About Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes is a Menominee author, organizer, movement educator and photographer. She is also the host of Truthout 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, BGD and the BGD anthology The Solidarity Struggle: How People of Color Succeed and Fail At Showing Up For Each Other In the Fight For Freedom. Kelly’s work is also featured in Truthout’s anthology on movements against state violence, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?

Kelly marching with bullhorn

Kelly has organized protests and helped to chart the strategy of campaigns and social movements 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 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 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 included “Revolutionary Remnants: The Art of Protest from Green Movement to Occupy” at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an opening talk 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 CTU action

Kelly was the first direct action trainer 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.

Kelly’s work helped serve as inspiration for the Free Street Theatre’s 2017 production, Checkmate where two blockades that she co-organized, and the victory that one of those blockades helped generate, were dramatized from her perspective.

Kelly was honored for her organizing and education work in 2014 with the Women to Celebrate award and in 2018 with the Chicago Freedom School’s Champions of Justice Award. Kelly’s photography is featured in the “Freedom and Resistance” exhibit of the DuSable Museum of African American History.


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