Judy Somberg’s work with the Sister Cities Project in El Salvador helped locals return to their villages after the military takeover in 1987 and freed eleven people who had been “disappeared.” Committed to social justice from an early age, Somberg worked with anti-war and civil rights groups as well as the women’s movement. Her experiences getting arrested at demonstrations led her to a career in law. In 1986, Somberg helped found the Cambridge-El Salvador Sister City Project, which has helped develop schools, youth programs, and women’s business cooperatives. In 1987, after eleven villagers in the sister city of San Jose Las Flores were “disappeared,” Somberg led a delegation to raise international awareness and free the villagers. She continues her work in El Salvador on issues like election monitoring. She also lives and works as a lawyer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she was instrumental in implementing a living wage campaign. She is a member of the NLG International Committee and chair of the Task Force on the Americas.
Somberg traces her activism back to junior high when she worked at a CORE (Committee on Racial Equality) freedom school in Newark. In high school, Judy organized against the war in Vietnam. Her commitment to the antiwar movement was so strong that she dropped out during her first year at MIT to work with SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). Somberg reflects on her involvement in the women’s and Somerville Tenant’s movement in the 1970s. These demonstrations convinced her to pursue law school, where she joined the National Lawyers Guild. Following a human rights conference in El Salvador, Somberg recounts the creation of the Cambridge Sister City Project, whose goal was to give international support to civilians who wished to return to villages that the military had taken over. These efforts continued in the US, where Judy would do presentations on the conditions in El Salvador, lobby politicians, and raise money for the villages. Somberg explains that the project’s present directions involve working for school development in San Jose Las Flores, supporting feminist causes, and developing youth programs.