The Fight Is Where Love Is: Saying Goodbye to Lisa Leggio

Lisa and her son walk along Lake Michigan in the summer of 2014.

When something’s weighing on me, words are my steam valve, my shelter, my hiding place, and sometimes, my weapons — whatever’s called for, there’s a good chance I can bend and twist some words around and feel that I’ve at least expressed myself. Words have failed me lately, mostly because I want to speak to how wonderful my friend Lisa “Lala” Leggio, AKA Brooklyn, really was, and I keep coming up short. On the heels of Lisa being taken from us, I want to write a praisesong that will make the world stop and weep as much as her loved ones have. I want everyone capable of giving a damn to know that there was someone here on Earth, someone working and toiling among us, who had risked her life, her freedom and more, so that the world as we know it might survive — and so that those who were suffering might know some comfort and kindness in their darkest hours. There was someone who inspired others to take risks, even as she suffered and sacrificed. Someone who sang so beautifully beside a fire that you couldn’t help but fall in love. Someone who loved her friends so completely that no matter how much she struggled or stumbled, you never doubted that she would do anything for you.

That was our Lisa.

After Hurricane Sandy, Lisa logged over 600 volunteer hours providing aid and assistance to those impacted by the disaster. She had a passion for mutual aid and would be the first to volunteer to get in a car and go to the site of a disaster to provide whatever community assistance could be rendered. She modeled compassion more concretely than most of us ever will, and she taught us lessons in doing so.

Some people have heard of Lisa because she was one of three activists who locked themselves to construction equipment in an effort to halt construction of oil pipeline 6B in Michigan. Her arrest and subsequent prosecution made her one of the MICAT 3 — three women, of different generations, who all faced prison time for their efforts to stop the violence that Enbridge was unleashing on the land and water they cherished. Lisa, Barb, and Vicci barely knew each other before they locked themselves to that construction equipment. They sat quietly, Lisa would later tell me, flashing each other nervous smiles of encouragement, as hoods were placed over their heads to protect their faces from the sparks that flew as police sawed through their lockboxes. Lisa said she could still feel the heat of the sparks hitting her face, but that she refused to feel sorry for herself, because she knew the fear she was experiencing was thrust upon so many others who had no choice. She had made a choice, she told me, knowing full well that the consequences would be terrifying and painful, because she believed it had to be done. It was that simple. In the days and months that followed, Lisa, Barb, and Vicci, who were dubbed the “MICAT 3”, would forge a profound bond of friendship and solidarity that would inspire activists around the country.

While Lisa was incarcerated for the line 6B blockade, she told me that one of her only regrets was not being present to welcome her first grandchild, who her daughter gave birth to while Lisa was locked away. A couple of years later, I would see Lisa’s love of her family on display again at a MICATS action camp where organizers like Lisa had ensured there would be a “kids’ camp,” allowing parents to participate in the event. Seeing Lisa playing with her young son in that space reminded me of who she was — an organizer, a mother, a warrior who kept her children close and taught them about the world.

But now she’s gone.  

Mortality often strikes like a thief in the night, snatching any opportunity we might have had to say what we would have said or do what we would have done. We’re left with words stuck in our throats and a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. We’re left to imagine what one last conversation, one last protest, one last night around a campfire would have been like. We’re left to wonder, what would she have said if she had been given the chance to say goodbye?

While I speak with no authority on the subject, I feel certain that if Lisa could have a moment on the mic at her own memorial — and she would if she could, because she always had something to say — she would tell us to live loudly and fiercely, to love each other like there’s no tomorrow, because there might not be, and to know that’s just part of the dance, of being here on Earth, struggling to feel something worth feeling and do something worth doing. She would say that we should live life to the hilt and shake this death-making society until every prison wall collapses and every pipeline is ripped from the ground. She would say go big and never stop fighting. Because the fight is where love is, and it’s where we find ourselves — and each other.

Author’s note: If you would like to help support Lisa’s family during this difficult time, you can do that here