Monday, December 30, 2013

Organizing from the Ground-Up

The Unmentioned Organizing Moments of 2013

I recently came across this article titled "The 13 Best Organizing Moments of 2013” compiled by the New Organizing Institute which was shared by friends of mine in (for lack of better wording) “progressive” circles citing it as a good roundup of this year’s best organizing moments.  2013 was certainly a year to remember for organizing, do not get me wrong.  The moments highlighted in this article were definitely worth remembering and two of them were related to the push for Immigration Reform (United We Dream’s “Operation Butterfly” and the ongoing “Fast For Families”) and rightly so--the struggle for fair and comprehensive immigration reform is ongoing as the bill currently sits in the House.  
Member of DreamActivist Ohio welcoming 2 of the #Dream30 back to Columbus

What I found revealing, however, was what this article chose not to include.  In the same year, two waves of fearless undocumented immigrants--first the “Dream 9” followed by the “Dream 30”-- crossed the border in an effort to reunite families and publicize the gravity of record high deportations under the Obama Administration.  Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants and allies have held numerous acts of civil disobedience, literally stopping ICE trucks by blocking access roads and putting their own lives on the line.  

Members of Undocumented Illinois blocking an ICE truck in Chicago

It seems odd that we celebrate a years worth of organizing while ignoring these acts of bravery.  It feels like many are still stuck in this paradigm that we can do certain things to highlight an unjust system (such as fasting) but when it comes to directly defying the system, suddenly there seems to be a lack of coverage. History has showed us that it take these brave acts of defiance to make change, it's simply unfortunate that the mainstream media and seemingly "progressive" non-profit organizations choose to ignore them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Columbus City Council Passes Resolution Supporting "Securing our National Borders"

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF COLUMBUS: That this Council urges the United States Congress to adopt and enact comprehensive immigration reform that would help secure our international borders and provide a path to citizenship for the nearly eleven million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today.

On June 24, 2013, the Columbus City Council unanimously passed the above resolution. It is my understanding that the resolution came from the Mayor’s office. I also believe that it comes with somewhat good intentions. But that’s where I stop in terms of fully supporting the resolution. I support immigration reform and have been working on this for many years. But immigration reform is only part of our fight for justice.

I did not fully support this resolution because of the following inclusion: The Columbus Council urges Congress to support immigration reform that “would help secure our international borders…”

As City council was considering this resolution, the United States Senate was voting on the Republican introduced Hoeven-Corker amendment to invoke cloture that would add 20,000 border agents with significant increases in funding for agents, technologies and fencing. It would add 20,00 border agents at the potential cost of about $30 billion and would require 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. It also requires Congress to appropriate money for radar surveillance on the border similar to what is being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, undocumented immigrants could not gain green cards until a 10-year period has passed and the border requirements have been met. The amendment passed 67-27.

The inclusion of this amendment in the Senate immigration bill has caused much conversation on how national immigrant/migrant rights groups feel about the Gang of Eight Senate bill. Many are thinking that the proposed immigration reform legislation has gone too far with border security. In fact, the nation’s largest online Latino advocacy organization came out against the present bill only minutes after Columbus Council’s vote.

At least once a week, I receive calls from the immigrant community specifically about ICE picking up or detaining someone from the Columbus community. Families are separated every day in Columbus. All in the name of border enforcement and securing the border. As I shared this with the council and looked directly in their eyes, I felt the council members either did not know about this or refused to acknowledge it. They had no questions for me.

I hope Columbus City Council understands that passing such a resolution is more than patting themselves on the back or complying with some partisan mandate that came from above or even just looking good as a great city. It’s about what is in the body of their resolution;

- Recognizing the economic, social and cultural contributions immigrants bring to their communities and, in particular, to Columbus, Ohio;

- The responsibility of municipal leaders to protect the well-being and safety of all people residing in their cities;

- The duty of local leaders to respect the rights of, and provide equal services to, all individuals, regardless of national origin or immigration status;

- That family unity as a component of a strong, healthy community and economy, and re-unification of families has been a key part of federal immigration policy for almost fifty years.

I remain steadfast in my words as I accepted a very similar resolution on that same podium offered by the leadership of then council member Chareta Tavares on June 21, 2010: "I think when we get to the core of who we are, people understand it's about human rights. Who can argue with human rights?" Do you agree 2013 Columbus Council members?

It's never easy but someone has to stand up to the system and tell the full story. I am honored and humbled to have done so in this case. #HastaLaVictoriaSiempre

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

Reaching a Senator - Old Story Meets New Story Through the Power of Prayer

Everyone wants to know where Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman stands on immigration reform. We all want to meet with him. The perfect storm happened when Senator Portman accepted an invitation to speak at the Ohio LULAC Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 11, 2013.

As in most cases, it started with a powerful and personal invitation. The Senator was invited by a few close friends in the Latino community: LULAC members who have a personal relationship with him and call him friend. After all, friends invite friends and friends accept invitations from friends. But in the fight for justice for immigrants, inviting and accepting an invitation is just a start.

When others in the community heard that the much sought after Senator was going to speak at the event, movement and pressure began. People began asking powerful questions: What is he going to speak on? Is LULAC meeting with him on supporting immigration reform? How can we be included? How can immigrants be included? Will LULAC have the will to push the Senator to take a stand on immigration reform?

As a new member of LULAC Ohio and community activist on immigrant rights, I was no exception. Communication quickly began with the LULAC State Director and others in the Cincinnati area on how to meet with him privately and ask for his stand on immigration reform, how to move him to address the issue in his remarks. There was much conversation from the Cincinnati community, Portman's hometown. Many outside of LULAC Ohio have the perception that they are an organization high on photo ops, press conferences and "showy" events and low on substantial, meaningful and sustainable change. Certainly from a national perspective, LULAC has been bold in social action taking stands of support on immigration reform and the right to marry.

The immediate response from LULAC was resistance. "He will only be there from 1:00-1:30, there is not enough time to engage Senator Portman on this issue...the fact that he is attending our conference speaks volumes for his support to LULAC and the issues facing Latinos", was the response received from the LULAC State Director. It appeared LULAC was just grateful for the Senator showing up and didn't know what he was going to speak on.

Too often, Latinos (and people of color) as a collective have an attitude of just being grateful when people of "importancia" show up. “Be respectful and don't ask for anything” we think. Ingrained in our collective psyche is the saying: "No le pides nada, ni un vaso de agua". Which basically translates to; don’t even ask for a glass of water if you're thirsty. Respectfully, elders were attempting to build self-reliance. But today and in this case, this is OLD STORY thinking in our community. We have to ask for water if we are thirsty. In fact, we are the source of water and have every right to not only ask but demand it. And such is the case with immigration reform and holding our elected officials accountable.

We need NEW STORY thinking. But the transition from old story to new story is difficult, painful and often personal.

There was talk of having an action during the Portman speech. A twitter bomb to the Senator was organized and implemented: "It's time to take a stand on immigration reform at the #OHIO LULAC conference @robportman".

LULAC Ohio became nervous and activists grew impatient. It was felt there were many ways to push the senator on the issue in a half hour: hand him a letter asking him to take a stand, have the speakers preceding him lay the groundwork for him to take a stand on immigration reform, highlight LULAC's national priority on immigration reform. This is a delicate and critical space where things can either break down or grow.

Then the idea emerged to simply ask to pray with the Senator before his speech. We wanted a prayer circle with him. The request was made and the Portman staff agreed. We were given time as the Senator would arrive through the back service entrance. This is where the transformation began, where old story and new story merged in the power of prayer, in wholeness and greatness. Too often as organizers, we forget the power of prayer or it becomes perfunctory.

The Senator and his wife arrived, exited their vehicle and walked directly to the circle where a handful of activists and immigrants gathered. He graciously shook each of our hands and we were able to individually speak to him about the immigrant story, immigration reform and ask him to support us. A reading was shared and we prayed for the Senator to support immigration reform and immigrant rights.

The Senator then went on to the room of waiting LULAC members and supporters. The LULAC State Director looked at him right in the eye and spoke of LULAC's national priority for immigration reform and the need to have him support us. The Senator listened with intention and attention. When he spoke, he shared his support for reform and included comments like: "We need immigration reform and we need it now" and talked about justice for immigrant youth (DREAMers). He continued; "For too many in my party, this begins and ends with border security. I think this misses the point and moves is from the real issue. We have to bring people out of the shadows"

In the end, we were able to reach the Senator in a "half hour". We did so respectfully but had to hold fast to our expectations for the Senator and from LULAC as an organization. Often organizations do not respond in time, but people do. Members of LULAC Ohio responded and credit goes to them as well.

But rest not, my friends. In politics and in this world, things change very quickly. We cannot be content with a successful moment and a good photo op. Today is a new day and the Senator can easily back down or qualify his remarks differently. There is much more to do. The threats do not wane and the power to undo is always on the loose. Still we cannot lose faith.

We keep praying but we keep moving with new story action to accompany our prayers.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

From Birmingham to Butler County, Racial Injustice Persists

Monday, as we honor the memory, mission and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought it appropriate to build upon the previous Ohio Action Circle entry from David, the title of which is of course a reference to MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Bernard’s letter, written from Morrow County Jail in Central Ohio, has much in common with the Birmingham letter, but one aspect stands out for me. Each letter conveys an unshakeable sense of purpose—one which is used also as a call to action for those on the outside. I experienced firsthand this call to action brought on by Bernard’s case, witnessed his friends and classmates, even dozens of strangers spring to action. Petitions were circulated, vigils were planned, and meetings with legislators were scheduled. In the end, Bernard was freed.


But not everyone who finds himself in that position is as fortunate. Bernard has said that while in jail, he befriended others awaiting deportation, offering prayers and consolation as they prepared to be sent back to their countries of birth. Left behind were wives, children, and peaceful lives which were not at all deserving of the same jumpsuits and shackles given to violent offenders.

MLK’s legacy calls each of us to reflect upon and challenge the injustices in our communities. For the immigrant rights community in Ohio, it’s no secret that the epicenter of injustice is Butler County, where Bernard was first detained before being transferred to Morrow County Jail. In Butler County, injustice takes many forms—law enforcement intimidation, dehumanizing hate speech, and abuse of power. Given the recent shift in Ohio’s elected officials, this power may be further exploited to develop legislation to target immigrants in Ohio. Those who feel the brunt of these unjust policies are people of color, the descendants of the native peoples of the Americas. Yet the struggle for immigrant rights continues both nationally and locally.

It is within this context that I share the following excerpt from the immensely powerful letter written by Martin Luther King Jr. as he sat in that narrow cell in Birmingham Jail. The letter was written as a response to his fellow (White) clergymen who thought that the fight for social justice was better waged in the courtroom than in the streets, albeit peacefully. Paradoxically, we face adversity even from our allies who, as Dr. King puts it, are “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” Let us hope that they, perhaps more than anyone, heed the call to action—direct, peaceful, deliberative action.
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"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was 'well timed' in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.'

... I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.'"

Cesar Chavez Day

"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore." -Cesar Chavez