Activist Means

published in Fashion Revolution Fanzine #001: Money, Fashion, Power
part of The Price of Our Clothes



In this poem, ACTIVIST means Kalpona Akter, not

militant, tree hugger, synonyms on


ACTIVIST means Kalpona, Bangladesh schoolgirl,

family breadwinner, age twelve.



awake, on her feet in a tiny, narrow clothing factory

twenty-three days straight, cutting cloth

into trouser belt loops, showering in the shared bathroom,

drinking tap water laced with toxins, tamarind cheeks burning

from supervisors’ slaps. Kalpona, afraid to say: No.

No to six dollars a month, four hundred fifty hours of work.

No to the one building exit barred by stacks of pants—

locked. No to colleagues kicked, necks pressed hard

by supervisors. No to private overtime shifts under managers

thrusting like needles into female employees’ fabric. No voice

until  “strike” from the mouths of her co-workers pushed

Kalpona to the front line, to defeat’s shadow, to the flint

of a union class, spark for her first luminous NO

and YES to talk between supervisors and colleagues.

Her voice so bright she was fired and blacklisted from the industry.


ACTIVIST means Kalpona, VOICE, who flies from Bangladesh

to the New Jersey office tower of Children’s Place—

international retail brand of onesies, kids’ jeans,

boys’ shirts—to bring the C.E.O a message:

please give more than one hundred forty dollars

to families of garment workers, who, while sewing

Children’s Place clothing in Bangladesh’s

Rana Plaza office tower, were maimed or killed

when the building collapsed. Know

that Children’s Place’s demand for the cheapest

clothes on the quickest deadlines

created Rana Plaza.


ACTIVIST does not mean Garment Industry Destroyer,

name given Kalpona by Bangladesh garment factory owners—

many of whom sit in Bangladesh’s Parliament.

The Ministry of Commerce tells the New York Times

the garment industry fixed itself after Rana Plaza.

Kalpona says: WE STILL LAG BEHIND,

points to unions controlled by factory owners,

worker’s unions forbidden to speak to workers.


In this poem, ACTIVIST means Kalpona Akter, but

I AM A WOMAN, HUMAN, is what Kalpona says.

Her bicycle leans against the wall

by her office desk. Her wide smile embraces me.