Remembering Bay Area activist Leda Dederich
Leda Dederich, a fierce mother, partner, friend, community organizer and digital strategist, passed away on October 11, 2021, nearly five years after being diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Leda drew on her core optimism and joy to embrace each day as fully as possible, and navigated her illness with the wisdom, integrity and love that characterized her entire life: Fearlessly exploring and interrogating the latest medical knowledge, convening a remarkable community of friends and family to provide support, and living each day with deep awareness and compassion for her partner Andy Gaines and their children Jaren and Raina.
Leda's strong heart, brilliant mind and intense commitment to social change had a profound effect on those who knew her, and on the world. Born April 6, 1971, Leda grew up in the controversial commune, Synanon. She spoke of the blessings and challenges of her unconventional childhood with compassion and clarity as she forged a loving and independent adult life. By 17, she'd left home to enroll at Foothill Junior College, before transferring to the University of California at Berkeley, where she completed an honors degree in Comparative Literature. While still at Cal, she answered her first inner call to scout out other worlds as a French-speaking contributor to The Berkeley Guides and Lonely Planet travel guides. She would later choose ScoutSeven as the name for her social change consulting practice, taking her open-minded curiosity and translating gifts into a wide range of organizations who sought her help.
A passionate advocate for racial and social justice, Leda was a lifelong activist in the streets and online. She was a street medic at anti-war and anti-globalization protests, and brought her skills and leadership to building the U.S. anti-war movement. In 2003, as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq, she dedicated herself to working full time with Direct Action to Stop the War. It was an all-volunteer grassroots mobilization that organized tens of thousands of people to take nonviolent direct action against U.S. militarism through the historic shut-down of San Francisco's financial district and ongoing actions against corporate war profiteers. Leda played a key leadership role on the mobilization's media team, including securing office space and other critical infrastructure, and helping amplify the anti-war movement across U.S. and global media.
Leda was also one of the first people to recognize the Internet's potential as a tool for organizing and campaigning. As the Online Director for the Independent Media Institute, she led IMI's online initiatives, including the design, development and operations of the award-winning AlterNet.org. She was the online campaign manager for Arianna Huffington's gubernatorial campaign in California; the founder and director of dotOrganize, which provided early and important guidance on online organizing; and a senior advisor to the American Association for Justice.
Through her social change consulting practice, ScoutSeven, Leda advised on or led a wide range of racial, social and environmental justice initiatives. She was much more than a vendor to the organizations she worked with: She was a partner and a beacon of clarity in the messiness of justice work. When Green For All started its national nonprofit at the intersection of environmental, economic, and racial justice, Leda was essential to the leadership team, from helping to envision what the organization could be, to the nuts and bolts of developing a comprehensive communications and technology/advocacy platform. She developed the first strategic technology plan and online voter guides for the League of Young Voters; scaled the communications infrastructure for the Story of Stuff Project; and spent the better part of a year working with Agenda in Israel and the occupied territories to provide strategic technology trainings to Israeli and Palestinian social change organizations.
Leda was fully alive in her mind, heart and body. She studied self-defense, which led her to practice Aikido. She loved to dance and was very active at contact improvisation jams, especially at 848 Community Space where she was part of a vibrant community of dancers and activists. She enjoyed countless Rhythm and Motion classes, even during treatment. This year, at her 50th birthday, she instigated a dance party with everyone joining her in a line dance.
Dance was how Leda met her partner Andy Gaines in 2007: They met through their shared dance community and the connection was instantaneous. Their profoundly loving relationship was grounded in their shared social and political values, community commitments and love of dance. When they welcomed their children Jaren (born 2010) and Raina (born 2013), they formed a joyful and intimate family unit that flourished on gentle communication, time in nature, creative expression and community connection. Leda was a fierce and devoted mother who made a practice of parenting with empathy and presence, honoring her children's voices and advocating for their needs. She embraced the opportunity to homeschool her children, both before and during the pandemic, and was an inventive and enthusiastic teacher to her own children and the other children who joined in their homeschooling pod.
Leda confronted her cancer diagnosis with her characteristic ability to hold contradictions. She revisited her evolving prognosis with regret but without bitterness, and was committed to getting the maximum number of days, months, and years with her kids and with the world. She vigilantly maintained and voiced her awareness of the gift of life as she focused on building a loving home and a storehouse of shared memories for her children. She used her talents as an activist and writer to draw attention to conflicting guidance on mammography, so that other women would not miss the opportunity to get early, life-saving screening. She drew strength and support from a circle of friends and family who joined her in prayer, in celebration and in day-to-day care, and she shared the insights gleaned from her own journey with great clarity and generosity.
Leda is survived by her husband Andy; their children Jaren and Raina; her mother Jady Dederich Montgomery; her father, Steven Schiff, and his wife, Bonni; and the other circles of made family and friendship she fostered and cherished.
To honor Leda's memory and to continue her work for the causes and organizations she championed, family and friends have created the Leda Dederich Fund for Social Justice. If you are interested in learning more, or in being a contributor, please send your name, email, and text contact info to LedaDederichSocialJustice@gmail.com.