Farewell Betita, great builder of bridges

Last week our movements lost a giant. Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez, who passed on June 29th 2021 at age 95, was a powerful internationalist activist and scholar, a Chicana feminist who was involved in most major social justice movements of the past century. Alongside her incredible lifetime of work, it’s impossible to overstate how much Betita shaped Catalyst Project directly as well as the movements we came out of and continue to work within.

Black and white photo of Elizabeth 'Betita' Martinez looking at the camera, smiling warmly and broadly.
Photo by Margaret Randall

Respect is a goal, but you can’t get there without recognizing what’s in the way and understanding why it’s so difficult. We have to go beyond tolerance. The answer to “divide and conquer” is “unite and overcome.”

– Betita, 1996

Catalyst Project came out of the global justice movement; its founders were among those who Betita spoke to in her 1999 article “Where Was the Color in Seattle?” This influential article provided critical analysis and loving challenges that became the foundation of Catalyst. Betita always pushed for building unity in action, as she dedicated her life to building alliances between communities of color. 

Her work at the Institute for MultiRacial Justice, which she co-founded with Phil Hutchings (current Catalyst advisory board member), provided invaluable political education to young activists of color, and she often partnered with Sharon Martinas and the Challenging White Supremacy workshops which served to incubate Catalyst in its early years. 

As part of Catalyst’s advisory board from 2003-2012, Betita mentored us collectively. She was an important part of helping us develop the Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program, and spoke to participants on several occasions.

Betita’s journalism and scholarship have been invaluable to us and others around the world. Over the years, we’ve engaged thousands of people in studying her work including “Where was the color in Seattle,” as well as her foundational pieces “What is white supremacy” and the primer on neoliberalism she co-authored with Arnoldo Garcia.  

From writing a manifesto at 16 that included “My mission is to destroy hatred and prejudice” to remaining active into her 80s, Betita modeled lifelong commitment to peoples’ global movements for liberation. She showed us how to be a scholar-organizer; how to mentor with love and rigor, never ceasing to grow your own politics and understanding; and how to dedicate your life to struggle while also cultivating joy and hilarity.

Finally, we can’t fully honor Betita without remembering her incredible fashion sense and red lipstick. Betita taught us to “find sweetness in your struggle.” 

We love you forever. Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez, presente!

See additional tributes to Betita here:
#BetitaTaughtUs from Organizing Upgrade
SNCC Digital Gateway