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Thinking in systems, with Maria Poblet


Maria Poblet has spent eighteen years organizing in the Bay Area with community group Causa Justa Just Cause, and the political moment we’re in now, she says, is different than anything she’s ever seen. The threats are bigger, but the opportunities for talking about deep change, systemic change, are greater than they have ever been. The question, she notes, is what do we do with this moment? We talk about building organizations that express the whole of one’s political commitment, and much more.

I think there is a danger when you have been in community organizing in grassroots communities that have been marginalized for a long time to say to everybody else, “Well, where have you been all this time?” That is a completely understandable emotional response, but politically…politically, it is a huge opportunity to say, “These are problems that you never even knew were problems. We have been fighting to resolve these problems for twenty years, thirty years, forty years. Come along. Let’s tell you what we have learned so far. You tell us what you have to contribute.” It is a different posture of leadership which our movements need to take on at this point. It is a time of polarization. Neither of the established parties are really going to offer anything to everyday people. It is a time for social movements to lead.
A lot of people and organizations who sort of believe that things were generally working turned around in this moment and said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t seem like things are working and you guys have been saying this this whole time. So, what should I do?” It is a very interesting moment. Part of what we did in response was to, with a lot of other organizations, help start Bay Resistance which is—I think now we are fifty organizations building a network of individuals who aren’t part of our base. They aren’t service workers in SEIU. They aren’t Black and Latino families fighting displacement at Causa Justa. They aren’t Asians fighting pollution in Richmond that are in the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. They are people that haven’t joined organizations before and they want to take action now.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Striking against fear, with Alejandra Valles


As we count down to May 1st and communities plan for a general strike, immigrant workers and their allies are also reaching out and making connections across state and even national borders. The Caravan Against Fear/Caravana contral el miedo, organized by a coalition of labor and community organizations in the U.S. and Mexico, has been crisscrossing the Southwest, joining actions in each city and town it visits. Alejandra Valles of the Service Employees International Union–United Service Workers West is one of the organizers of that caravan, and she spoke with me about the trip, the work of fighting fear, and why May Day might even be bigger than the Women’s March.

I think it is incredibly important for all of the labor movement to be involved in this fight. We have seen a fight around issues of class and wages and benefits for workers, but the issues of racial justice of BlackLivesMatter or immigration justice of environmental justice are really at the forefront of our members’ lives every single day. Before they are a worker, they are an immigrant. Before they are a worker, they are a black human being. Before they are a worker, they are a mom and dad and friend and a sister and a daughter. We just decided that we needed to take this on. The caravan itself is incredibly diverse. It is built of people, of African Americans who have been criminalized for decades and know what it is like to be discriminated against and killed and disproportionately impacted because of the color of their skin, but it is also built of a lot of immigrant women who also know what it is like to be marginalized and to be discriminated against and exploited because of their immigration status and because they don’t speak English in this country.

We really felt strongly that we need to resist at every level. Our employers need to resist when ICE comes knocking at their doors. Our community needs to resist and rise up the way we have in other moments, like 2006. Our congressmen and assemblywomen and men have to resist, as well. We said, “We have to break through this paralysis of fear that Trump is using to try to keep us from doing anything and to try to keep us scared of our own shadows and living in this underground economy.” But, at the same time, we have also seen him targeting people of color, starting to publish lists, and really criminalizing us in a lot of different ways. That is what we are out here doing. We are telling all the community, we are telling young kids, “There is nothing wrong with us. We are hardworking people. We help make this economy work and we are going to stand up for our rights” and hoping that the rest of the country and the world will follow.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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A new definition of safety, with Rosi Carrasco


As movements continue to come together in the wake of Trump’s election, one important intersection between communities has been the issue of policing. Can a city be a “sanctuary” if it allows discriminatory and violent policing in poor communities and communities of color day in and day out? Rosi Carrasco has been an immigrants rights organizer in Chicago for years and is now part of a new coalition coming together to broaden the definition of “sanctuary,” as well as to build toward May 1’s general strike.

We are working together in different areas. One is of course the city policies of Chicago. We have this city ordinance that this ordinance has four exceptions or carve-outs, the police could call ICE if people have a criminal warrant or is in the gang database, In those cases, police could call ICE. This is something that we want to make sure that if the City of Chicago is calling itself a Welcoming City or sanctuary city, we need to make sure that there is no encounter with the police. The other thing is that when we talk about the safety of communities, we know that we no longer can believe just in the police because not only Latino or poor communities or undocumented communities have been criminalized, but also Black community, poor people in Black communities. So we are working together trying to redefine the concept of safety and, of course, to change the Welcoming City ordinance.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Beyond “good immigrants,” with Aly Wane


The use of the “good immigrant vs. bad immigrant” narrative has led us to this point; we need to do better, says Aly Wane, an undocumented organizer with the Syracuse Peace Council, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and the Undocumented and Black Network. Trump’s obsessive focus on “criminal immigrants” belies the fact that almost any immigrant can be painted as a criminal, and ICE and border patrol have been loosed on everyone.

Democrats have kind of been terrible on this issue for a long time. As an undocumented organizer, I have always felt that there are the interests of the Republican Party, there are the interests of the Democratic Party, and then there are the interests of the undocumented community. There has been attention within the movement for years around migrants’ rights, with some folks collaborating a lot more with the Democratic Party, as far as the many compromises in terms of legislation. Those of us who have been at the grassroots for a long time have actually been the Cassandras, saying, “This is very worrying if you allow for the criminalization of some of our folks. If we feed the narrative of ‘the good immigrant vs the criminal alien’ eventually, someone is going to rise to power who is going to criminalize us all.”

The reality is that in order to get “compromises” going, the Democratic Party has really ramped up levels of enforcement for many, many years. I will give you one specific example. Chuck Schumer right now is painting himself as this champion of immigrants and saying “How could this possibly happen?” Well, Chuck Schumer, as part of the Gang of Eight, voted for a border wall that would be so militarized that John McCain actually said that it would put the Berlin Wall to shame. That was the Senate compromise. That was the “liberal” version of immigration reform.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. Previous interviews here.

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Days Without Immigrants, with German Sanchez, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, and Wilson Hernandez


Across the country last week, immigrants went on strike to demonstrate what the country would be like if Donald Trump actually followed through on his promised deportations. The “Day Without an Immigrant” actions kicked off in Wisconsin on Monday, February 13, where Voces De La Frontera and partner organizations held a Day Without Latinos, Immigrants, and Refugees to protest Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke’s plans to collaborate with the Trump administration to deport people. I spoke with German Sanchez, one of the workers who went on strike that day, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces De La Frontera, and Wilson Hernandez, who days later, in Danbury, Connecticut, was part of another Day Without an Immigrant.

German Sanchez: Let’s say in my lunch break I make emails or text message, when I’m done my day I make a video. A lot of people don’t know how the capital in Madison works, a lot of people don’t know how the law works, even some American people don’t know. The point is I educate myself, I I talk to some lawyers, I talk to some person about Assembly Bill 450, what does it mean, SB533. All those things that I’m learning about it I send out, of course, in Spanish for my community, so they understand the levels a law moves on in the capital, what our options to do against those bills as immigrants are. This is the hard part, to educate people and understand those bills. I do videos maybe twice a day to talk about that and of course I text message back, I answer emails, a lot of questions, a lot of concerns. Of course a lot of people are concerned about the consequences if they don’t go to work.

But with those anti-immigrant bills moving, it’s easy. You can miss one day of work, but if those bills move you can lose everything.

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Beating the Muslim Ban, with Bhairavi Desai

On January 28, as protesters rushed to airports around the country seeking to defend refugees and migrants against Trump’s travel ban, taxi drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance took the protest a step further and refused to pick up fares at JFK Airport. The taxi drivers’ strike caught the imagination of the public and even spurred a massive campaign to #DeleteUber after the ride-hailing app lowered its fares in an apparent attempt to break the strike. (Uber has since apologized, repeatedly.) But the taxi workers have more to teach us than just this one action.

It was amazing to see the outpouring of support. I think people were really touched that here was a workforce on the front lines of these hateful policies and also the economic margins of what we have seen is a growing sector of the economy which is piecemealing and turning a fulltime profession into part-time gigs. People out there know that taxi drivers are really hard working and that people really struggle day to day to make ends meet. The idea that they would put their incomes on the line and it would be a workforce that is so vulnerable, particularly in these times, to surveillance and deportations and further policing, that they would be the ones to stand up. It seemed to really touch people and we were so moved by their reaction. I think it was a beautiful start to solidarity with our movement.

Certainly, there are many reasons to be critical of Uber. Uber is a pretty horrible company. It is true we have been fighting for a long time to bring attention to Uber’s economic practices and the race to the bottom that it has created. But, however people were meant to come and take a closer look at us, we are ready to accept and, hopefully, from this point forward, folks continue with the struggle.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. Previous interviews here.

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Breaking the deportation machine, with Maria Castro

Last week, February 8, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos went to her yearly check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Phoenix, Arizona, something she has done every year since 2008, when she was arrested in a raid by notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio and convicted of using a fake Social Security number to work (and pay Social Security taxes that she would never be able to collect). This time, instead of being sent home to her family, she was loaded into a van and deported to Mexico, despite a group of her friends and family and supporters placing their bodies in the way of the van. Her 14-year-old daughter had to pack her things for her; she, along with her brother and father, would be staying behind. Maria Castro was one of the people putting her body on the line to try to prevent Garcia de Rayos’s deportation, and she talks here about what will be necessary to prevent more families like Garcia de Rayos’s from being split up.

It is important to be grounded in community first and foremost. I think it is very easy to identify an action. Like one we did a couple of years ago, we jumped in front of a bus and made national news, but what is important is identifying the needs of our community. In this moment, our communities are being kidnapped out of their homes, out of workplaces, off the street, and we need to do whatever is necessary to protect them and make sure that we are being safe and bold and brave and in some spaces, depending on the conditions, in some of the more liberal states, you may be able to do more and you should do more. That is what is required of us. In some places, it may look like sitting in front of a bus. In other places, it may look like locking down some facility. In other places, it might look like vigils and creating sanctuary spaces. It all depends on the setting, but what is vital and necessary is that you do something.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. Previous interviews here.