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AMP: Grassroots²

 

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Jeronimo Saldana with Mijente

What do you do? In my day job, I work on criminal justice reform, galvanizing LatinX and helping to connecting dots to change bad criminal justice laws. As a Mijente member, I work on building power to build Black and Brown power so we can dismantle structures of oppression and to create a system of governance that’s based on our people.

What is your why? I started from a place of anger but eventually moved to a place of love and knowledge. I grew up with self hate and not being proud of being Mexican–that’s where the anger came from. When I worked in restaurants, I had the firsthand experience of what it feels like to be undocumented because people assumed I was undocumented. But I had the privilege of citizenship so I could walk out while many didn’t have a choice. I think that was a turning point in my consciousness. I now embrace being LatinX and it’s not about hate but anymore but rather coming from a place of knowing that we are all connected, our freedoms are connected. Over the last year, I’ve doubled down on my work with Mijente because we are about creating loving communities that are pro-Black, pro-Muslim, pro-queer….pro everyone. Moving all of us from a place of hate for our selves and others to a place where we are connected and can show up for one another is my why.

What are you most proud of? A couple of jobs ago, I was working with moms whose children had died of overdose trying to pass overdose legislation in Pennsylvania. These women taught me so much by how they were able to turn their grief into power. They also turned everything I was taught about organizing on it’s head. All the jargon we use as organizers meant nothing to them. They were not activists by any means when they started out; most didn’t know the names of their elected officials. Government and politics was something that happened elsewhere. It was as straightforward as “my kid died and I ‘m gonna tell someone about it.” And here I was talking about methods of escalation or whatever and they’re like hell no. It was a lesson in meeting people where they are. These moms were so badass without ever realizing that they are organizing. Also, they were white Republican moms and they had never heard of a Chicano so they didn’t know what to make of me. I made it my personal responsibility to not just focus on this one piece of legislation but to  push them to embrace a broader more inclusive version of justice. It wasn’t easy but I knew that the greater purpose of this opportunity for me was to learn how to go beyond a safe piece of legislation or campaign to something bigger that was about our shared struggles and freedom.

Micky Alexander of Southerners On New Ground

What do you do? I do communications for Southerners on New Ground (SONG). At SONG, we have this mission of reaching liberation in our time. We try to offer space for discussion and political analysis with that goal in mind. Liberation is now.

What is your why? I went to college and could not afford it so I moved back home. I was working a bunch of jobs that I didn’t like and so I got most of my community from Tumblr. It’s also around this time I realized I was queer. I followed Richmond specific accounts and that’s when I found some info on SONG.  I started meeting a bunch of people. I was trying to find this sense of community that wasn’t just on the internet. I had been going to support groups for transgender people and there were a lot of white folks so I stopped going because they didn’t speak to me. Some organizations have this way of talking about queerness like it’s an overarching thing–like you have no other identity and like nothing else is important. There are so many layers that get ignored. When I brought up race, people acted like I was fucking things up. SONG gave me a very different sense of who my people are. They genuinely wanted my opinion and really listened to me. It was great to not have queerness  be this random outlier and having race be central too. SONG saved my life.

I didn’t really have any queer community that understood me and I was just in a generally bad place. I constantly had to explain myself. It was nice to be around different people and gender and sexuality not be a thing that needed to be explained. SONG helped me realize that I could create spaces that I wanted to see in the world. I planned a bunch of events around trans day of remembrance, centering non-binary people of color. All of a sudden I was meeting a lot of people and getting to speak on panels. I would find things to go to then would crowd source to see who else wanted to come with me. It felt really nice to have this local group of people who I knew. I want other people to know community like this and to feel like they can create what they need.

 

Khadim Niang with African Communities Together

What do you do? I work with immigrants, CBOs, elected officials, and different coalitions to improve the state of African immigrants, primarily, but really all immigrants. I also advocate on behalf of refugees. We bring the voice of African immigrants into the fight for immigrant rights.

What is your why? This issue is close to me. I am a child of African immigrants so I know what it feels like to be forgotten. Navigating issues that we face here as immigrants is important that is why I work to be the bridge between policy and people. Bringing the Black voice into the  immigrant rights debate is important because one brush policy doesn’t work for everyone.

How has your work been different over the past year? Every day you don’t know what to expect. This administration’s policies make it so we are always on guard because we know anything can happen. I think immigrant groups are working more in coalition, we mobilize together, and we really look out for another. The positive is that this moment is bringing us together because we know that we are all target, this is happening to all of us. But that’s not to say it hasn’t been an absolute nightmare–protecting our members from the harsh and racist policies under Trump is an ongoing struggle.