Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Soul of Our City....or, The Calling

Mommy, in the center with her sister on the left
and best friend on the right. 
My maternal grandmother, known as Mommy, was born on October 3, 1904, eight years before New Mexico gained statehood and 15 years before women were given the right to vote. The eldest of her siblings, Mommy was a quiet force to be reckoned with.  She raised four daughters by herself, and after she lost her own mother, became a surrogate mother and grandmother to her siblings and nieces and nephews.  My grandma used to listen to soap operas like Guiding Light and When A Girl Marries on the radio and knew how to slaughter animals, plaster her adobe home by hand and knew every remedio for every illness. 

My grandma was also precinct chair for Santa Fe county in the late 1940's, when women were not commonly working in elections. She would travel to the state capital and was very active in politics. She was incredibly smart and witty and, had she been born in a different era, would have been an attorney or held office.  

My mom is the youngest of her sisters and also grew up on the ranch.  She was raised as much by rock-n-roll and American Bandstand as she was by my grandma, and she liked the "big city" of Albuquerque much more than she did the rancho. My mom's high school was very small (there were only 6 people in her senior class) but she was on student council, the basketball team, the school paper and also participated in Girls State, where she got to spend a week at the University of New Mexico and participate in a mock government. Later, she was on the picket line, fighting for her union and won rights for workers that are still in place today.  

I often write about my dad's love of politics and attribute my love of the game to him, but I overlook the influence my grandma and mom have had on me and the work I've chosen to do. 

I became an activist when I was just 14 years old, becoming involved with a youth organization, El Puente Raza Youth Leadership Institute, which changed my life.  From there, I went into community education and eventually found my way to organizing.  A friend once asked "so, you get paid to protest?" If it were only that simple!  Community organizing is less about protesting and more about one-on-one conversations, which lead to community conversations, which lead to creating space for communities to come together, which leads to a desire and a belief that yes, change is possible and yes, "we are the ones we've been waiting for." 

Change, inevitably, means taking on the status quo and working to create a new way of thinking, working and living. 

This year, on what would have been Mommy's 113th birthday, Albuquerque voters will decide on a new mayor, city council and whether or not to allow every worker in our city the opportunity to earn paid sick leave.

My mom, and her bobby socks, circa 1956 
Currently, there are 107,000 workers in Albuquerque who do not have access to earned sick leave. That staggering number is comprised mostly of people of color, women, young people and Immigrants. As with low wages, no healthcare and limited access to food, working while sick seems inhumane, but thousands of people are forced to do so because they can't afford to take a day to recuperate.  Worse, they send their sick kids to school or are unable to care for a loved one because their jobs don't offer earned sick leave.

Workers of all types deserve dignity and basic benefits like sick leave.  Opponents argue that earned sick leave is a job killer, and create a dystopian future that somehow only exists when the issue of workers rights comes up.  At some point, we have to realize that treating workers with dignity and allowing them to care for themselves and their families is good for business and good for all of us.

Community organizing is a calling, and in many ways, it's a privilege.  I've watched our coalition, organizers, community members, small business owners and allies pull together and run an amazing campaign. This movement thrives even in the face of lawsuits that tried to get the earned paid sick leave question kicked off the ballot; a last minute, illegal advisory question from the city council (that was later removed) and gross misconceptions spread by business coalitions who don't seem to care about small businesses until there is a movement to actually help workers and business owners.  

At times, the frustration hangs on me like a heavy stone, but then I see the volunteers and canvassers and the thousands of phone calls and doors they've knocked on, and I remember - this is bigger than my fear.  This campaign is bigger than earned sick days.  This campaign is a fight for the soul of our city - my city, our city - and I joined this fight because I was called to it. I joined this fight because I believe in it, and I believe in this city.  

To be sure, families who are faced with the choice between taking care of a sick loved one and a full paycheck make it work every day, but how much easier would it be if they didn't have to make that choice?  Both my parents worked when I was a kid, and we were lucky - my grandma would stay with us if we were sick.  So many families don't have that luxury, which should be a basic human right. 

I may have inherited my love of politics from my pop, but I inherited the calling to be active from the women who raised me; I honor them with the work I do.  I ask you to vote FOR the proposed ordinance for earned sick days for our families, our city and our souls. 

Happy birthday, Mommy. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Welcome To Our Perfect, Righteous Movement

Every time the new president does something despicable (every hour or so), I am filled with rage and I lash out - specifically, at those who voted for him. Every time I think about the fact that he “won” the election, I am sickened and horrified and baffled all at the same time. With every stroke of his pen, I am filled with righteous indignation. I rage on social media.  I have imaginary conversations with his voters in my head:

“See?  He was a terrible choice.  He is going to destroy this country and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.”

With every terrible announcement, I smugly wonder if his supporters are horrified and regretting their decision. Every tweet of his brings me a level of satisfaction as I want his supporters to gnash their teeth, tear out their hair and scream in horror. “WHAT HAVE WE DONE?” they’ll cry, and we, the progressives, will stand with open arms, ready to welcome them to our perfect, righteous movement. We will save the country -- nay, the world.   

At least, that’s how it plays out in my head.

I often wonder what things would be like had Hillary won. My relationship with Hillary - and the Democratic party in general - is complicated. I was a huge supporter of President Obama in 2008 and still felt relieved when he won in 2012, although my excitement over him waned. His message of hope rang hollow and I was pretty sure things weren’t going so well in his administration, but I was still able to lull myself into a numb denial. Healthcare was a constant battle but I wasn’t so afraid, because the president would save the day. Keystone XL pipeline? Nah, he’ll stop it. Unemployment is down! Reproductive health care is safe! Washington D.C. is far away and I have organizing to do locally, so I’ll just ignore what’s happening over there.

Unfortunately, there were things I could no longer ignore. 2.5 million deportations on President Obama’s watch are hard to ignore. Central American refugees being held in detention centers and immigration raids that separated families were not the “hope” and “change” sold during his campaign. Silencing and attempting to shame undocumented Trans* activist Jennicet Gutierrez was not the behavior of a president who so eloquently spoke of unity and compassion. Making Undocumented families wait for the executive order to expand DACA and DAPA until after the mid-term elections in 2014 was not the promise of standing with our people, nor was the “let it play out” strategy with the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) until after the election in 2016.

Sign from Rally Against the Muslim Ban, 01/29/17. Photo by the author
I can’t really be mad that President Obama* didn’t live up to my progressive standards - he was exactly who he always was - a moderate Democrat who was just left of center. I built him up to be much more progressive than he was (although, in my defense, he talked a really good game). President Obama speaks beautifully and I heard what I wanted to hear - I found a progressive message in everything he said. When my disappointment reached a boiling point of anger, I stopped listening to him speak because it would break my heart to hear such brilliance knowing full well that his policies were hurting so many people.

Still, I lived in the comfort of knowing that even if things were bad, I could ignore them, and I had the privilege of not being affected by many of his policies. Sadly, I would have done the same if Hillary had won. I would have lulled myself back into the same coma I’ve been in for the last 8 years. I would have let the Democratic party off the hook because hey, at least we won.

I voted for Hillary because I was afraid of what her opponent would do, and now my greatest fears are being realized everyday. If Hillary had won, I’m not so sure anything would have gotten worse - but would they be better? It's safe to say state violence would still be running rampant, deportations would continue without any hope of comprehensive immigration reform, and the banks and corporations would still have vast influence in every branch of government. Very little would be different, except my righteous rage would probably be a little dulled. I would go along with the status quo and organize on a local level, ignoring D.C. and Congress, as if ignoring what happens “over there” doesn’t affect us over here. The wheeling and dealing would quietly continue, and I could safely ignore it because that was a luxury I could afford. I'm reminded of an episode of 30 Rock where Liz Lemon refuses to believe her fair trade jeans are really made by Halliburton. Not only does the truth dash her liberal dreams, it means she can't wear her really great jeans anymore.

The new president (and the media circus that he creates) are making sure that each of us is acutely aware of the power and influence he has to mess with our lives and the lives of those we love. I find myself traumatized daily by Steve Bannon's policies, which is surprising, because I’m positive that he isn’t the first white supremacist to advise the president. In a country built on white supremacy and patriarchy, it’s pretty safe to say that while the current president is brash and can’t shut his fat mouth, he is in an office that was built on a foundation of slavery, genocide and colonization, and he isn't the first person to occupy it. It was unfair to expect President Obama or Bernie Sanders to magically undo that system; it’s naive to think Hillary or the sitting president would do anything beyond maintaining the power of the Oval.  

I do not credit this new president with giving our country a wake up call. There have been many voices who have warned us that unless we push for radical change, both parties would continue to be beholden to big banks and corporations, and our communities would continue to break under the weight of their greed. No longer can we afford to lull ourselves into a coma of complacency, and no longer can I rage against supporters of the new president while I was not willing to hold my party accountable.

Okay, maybe a little rage.  They still voted for the guy, and that is inexcusable.

*My disappointment in President Obama doesn’t negate the reverence I have for his historic presidency, as well as the respect I have for his family. His place in history is important, as are the places of the incredible Black women named Michelle, Malia and Sasha. The diversity within his cabinet and staff was unprecedented. He nominated a Latina for Supreme Court. His presidency was necessary, and it also exposed the United States’ big secret: we are still a hot, racist mess.

Monday, January 23, 2017

So, you marched. Now what?

I attended my first march in 1995, when California passed Proposition 187, a law that blatantly targeted Immigrant communities to keep them from accessing education, healthcare and employment.  The march, which was a solidarity march in Albuquerque, was held on a Sunday morning and I never felt more empowered or excited. Making signs with my friends, the buzz at the gathering beforehand, and the march itself made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself.

Twenty-two years and countless marches, rallies, candlelight vigils and protests later, I can't believe I still have to protest this shit*.

Saturday, the day after the Presidential Inauguration, marked the largest protest in U.S. history. Turnout exceeded expectations nationwide, with the official count at 2.9 million (though many estimate that is a low number). Photos jammed my social media newsfeed and reports poured in from London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and even Antarctica. I was amazed by the passion which people felt and the way in which so many people came together to show the new administration that WE WILL NOT BE MOVED.  People who are seasoned marchers joined with novices because, like me, they felt the need to be part of something so large and so much bigger than themselves. Albuquerque did a great job - official reports say 6,000 attendees but it seemed more like 10,000. I was shocked.

Women's March On Washington-Albuquerque.  Photo by the author 

I also had a little bit of a sinking feeling about the whole event, and it mirrored the feeling I had about voting for Hillary Clinton.  What felt like a monumental event for some left me feeling somewhat empty. The calls for solidarity and sisterhood gave me pause: sisterhood on whose terms? Who sets the agenda and who is expected to carry it forward?

I felt apprehensive during the celebrations of "the first woman to be nominated by a major party." The tone of her candidacy contributed to my overall feelings of being left out of mainstream feminism. When Clinton lost, the immediate analysis validated my apprehension. Pundits wondered if Clinton's campaign focused "too much on identity politics" and not enough on "mainstream America." Regardless of the analysis, the underlying sentiment was always the same: "if she hadn't wasted so much time on you people, we wouldn't be in this mess."

People of Color, particularly Women of Color (WOC), are accustomed to being an afterthought.  For so long, we have been used as props to make the photo look better. A brown face to meet a diversity quota. A voice to "keep things real." As WOC have stepped into leadership roles, we've grown in our analysis of power and community, and being a prop is no longer acceptable. We do not exist to brown up your photo.

Is that real enough for you?

As was the case post election, women of color were blamed for being divisive within the Women's March on Washington. While voicing concerns of inclusivity and intersectionality, the immediate pushback was questioning why WOC were being divisive. Different event, same ol' song. There have been some wonderful pieces about why WOC weren't willing to just show up and be "unified." Many of the points made resonated with me. Until we are having very painful and real conversations and finding ourselves stronger because of them, there is no need to speak at all.  Unless we are willing to follow the lead of WOC (and Queer and Trans* people, and those with a variety of abilities and Immigration status and age and class and educational levels and all the other intersections), there is no need to call for unity.

To be sure, the same thing has happened within our own civil rights movements. Back in the early 2000's, while at a meeting to tackle some very big problems within Chicano/a Studies at UNM, some of us brought up the issue of sexism within the program. Almost on cue, one of the men in the group said "yeah, yeah, let's get to secondary issues later.  Let's worry about the important stuff first," the important stuff being the renaming of the program, finding a director and whether or not it would be reclassified as a department.  This problem of sexism and gender-based violence being relegated to a "secondary issue" has plagued the Chicanx movement since the 1970's.

If we want to create change, we have to be willing to change ourselves. We have to be willing to address our own privileges and not only create space but get the hell out of the way.  We have to be willing to have painful conversations about race, class, gender identity, and those conversations have to happen within our own families and communities.  We have to be willing to walk away from situations, communities and yes, even marches that wish to exclude us or any other group because it doesn't fit in their version of "unity."

There are many lessons to be learned from the Women's Marches and Rallies, and these are the ones at the top of my list:
  1. As a WOC, how am I contributing to creating cis-gendered, heteronormative, white supremacist spaces? How do I change that? Am I standing up as an ally? Are others standing with me?
  2. How do we rally the same amount of people, energy and resources to take a stand for DACA, Immigrant Communities, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Early Childhood Education, paid sick leave, Fight for $15, Trans* Liberation, closing privatized prisons, fighting the Muslim registry, saving Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the environment and all the other on-going fights that need every one of us? 
  3. How do we harness the energy and keep this fight going?  It's going to be a long two years at best, and a long four years at worst.  
While it is overwhelming, we can harness Saturday's energy for the long run.  For seasoned and new activists, there must be space beyond the marches. We must be willing to put in the work and show up for each other.  Those who are pushed furthest to the margins are ready to lead, and will do so - the question is, are you ready to follow?

*I did not make up this line.  It's widely used on signs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. This is a link to one of the sources I found.