Kelly Hayes is a Menominee author, organizer, movement educator and photographer. She is also the host of Truthout‘s podcast Movement Memos. Kelly is a co-founder of the direct action collective Lifted Voices and the Chicago Light Brigade. Kelly has led countless workshops in recent years, training over 400 people in protest tactics in the first year of the Trump administration alone.
Kelly’s written work can be found in Truthout, Teen Vogue, Bustle, The Huffington Post, Yes! Magazine, Pacific Standard, NBC Think, her blog Transformative Spaces, The Appeal and numerous anthologies. Her movement photography is featured in the “Freedom and Resistance” exhibit of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Kelly’s Twitter account, @MsKellyMHayes, currently has over 50,000 followers.
Kelly has co-organized major protests and campaigns during some of the most heated political moments of our times, including struggles for Native sovereignty, the fight to save the Affordable Care Act, the Mental Health Movement, the campaign to stop school closures under former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the successful effort to win reparations for survivors of police torture in the city of Chicago. Kelly has also co-organized and led trainings prior to some of the most significant protests in Chicago in recent history and has helped resistors around the country, from Boston College to the Pacific Northwest, hone their skills in the runup to direct actions.
Recently, Kelly spoke alongside Dean Spade at Northwestern University’s annual Women’s Center Symposium. In 2020, Kelly facilitated the direct action section of the Janine Soleil Youth Abolitionist Institute and organized a series of how-to trainings for mutual aid volunteers in Chicago. In 2019, Kelly delivered the keynote address at “Ohi:Yo’ to Oṣun: Bridging Black & Native Shores” and gave a talk on prison abolition at Princeton’s “Tracing the Violence” conference. Kelly’s other recent speaking engagements include “Organizing and Action in an Era of Collapse” at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an opening lecture at “Do Not Resist? 100 Years of Police Violence in Chicago” — a citywide art exhibition curated by the Free The People Artists Collective that also featured Kelly’s photography. Kelly regularly leads direct action workshops at the Chicago Freedom School and the Free Street Theater. Kelly has previously spoken at a wide spectrum of events including Color of Violence 4, the Illinois Art Therapy Association Conference, the Women’s March in Chicago, the GlobeMed Summit and the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Asexual College Conference. Kelly has also given guest lectures at Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago.
From direct action 101 trainings to sessions on advanced tactics, Kelly has led direct action workshops for young people, social justice groups and other intergenerational audiences. Kelly also leads workshops at elementary and high schools in Chicago that focus on Indigenous struggles, campaigns to free people from prison, and transformative justice.
Kelly was one of the first direct action trainers to join youth organizers at Standing Rock in the spring of 2016. She returned twice more, training dozens of people in various protest tactics over the course of those visits. Kelly’s work on Indigenous protest and solidarity was offered by Native organizers as recommended reading to allies headed to Standing Rock in the fall of 2016.
Kelly has also co-organized and led a number of successful grassroots funding efforts, including #FreedomDay (2019), which raised sufficient funds to free 22 migrants from ICE detention.
Header art by @radicalroadmaps.