "Love and Revolution: A political memoir/people’s history of the Greensboro Massacre" and Max Elbaum, author of "Revolution in the Air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che" gave talks entitled: "Love and Revolution: Three activists/authors discuss lessons from the 1960s-70s." The classes were held at the San Francisco based Center for Political Education, an organization closely associated with the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.[16]

In 2006 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Eric Quezada gave talks entitled: "From Managua to Baghdad", on the U.S. intervention in Central America in the 80’s, the resistance to it and some parallels with today’s events in both Latin America and the U.S. War in Iraq. These talks were held at the San Francisco based Center for Political Education, an organization closely associated with the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.[16]

Left Forum

Alyson Cole, Walter Benn Michaels, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Jerry Watts were speakers on the The Trouble With Diversity: Challenging Multiculturalism panel at Left Forum 2007. The forum was held March 9 - 11, 2007 at Cooper Union College, New York City.[17]

Iraq War "teach-in"

1968 The Great Rehearsal was a " Symposium and Week of Events on the Long ‘68 " held at the University of California, Berkeley September 17-25, 2008.

The revolutionary upheaval of 1968 was seen as a 'rehearsal' for the looming revolutionary events of the coming era.

The "National Teach-In on the Iraq War" event was run by a Working Group, consisting of;

"Support Bill Ayers"

In October 2008, several thousand college professors, students and academic staff signed a statement Support Bill Ayers in solidarity with former Weather Underground Organization terrorist Bill Ayers.

In the run up to the U.S. presidential elections, Ayers had come under considerable media scrutiny, sparked by his relationship to presidential candidate Barack Obama.

We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack...
We, the undersigned, stand on the side of education as an enterprise devoted to human inquiry, enlightenment, and liberation. We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of the California State University signed the statement.[19]