Interview with Karen Thompson & Leslie Gallagher

In August of 2015 the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a lesbian institution that existed for 40 years, opened & closed its gates for the last time. There was no plan for the land upon which the festival took place and no plan to continue the festival in a different form. A group of women who had attended and worked at the festival got together to explore the possibility of buying the land from Lisa Vogel. The We Want the Land Coalition (WWTLC) was born in 2016 and the land was purchased shortly after its formation.

In early August of 2017, WWTLC organized a gathering of women on the Land to discuss the logistics of renting out the space to interested parties starting next summer. Thistle Pettersen had the honor of attending the gathering and of capturing this interview with two of WWTLC’s board members.

Karen Thompson is a first generation American, activist, black dyke and attorney who has spent much of her legal career representing individuals who are fighting for justice. As a staff attorney at the Innocence Project, her work centers around post-conviction litigation in seven states across the United States, including Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Karen has also fought for lesbians and gay men seeking asylum from unspeakable brutality and regularly lectures about wrongful convictions and mass incarceration at colleges, universities and high schools across the country. She previously served as a board member of FIERCE!: an LGBTQ youth-of-color organization dedicated to building leadership and consciousness and fighting police brutality in New York City. Karen’s fighting streak was honed by her two decades as a worker at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where, among other things, she was one of four facilitators of the Allies In Understanding workshop series which addressed the strongly held opinions around womyn’s space by embracing, and not shutting down or running from difficult conversations and strongly held differing opinions.

Leslie holds a B.A. in Literature, Science and the Arts from University of Iowa, and she was the first person in her family to earn a 4-year degree. An advocate for girls and women her entire adult life, Leslie served as a board member for the Emma Goldman Clinic, and worked at the Women’s Resource and Action Center and in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the University of Iowa. Her pursuit of feminist and anti-racist consciousness led her to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 2000, which she attended for 15 years. Her devotion to the Festival was also evident in her cultivation of multitudes of community connections over the years. In July of 2016, she literally woke up one day and said, “we need to save the Land.” From there, her vision, immense organizational capacity and deep connections within the community catalyzed the formation of WWTLC.

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