Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Many struggles, one movement

Reportback from Feminist Organizing School 2016, by Keren & Zahara, JFREJ

by Keren Soffer Sharon & Zahara Zahav, Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (June 13, 2016)

Grassroots Internationalism is a core element of JFREJ’s Strategic Vision. This means tying domestic issues to their international causes and effects, starting with the local and linking it to the global. It requires mutual solidarity, forged over time between “front line” communities around the world who are suffering from the effects of oppressive global systems.

In May 2016, the two of us had the honor of representing JFREJ at the first ever Feminist Organizing School (FOS), hosted by Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

When JFREJ joined GGJ this past year, we became part of a powerful network of grassroots organizations working around the country to build power for workers, low-income communities, and communities of color. Attending FOS gave us an incredible opportunity to meet, learn from, and build with folks, similar to us, who are organizing around racial justice, worker rights, immigration, demilitarization, and environmental justice issues within their local communities.

It also gave us a glimpse into some incredible movement-building that’s happening through an international feminist action network called The World March of Women (WMW). The WMW connects grassroots groups around the world who are working to eliminate the root causes of poverty and violence against women, with membership in over 65 countries. Grassroots Global Justice Alliance is the national coordinating body for the U.S. Chapter of the WMW, connecting its grassroots members,many of whom are our longstanding partners (like CAAAV, FIERCE, Make the Road NY, and Community Voices Heard), to global struggles. While the WMW began as a campaign against poverty in 2000, it now organizes around four key action areas: Peace and Demilitarization, Women’s Economic Autonomy, Common Goods and Public Services, and Violence Against Women.

When we arrived in Albuquerque, we went straight to an action organized by theSouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), an organization born out of the Chicano movement of the 1970s, directed at the Governor for putting corporate interests before education and childcare for New Mexican youth. It was a beautiful entry point for us into the organizing that’s happening on the ground in one of the poorest states in the country, led by multiple generations of organizers who have been fighting for racial justice, voter rights, and food sovereignty in their community for over 35 years.

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Why we organized the It Takes Roots People’s Caravan

Grassroots Global Justice Alliance doesn’t normally organize around the electoral process. Our alliance represents a range of perspectives about how to engage in elections. While many of our members do strategic civic engagement work, others prioritize building self-governed community-led alternatives in regions where local governance is out of reach of the majority of the population. GGJ is an alliance that supports all of our members’ work through political education and convergence, prioritizing key issues that emerge as cross-cutting like climate justice, gender justice, and a just transition to a better economy.

But earlier this year as this presidential election season progressed, and the debate got more complex, and the structural violence inherent in the governance approach of both political parties was laid bare, our members across the spectrum were asking for room to discuss what was going on and the impact on their work. We organized conference calls for GGJ members with ally organizations and brought together thought leaders from organizations like Black Lives Matter Network, Mijente/Not1More, and the Stop Trump Network.

What emerged from those calls was a hunger to get out in the streets to coordinate an organized response to both the hate, racism, misogyny and xenophobia coming from the Republican party, and the militarized democracy promoted by the Democratic party. Our goals were to generate more of a public narrative that regardless of which candidates would be nominated at the conventions, we need to prepare together as a global movement for the period ahead; and to lift up the impact of the US presidential elections not only on our own communities but around the world.

In the first week of June, we decided to organize a caravan of leaders from the frontlines of crises to both major parties’ conventions, traveling from Cleveland to Philadelphia with stops in Pittsburgh and Baltimore to build with organizations in the region.

Then throughout June and early July as we watched multiple horrific events unfold from the mass shooting at the LGBTQ club in Orlando, FL to the murders of three black men at the hands of the police within a week of each other to the assassination of yet another environmental rights activist in Honduras, I had many conversations with folks about why we were prioritizing a caravan like this while so many communities in Baton Rouge, Orlando, Minneapolis were grieving.  We adjusted our plans to make room for honoring the tragedy and rage and grief so many were feeling, and integrated discussion time into our preparation for the caravan.  Ultimately we felt that these events were just making a stronger case for why we couldn’t let either political party off the hook.  It further strengthened our resolve to ensure that the themes of our caravan would center around the impacts of anti-black racism, militarism, and misogyny.

Just six weeks later, a team of 45 people came together in Cleveland to hit the road from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland OH to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia PA. We brought together communities of color and white folks confronting racism and xenophobia; women and trans people reclaiming feminisms for the grassroots; communities living on the frontlines of polluting industries to build a new economy; veterans and organized communities around the globe to end U.S. military intervention.

We spent nine days on the road together from July 19-27. The days were long, often starting with an early bus ride and filled with multiple back-to-back actions in the streets, interviews with the media, meetings with community organizations, and even voter registration. Despite the heat and the fast pace, our caravan of leaders maintained a lively spirit of camaraderie and forward looking inspiration.

As I reflect back on all we did in those nine days, and I remember how our members were so easily articulating the connections across issues and international borders, it gives me hope for what we’re able to do as a movement.

Sha queer bio photo

by Sha Grogan-Brown, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Black Lives Matter: The #ItTakesRoots #PeoplesCaravan from #RNC2DNC visits Freddie Gray’s community, by Caravanista Alberto Saldamando

Black Lives Matter: The #ItTakesRoots #PeoplesCaravan from #RNC2DNC visits Freddie Gray’s community.

By Alberto Saldamando
Photography by Ayse Gursoz

On our way to Philadelphia we stopped for an afternoon at Tubman House, a community center in a burnt out, lowest of the low income part of Baltimore.

Alberto blog Photo 1

Before its conversion, it was just another burnt out house among many. Now it is a very special place, with a community garden in the yard.

We were greeted by Mr. Eddie Conway, released from prison four years ago, imprisoned since 1970 because he was a Black Panther. But his ideas hadn’t changed in his 40+ years in prison. When he got out he went back to his community, his Black Panther concern for his community intact. And after a period of reflection he began to gather people around him who decided that it was better to love than hate.

This Baltimore community was the home of Freddie Gray, a young man taken by the police who was killed in the police van on his way to jail. Although several policemen were charged with his murder, none were convicted. And I heard on the news today that even though there is no explanation forthcoming as to his broken neck in the back of the police van, there would be no further attempts by the State’s Attorney to pursue any further prosecution.

Alberto Blog Photo 2

Alberto Blog Photo 3

Eddie Conway, former Political Prisoner, greets Laura Zúniga Cáceres, daughter of Honduran Indigenous land defender Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated for protesting the Agua Zarca hydro-electric dam. Hillary Clinton’s involvement in backing the coup in Honduras, along with US Military “Aid” has led to Indigenous rights violations.

Mr. Conway, along with others in the community had somehow heard of Berta Cáceres and greeted Laura and Rosalina very warmly, in a very special way. We walked around the neighborhood with a much younger man who had also been recently released from prison, joining up community efforts immediately after his release. As we walked around he introduced us to neighborhood people who took great pride in telling us about their community and how they promoted it. There was a lot of love and respect, a great deal of pride and hope, and a lot of hugs and smiles.

Alberto Blog Photo 4

A youth from the Baltimore Algebra Project spoke to us. He said the math wasn’t the major problem. It was the social problems of going to school and having a system, a language and culture alien to theirs imposed upon them. Their youth-run and youth-led project included orientations to the school system and support once they were there.

Alberto Blog Photo 5

Akiwe shares his community’s landmarks with the #ItTakesRoots #PeoplesCaravan

We went to a basketball court that had been built at night by residents. The City of Baltimore had opened the space, but after several years they not only never finished it, but had tried to keep the community from putting up the poles, rims and nets. The community had to finish it at night. The City of Baltimore had told them they couldn’t have a basketball court and meant to deny it to them.

Samia, my Palestinian sister and I reflected as we walked. Mr. Conway reminded me of CONTELPRO, the J. Edgar Hoover FBI led prosecution of the Black Panthers and then with the same murder, meanness, cruelty and spite, his persecution of the American Indian Movement and the perjured and rigged conviction of Leonard Peltier, also a political prisoner with decades, generations really, of unjust imprisonment. The neighborhood, with its dilapidated burnt out buildings, and the community in extreme poverty reminded me of many Indian reservations as well as of Palestinian refugee camps in the Occupied Territories.

Alberto Blog Photo 6

Caravanista Samia Assed embraces the young man who brought the group together to share a song in front of the Freddie Gray memorial site.

 

Alberto Blog Photo 7

These are the places where the system keeps unwanted people that they wish would disappear. An alien and imposed economic and social system meant to keep people down and in the chains of hopelessness. But this community, like a growing number of other communities including Indian Reservations, are de-colonizing themselves. As the young man in the video explains, “we must love each other, protect each other – we have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Love and respect for each other, the vocation of many of the organizers on this “It Takes Roots” caravan, love and respect lived in Freddy Gray’s community, is too powerful to be stopped.

Black Lives Matter

Alberto Blog Photo 8

Alberto Saldamando, Human Rights Lawyer, with a Baltimore community member


#BlackLivesMatter
#ItTakesRoots #PeoplesCaravan #FreddieGray

 

 

People’s Caravan and the Police State, by Toby Fatzinger

People’s Caravan and the Police State

Toby Fatzinger

We are gathered in a circle getting to know each other over Mexican food in a one hundred year old Masonic center in Cleveland. It is the second day of the Republican National Convention and our multi-national group assembled by Grassroots Global Justice Alliance as part of their It Takes Roots to Change the System People’s Caravan is traveling from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The group is made up of African American, Latino, Asian, white working class, gay and trans activists as well as the family of slain Honduran environmental and human rights advocate Berta Cáceres.

The group is discussing strategy for the next day’s direct action at the RNC, addressing the heavy police presence made up of 3,500 federal and local law enforcement and an additional 2,000 out-of-state officers when one of the Honduran delegates raises her hand. Rosalina Dominguez Madrid of COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras or Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) expresses concern about the potential for any one of us to be removed at any time with or without cause by police.

My first thought is that because we have the right to peacefully assemble and express our collective voice without fear of arrest or prosecution we will be safe and Rosalina may just be conditioned by her experience with the Honduran police state. My second thought is that Rosalina’s experience might give her some insight that I lack regarding the evolution of the police state.

I am reminded of the speech given by Wisconsin Sherriff David Clarke the day prior at the RNC in which he blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for inciting anarchy and praised the acquittal of Lt. Brian Rice, the highest ranking officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The next day we meet up and assemble at the RNC where I am witness to conservative agitators spewing hate toward peaceful demonstrators. Threats of eternal damnation are hurled while a sea of American flag clad agitators hang in the periphery. Over the tops of heads loom signs reading “All Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again”.

The police presence is militarized and extremely heavy in force. Every manner of law enforcement is represented and it’s not entirely clear if their aim is to protect the non-violent protestors from the agitators or the other way around. Officers patrol on horses, bikes and on foot. Snipers are visibly surveilling the protesters from rooftops with binoculars and assault weapons. Caravans of tactical teams in out-fitted military vehicles with semi-automatic weapons patrol the surrounding neighborhoods of the convention.

As we wrap up at the Republican National Convention and head to Pittsburgh I start to concede that Rosalina, a Honduran activist and mother of ten who is just a couple years older than me, does in fact understand what the evolution of a police state looks like better than I do. When peaceful protesters who have never advocated for or endorsed rogue acts of violence publicly or privately are being blamed for a heightened response to police brutality it is worth considering where we are headed and how safe our first amendment rights truly are.

Arriving in Pittsburgh the next day we meet with one of the oldest labor unions in the United States. We are guests of the United Electrical Workers who are working to end the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that threatens to extend intellectual property laws across the world. In an impassioned plea to Union members and Democratic delegates in attendance Laura Zúniga Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres, describes the conditions that led to her mother’s death and the murders of other COPINH activists. She describes the last time she saw her mother as she prepared to board a plane. The emotion in the room becomes palpable when Laura pauses for a moment and chuckles sweetly.

Consoling the room of front line activists, electrical workers and Pittsburgh residents she says “It’s good. It’s good to live life like this. Feeling like we are part of a world. Part of a globe.” Indeed, we are part of a global society; A world in which we are dependent upon each other both as individuals and governments. The United States provided approximately 90 million dollars in aid to Honduras prior to the murder of Berta Cáceres. If the U.S. is capable of supporting a police state abroad there is no reason to believe they are not capable of supporting a police state at home.

COPINH is a social and political organization that aims to support the indigenous and popular movements of Honduras. Based in the southwest of the country, the group serves as a facilitating body for recognition of the political, social, cultural, and economic rights of Honduran indigenous communities. By generating constant debate and analysis concerning the regional and national climates, COPINH works to heighten the social and political consciousness of Hondurans as well as improve their living conditions.

The murder of Berta Cáceres and the continued targeted harassment and assassinations of grassroots leaders in Honduras has put a spotlight on the critical role of US military aid to the repressive regime in Honduras. In the four years following the military coup of 2009 that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, military, paramilitary and police forces killed over 100 social justice, Indigenous, and environmental justice activists in Honduras. 

Toby Fatzinger, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC)/FFOYA House

I represented the grassroots organization Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) on the People’s Caravan.  I am also the director of a local non-profit organization called FFOYA House that focuses on connecting artists to use their work as a voice for advocacy.  As a member of the SOKY Chapter of KFTC I serve on the Finance and Economic Justice committees.  My personal focus is on the myriad of issues related to wealth divide and I work to include the arts as part of the labor struggle.

“Shut it Down!” by Rossmery Zayas

July 23, 2016
Rossmery Zayas, Communities for a Better Environment

“Jerry, Jerry Brown, shut it all down, right now.” These are the words that echoed the streets of Los Angeles on May 14th as I took part of the global wave of actions to keep fossil fuels in the ground to push for a Just Transition to 100% renewable energy. I marched with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and with our youth component Youth for Environmental Justice (Youth EJ) where we stood as one to showcase our realities- the fossil fuel industry is hurting our health, our communities, and our climate. Currently, I am a delegate with the It Takes Roots to Change the System People’s Caravan from the RNC to the DNC, with multi-racial, frontline community leaders making a pledge of resistance against the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, hate and destructive foreign policy coming out of the conventions, and committing to bring forth grassroots solutions to the pressing issues facing our communities, no matter who is elected president.  With the Caravan, I will be joining dozens of other grassroots leaders from around the U.S. and Honduras to demand a Clean Energy Revolution in Philadelphia on July 24, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

I live in South Gate from the Southeast Los Angeles area where people are on the frontlines of communities most impacted by the fossil fuel industry.The high school I graduated from is literally on Firestone Blvd, which is the legacy of the car industry in my hometown. The sky is not blue and bright, what we see are diesel-born smog clouds.

How are we affected?

1.     Natural gas power plants: The past decade, there have been at least 2 attempts to construct fossil fuel power plants in my community that CBE and Youth EJ worked to defeat: Nueva Azalea in South Gate and the Vernon Power Plant.

2.     Southern California Goods Movement: I live next to the 710-freeway, the main artery connecting the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the rest of the Untied States.  Every day, thousands of diesel-fueled trucks deliver massive amounts of commercial goods that come from across oceans. This merchandise is distributed throughout California and beyond, and directly impacts my community.

I live 12 miles from Wilmington- the heart of oil extraction, refining, and transportation. Many people think that you need to live directly by facilities or factories or oil refineries for them to affect you, but this is not the case. Although I live an almost half-hour away from Wilmington, which is connected to Southeast Los Angeles by 710-freeway, I am impacted by pollution coming from the Harbor Area. My community and surrounding communities deal with diesel truck pollution, and one major source is 710-freeway carrying commercial goods from the ports into our neighborhoods.

Wilmington is a residential area, but it is only seen through the lens of profit- politicians care more about what is under the land than the people above it. Because of this, community members face health issues, the smell of bad odors, gas flaring, oily dust, constant noise from operations, and foundation-damaging vibrations. Wilmington is the third largest producer of oil in the state that is valuable to oil production locally, nationally, and globally. Wilmington is also ground zero for the largest number of overlapping refinery air pollution plumes in California, which is seriously impacting community health and creating numerous issues in the community.

People think of the oil, but they do not think about the issues that come with this oil. Our communities are facing the consequences of environmental racism, a human and civil rights issue. Our elected officials have left predominantly Latino and black neighborhoods more vulnerable to health and safety risks linked to oil drilling than white communities. You will not find a concentration of oil refineries or exposed oil-drilling operation in places like Beverly Hills. This is why I will be marching for a Clean Energy Revolution. The industrial revolution was a long time ago and that allowed many economies to flourish. It’s now time to have an energy efficiency revolution so that energy alternatives like solar power and electric cars will advance to phase out fossil fuels

Industry affects all of us. When I think of Wilmington, I remember why there is a need for environmental justice. Low-income communities of color are dealing with environmental injustices and want solutions, and as a member of Youth EJ, this is what we fight for. Spaces like Youth EJ in Wilmington train folks to fight and advocate for the better. Youth and community members in Wilmington recently sued the city of Los Angeles for rubber-stamping oil drill plans. The community is rising from the ground they’ve been buried under. They are becoming educated on these issues, resisting oppression, and are the sprouting seeds shaping resiliency

As people of color, undocumented folx, womyn, and working class peoples, we are the ones most impacted. We are also the ones who have the solutions. We are the ones actively coming up with solutions to the air quality issues; from encouraging stricter regulations on refineries and drilling in the area and bringing more climate investments into our communities, to building upon the resiliency of our communities to adapt to climate catastrophe. Ultimately, we are working to ban neighborhood drilling, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and to stop dirty energy infrastructure and justly transition to 100% renewable energy.

 

Rossmery Zayas, Communities for a Better Environment, Los Angeles, CA

Rossmery Zayas is an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) in Los Angeles, California. She has been volunteering with the youth division of CBE, Youth for Environmental Justice for over four years. At just nineteen years old, she advocates for the organization’s local, regional, and statewide campaigns out of both Southern California and Oakland. As an environmental justice advocate, Rossmery has worked on several campaigns to push out toxic facilities and practices that go on in her community. She is an active leader with the recent shutdown of Exide Technologies (one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of batteries), and is currently demanding that they clean up the toxic waste they left behind.  Rossmery is currently a student in Los Angeles majoring in Communication Studies.

On the need for grassroots internationalism, by Ronald Flannery

On the need for grassroots internationalism.

“Everywhere we go/people want to know/ who we are/ so we tell them…”

By: Ronald Flannery, Organizer for the Southern Maine Worker’s Center
23/07/2016

While travelling from the RNC to the DNC on the #peoplescaravan I’ve had the chance to mingle with some of the most determined and empowered activists in the country. The staff of Grassroots Global Justice have assembled a strong coalition composed of diverse groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Vermont Worker’s Center, the west coast based Communities for a Better Environment, and the Honduran resistance group COPINH. We are united under the slogan It Takes Roots to Change the System. While the activists who embody and enliven our caravan inspire me to no end, many of the most poignant conversations I’ve had have been with outsiders and onlookers. They see our bus, our T-Shirts, our signs and our actions and want to know what we mean by roots and change.

It’s meant to look like an impossible task. At a pit stop in Pittsburg, I shared a beer with a man named Josh from Jacksonville who told me about his workplace. In his world, racist ideas concerning immigrants link well with misogyny, poor bashing, Islamaphobia, and xenophobia. Josh’s greatest phobia is the fear of losing his job. At the meat-cutting factory he works in, the word union is equivalent to a curse word. While he laments recent pay cuts and the never-ending attack on his benefits, he feels powerless to do anything about it. After all, he shared, he has an obligation to provide for his wife and child, an imperative which understandably outshines all other responsibilities.

Outside our hotel, I shared a cigarette with an ex-marine whose vibrant tattoos stretched all the way up and down both arms. He warmed up to me when he learned that we were protesting the government. I asked him if he wanted me to shout anything on his behalf during our upcoming actions at the DNC. He told me that he was “tired of liberals who know nothing about guns trying to tell me what to with my rifles.” Digging a bit further, I learned that he and his family live off the land in Pennsylvania- alone and isolated in the middle of fifty acres of pine trees. The government, he said, has forbidden him from collecting rainwater, has made it difficult for him to collect solar power, controls strictly the hunting and fishing which permits him to feed his family. Little did he know that inside the hotel were the delegates from COPINH, who are fighting and dying to stop the construction of a government-backed hydroelectric dam that threatens to destroy their connection to the land and their traditional way of life. Oftentimes it’s hard to appreciate the commonalities embedded in our anger.

Grassroots Global Justice is a coalition of more than sixty organizations, each narrowly focused on the issues that affect their own communities. While our work back home varies significantly in scope and form, we come together to bear witness to the fact that all of our fights are, in fact, intimately linked. Sharing our stories has taught us that the same forces which oppress immigrants are the same forces which oppress people of color born in the United States, which oppress working class whites, which oppress indigenous groups in the global south. We are divided through hate speech, through labor market competition, and through arbitrary borders. These barriers were erected with the express goal of making the necessary seem impossible.

Earlier today, the People’s Caravan stopped in Baltimore to visit the community where Freddie Gray was murdered by the police. We visited with leaders from local groups like the Friend of a Friend Coalition, whose work includes reclaiming abandoned buildings such as the Tubman House: where young children go to receive tutoring, where teens maintain a community garden, and where formerly incarcerated adults go to receive the support required to transition back to a normal life. It is a sacred place, a site that produces hope and inspiration for everyone in the community. While all of us on the caravan were foreign to this neighborhood, we were all welcomed with great hospitality and love. With chants, hugs, and tears, we built solidarity and assured them that we would carry their struggle with us – not just to Philadelphia but back home to our own communities as well.

The lesson that was reinforced in me today is one that has been taught and retaught for millennia. That it takes roots to weather the storm of hatred and division; that it takes roots to build a just community, city, country, and world. There is no doubting that the interests of the powerful who govern our world differ greatly from the interest of common people. There is no doubting that individually we are powerless to change the systems which repress us. What we aim to show with our caravan is that there is also no doubting that together in solidarity we generate a different kind of power, a kind built on love and unity – a kind that cannot be divided. A kind of power capable of changing the system.

Ronald Flannery, Southern Maine Worker’s Center

I am a recent hire of the Southern Maine Worker’s Center   charged with outreach and organising across the state for our ongoing ‘health care is a human right’ campaign. Having recently returned to the United States from abroad, my aim is to help transform the damaging norms that have taken hold here. As life for the American working class is increasingly characterized by suffering and powerlessness, my goal is to create lines of solidarity that will shift democratic power back to common people.

It is our Duty to Take to the Streets & Go Beyond the Ballot Box, by Leticia Arce

“It is our Duty to take to the Streets & Go Beyond the Ballot Box”
By Leticia Arce

My name is Leticia and I am on the caravan as a delegate from Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a housing and immigrant rights organization that organizes Black & Brown working class communities in San Francisco and Oakland. I am on the It Takes Roots to Change the System People’s Caravan from the RNC to the DNC because it is very clear to me that regardless of whatever party wins the election this fall, our communities will continue to live in crisis as our interests are not being represented by either political party; whether it is at the national level or the local level.

I protest the Republican Party and Trump-style politics because they are dangerous and deadly. We have seen a rise in white rage and blatant white supremacy with the increased attacks on immigrants, Muslims, and the movement for black lives; these attacks can be seen on an individual level and also by the state. During Donald Trump’s acceptance speech for the presidential nomination, he directly attacked Sanctuary City policies and the BLM movement stating that when he was elected president, he would ensure “law and order” in this country. It is unclear what impact a Republican Presidency would have on the local organizing conditions, in particular for immigrant rights and the movement for black lives, but we can expect backlash and attacks from individuals due to the increase in white rage that is being fueled by the Republican rhetoric.

I protest the so-called “People’s Party” otherwise known as the Democratic Party and the Hillary-style policies that have been instituted abroad and at home because they are also deadly; from the attack of the welfare state to the support of coup d’états abroad. Although the Democratic Party is not as openly racist as the Republican Party, they have instituted policies that disproportionately impact working class, communities of color. Neoliberal policies instituted at home, such as the privatization of education, the bail out of the banks, and the continued militarization of our communities, are not meant to support our communities nor keep us safe. If anything, neoliberal economic policies instituted by the Democratic Party during the presidencies of Clinton and Obama have been detrimental to our communities.

In San Francisco, where we are being violently displaced due to waves of gentrification, we have seen the Democratic Central Coordinating Committee (DCCC) moving more to the right and failing to endorse ballot propositions that have come out from the communities directly impacted and organizing around displacement. We have seen the DCCC more aligned with tech and big developers that benefit from gentrification; it is very clear that the Democratic Party does not have our communities needs in mind at the local level nor the national level, they work for Wall Street, tech, and developers—they are not the people’s party. This can be seen with the DCCC’s failure to endorse several propositions brought forward by various community groups which include, but are not limited to, Prop F (AirBnB tax), Prop I (moratorium on luxury development in the Mission District), and Prop G (tax on profits made from speculators). These propositions were brought forward in an attempt to address the eviction crisis and they failed to pass at the ballot due to big money interests and the DCCC alignment with tech and big developers.

It is clear that the ballot box is failing our communities; not only for the failure of the Democratic Party to support policies that support working class communities, but also due to the fact that the right to vote has been attacked across the country leaving the most disenfranchised communities without a voice at the polls. Not to mention that millions are not allowed to vote due to their migration status or for their residence in colonial territories (Puerto Rico and Guam). We must go beyond the ballot box to create the systemic change that our communities desperately need; the electoral platform is only one strategy to create the reform we need. When politicians and the political machines are not willing to listen and continuously ignore the will of the people; we must do all we can to make our voices heard. Enough with respectability politics—blocking intersections and freeways, protesting through the streets, and occupations are legitimate tactics to making our demands a reality when our elected officials fail to do their job. In San Francisco, we have marched and occupied the City Hall to protest Mayor Ed Lee’s failure to address the housing crisis, actions in the offices of AirBnB and Twitter, and direct action in the streets to protest big developers and real estate speculators.

To bring it back to the caravan, I say that it is our duty to take to the streets and go beyond the ballot box when politicians are not being accountable to the people they allegedly represent. If Hillary Clinton is going to be elected president, she must be held accountable for her role in neoliberal policies instituted abroad and at home. The same policies that have led to endless war, displacement of peoples, and the pillaging of countries’ resources which also cause mass poverty, displacement, and murder as we have seen in the case in Honduras with our comrades in COPINH and Berta Cáceres. The impact of the national election results on local organizing conditions is unknown; but what I do know with great certainty is that now is the time to begin to connect our struggles from across the country in order to build a united front in order to concretely change the political system in this country. What an alternative system can look like and how we can build an alternative is yet be determined but now is the time to start having those conversations—we cannot wait any longer. There is a lot of work to be done; I go home with many lessons and questions about how we move the work forward and build power at a larger scale to be able to combat the forces that be. Until then, I hope that more spaces and opportunities will be created to have the important conversations and connections that were being made on the It Takes Roots to Change the System People’s Caravan.

Leticia Arce, Causa Justa::Just Cause, Oakland, CA

My name is Leticia Arce and I’ve been a tenant rights counselor & organizer with Causa Justa :: Just Cause since April 2013. I work specifically in our tenant rights clinic supporting folks in defending their right to a safe and habitable housing. Many folks come in our tenant rights clinic in moments of crisis and, through our Serve the People Model, we not only support them in defending their housing but also support folks in connecting their individual issue to the larger systemic problems of displacement and recruit folks into our organization to continue to build people power and a stronger movement.

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Macbeth

by Alberto Saldamando, July 23, 2016

I’m on a caravan going from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and by bus to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to raise issues of racism, hatred, and other injustices. The Caravan is organized by the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and includes the Indigenous Environmental Network, that I am representing, along with Southern Maine Workers Center, APEN, Immigration groups from LA, Mujeres Unidas y Activas from the Bay Area, Communities for a Better Environment, the Chinese Progressive Association, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Iraq Veterans Against the War and others. It is an amazing collection of committed organizers and organizations from throughout the US. They are all really good people and I’m very glad I came.

The caravan includes the Laura, the daughter of Bertha Cáceres, the assassinated leader of COPINH, and Rosalinda Dominguez Madrid, from the Lenca Indigenous Peoples of Honduras. The Caravan, in all of our actions, has been highlighting the Lenca Peoples and their struggle for respect of their rights as Indigenous Peoples, and against hydroelectric dams and other “development.” I’ve posted a great deal about this already.

I arrived in Cleveland on Tuesday, and on Wednesday we joined with MiJente, which describes itself as a “political home for multi-racial Latinx and Chicanx people.”

We had a banner at least 100 feet long painted as a wall, and some of the calls was “they can build a wall around the country but they can’t build a wall around our hearts,” “Somos un chingo y Seremos mas.” We took the banner wall around Cleveland’s Public Square chanting, following the lead of and in support of MiJente to state that we would not be intimidated by their hatred, their racism and xenophobia.

We spent the afternoon doing our own banner for an action we did Wednesday morning, using the GGJ slogan “It takes roots” to highlight the fact that the roots of our communities will allow us all to weather this storm of hatred and fear mongering. It included a pledge of resistance. It went very well, and as the day before, the press was bored with the RNC, and there were more press and police at these events than demonstrators. After our action we joined in a march called “Stand Together Against Trump.”

Later that evening there was supposed to be a rally by Stand Together but it appears that their leadership was detained, so we took the Public Square and did our own action. I was working security holding people back, but as I was getting the press to stand back there was Amy Goodman holding her microphone up to our speakers. So I just pushed everyone else back who wasn’t Amy Goodman. We repeated our action from the morning to a new and fresh audience of police and press.

Thursday we did a few hours canvassing and registering voters for the local Ohio Organizing Collaborative. I registered 3 voters, one of whom is a republican. We took the bus to Pittsburgh for a dinner with local activists where we presented our positions and perspectives. Laura and Rosalina are truly articulate and have been interviewed many times throughout the caravan. They were particularly articulate in their short presentations to the group in calling out in a very personal way the capitalism promoted by the United States and its transnationals that threatens to destroy their land, their food security and way of life.

In the evenings we watched the RNC and heard some of their rhetoric, including Donald Trump’s acceptance speech and all of its signifiers, all its “dog whistles.” This “Let’s make America Great Again, is really saying “Let’s make America white again.” “Let’s get our privilege back” with all the law and order, silent (white) majority signifiers. Donald Trump’s acceptance speech reminded me of a line from Macbeth: “It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” But for Trump it was a good speech as it still appealed to his hate and fear-mongering constituency but in a more “reasonable” tone. The dog whistles, the high pitched call that only his dogs can hear, promised to protect white people and white people only. No mention of Black lives; he promised more coal and oil production and use, more carbon emissions, more bullying of other countries, and the mother of all trade wars. And the mother of all empty signifiers, whatever the problem, “I can fix it”.

They system is in crisis. In the face of perpetual war, real economic crisis, ISIS, terrorists running amuck, and a climate crisis that threatens the very survival of humanity, Trump declares that whatever the perceived problem is, he can “fix it” with more of the same. Entropy is growing, the system is losing heat. Trump is a symptom of this entropy, the system breaking down. Where the heat will go is the question. And it could go his way, ending up with a white supremacy and militarism, even more severe and frequent climate catastrophes – Trump fascism.

Peace be with all my relatives. Let’s all work that the tale told by this idiot not happen. Vote your conscience but join and support our communities, particularly our communities in resistance and struggle. They are our liberation from all this BS, conflict and confusion.

By the way, GGJ needs funding to pay for this caravan. So if you’re so inclined, please donate here: https://www.crowdrise.com/it-takes-roots-to-change-the-system

Alberto Saldamando, Indigenous Environmental Network

I work with the Indigenous Environmental Network primarily as a technical inside person at the annual Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties. I also work on International Indigenous Rights and Human Rights in the climate change context. I represent IEN in various capacities, including the California Air Resources Board (Jurisdictional REDD Program) and as an IEN delegate on an international delegation to Honduras to investigate the assassination of Berta Cáceres, and to honor her memory.

Reflections on Day 1 of the “It Takes Roots to Change the System” People’s Caravan, by Daryl McElveen

 

7/20/2016
Waiting for the plane to Cleveland…

The first day of another part of my life! Not sure what to expect on all levels : politically, emotionally, socially. The Republican National Convention has been a debacle, thus far, of fear mongering and Trump-lapdogs. Not surprising. What WAS surprising was that Trump’s team allowed his wife, Melania to go and read a speech that had almost two full paragraphs lifted from Michelle Obama’s speech in ‘08 when President Obama accepted his party’s nomination. They couldn’t even copy a Republican’s speech.  It would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high and the lack of respect for the gravity of what he is doing wasn’t there.

The next day, during the roll call of the states, you could sense a circling of the wagons in the party. They had to after a disastrous first night, where overnight the media only talked about plagiarism. Even states that didn’t have the majority of their delegate going to Trump were shouting “..And the next President of the United States, Donald…” like they were trying to convince themselves it would be alright if that happened.

How did we get here. Is it an aggregate of white econo/socio/politico/religious angst? Born out small time in small towns but reverberating to larger national white identification? I expect to see hurting people. Informed? For the most part, I know the delegates on the caravan will be😉

Arrived in downtown Cleveland. Walking out of the train station. I felt like I was walking out of Union Station in Washington D.C. The layout of the streets, the construction of the buildings. The moment and the energy outside took me to the right even though all I had to do was cross the street to get to the People’s Square. After walking past people selling anti Hillary and Pro-Trump stuff, I make a right at the guy selling Trump Whoopi cushions to see a  street that was basically a remote TV studio for MSNBC. Media people were milling about preparing to cover what would turn out to be a powerful day of action.

Some of the media were interviewing the confident Trump supporters, which were few and far between. Were there Trump supporters, yes. But no one wearing trump shirts , hats or buttons. Amid all this I had a huge  smile on my face thinking about my safe arrival, the beautiful day, being a part of history. The people dressed for the convention were not smiling or in a festive mood like they were ready to coronate their leader. It wasn’t a festive atmosphere.

Not so at the Public Square. Inasmuch as protesting can bring joy, this did, I think because of the number of people and the diverse makeup of the crowd. As I arrived, the group MiJente had already started the action of building a human wall that we were going to join. People threw canvas with bricks painted on it over there heads and locked arms and chanted “Wall Off Trump!” amongst other great lines. Still holding my luggage, I was dazzled by the spectacle.

As time went on, more and more media surrounded our action as we marched to the edge of the perimeter in front of the arena where the convention is being held . For almost an hour we chanted and sang in solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters for the end to the hate being spewed by a potential President of the United States. The media salivated and interviewed practically all the people holding the wall up. It seemed like every news organization in America was there lol . It was AWESOME! They followed us back to the People’s Square where the hodgepodge of protesters were being poked and prodded by the media not following the wall. As it should be, the action and the media focused on the people!

Daryl McElveen, Vermont Worker’s Center

Since last summer I have been organizing music events in collaboration with the Vermont Worker’s Center, fundraising and helping to build membership. I recently was asked to be on the statewide steering committee representing Windham County and am spearheading the Brattleboro Organizing committee’s goal to organize the artist in our area.

Avery Books: Report Back from MST Intensive in Sao Paolo

This past spring I was part of a two person delegation of GGJ members to the IMG_1829first ever International English Language Course on Political Training for Political Educators outside of Sao Paolo, Brazil. The 6-week course was coordinated by the Landless Workers Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra [the MST]) at their national school for political education, Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes (ENFF). I came as a representative of the Vermont Workers’ Center, and was among 60 participants from 47 organizations and 17 countries. Most organizations were members of La Via Campesina, an international organization primarily dedicated to the issues of peasant movements around the world and food sovereignty (GGJ is a member).  Organizations ranges from small farmer movements in Zimbabwe to organizations that work with adavasi (indigenous) movements in India to South African trade unionists to members of the Kurdish liberation struggle to a leftwing Mexican youth organization.

ENFF is the flagship school of the MST. Since their founding 31 years ago, the MST has been committed to political education (or formação in Portuguese). They have schools dedicated to political education in all 23 Brazilian states where they have a presence. ENFF was built 11 years with the volunteer labor of over 1,000 MST members and many other supporters of the movement. It is a gorgeous campus, populated with vibrant flowers, inspiring revolutionary murals made by each class that had passed through there, beautiful architecture, small plots of food productions, and a design that emphasized communal space (a small plaza in the middle of a cluster of dormitories, with benches and a gazebo; the courtyard where we held our daily misticas; the open verandas where we had cultural nights, celebrations, etc., on both stories of the building that held the kitchen, cafeteria, and a small store with MST products). There was also an incredible library that held thousands of books on various subjects, from the history of revolutionary struggles around the world to social theory to agroecology (mostly in Portuguese and Spanish). The MST leaders at the school described ENFF as the “patrimony of the international working class.”

The school was coordinated and “staffed” by a brigade of 40 MST members IMG_1754who took 4 month shifts to help run the logistics and programming of the school. Like all groupings in the MST, they had a name and slogan: “Apolônio de Carvalho,” named after an important Brazilian socialist. To facilitate the functioning of the school, all students were expected to do “militant work,” volunteer labor to support the day-to-day needs of the school community. I was on the coffee team that set up and cleaned up for the multiple coffee breaks through the “school day.” Other militant work ranged from the production team that helped produce and harvest the food grown on campus; a childcare team; a cultural team that helped plan the “cultural nights,” helped with the programming for the campus radio station; collective laundry; cleaning up after meals. Militant work is a central part of the pedagogy of the MST, partly around wanting to put intellectual labor alongside other forms of labor and also as part of creating new social relations, where labor is about meeting collective needs and is not performed because of coercion.

We had classes 6 days per week. Every day began with a 10-20 minute long “mistica,” planned by each of us in our small groups (“nucleos do base” [NB’s]) and by other NB. Mistica both describes a particular activity and a broader concept. The activity is usually a short “performance” that tells a particular story about a particular struggle, while projecting a vision of the future. I put “performance” in quotes because the MST is emphatic that it is not “theater,” but rather an expression of reality as we experience it. Mistica incorporates symbols, music, art, movement, “acting,” participation by “spectators.” One of the misticas my NB planned conveyed the intersection of patriarchy, dispossession, and capitalism. One of the ones that Daryl (the other GGJ representative) and his group prepared conveyed the patterns of state violence around the world and their link to imperialism.

Many MST movement elders attribute mistica as the primary reason they’re still in the movement. It’s spiritual and intellectual sustenance, and stretches minds and hearts in preparation for the activity of the day, Mistica also described the overall “spirit” or “expression” of a group of people, the outward expression of collective revolutionary spirit.

An MST member riding with me and another classmate to the airport at the end of the program commented that our class seemed to have a very beautiful mistica. There were songs that were our songs (some people brought from their movements, others that were brand new and composed spontaneously); chants that were ours; countless manifestations of a profound camaraderie formed through intense, emotional learning together, sharing and hearing each other’s stories, working together, traveling together during the intensive “field week,” celebrating together during various cultural nights and late night festivities.

The coursework itself was incredible. The MST sees left theory as a living body of theory, and draws heavily from the Marxist Leninist tradition. Some of the more interesting courses were on the history and development of imperialism, the reproduction of capital in agriculture, a great session on gender, political organization, and popular education. There was quite a lot of healthy debate on organizational form, the role of the state, the legacy of colonialism and the persistence of racism, the dynamics between the old hegemonic imperial nations and the newly industrializing “BRICS” countries that increasingly play out imperial relations on a more regional level.

I learned an incredible amount about social movements in Brazil and around the world. From the MST, we learned about their incredible dynamic relationship between organizational form, strategy, and tactics. Their process of land takeovers entailed setting up an incredibly cooperative mini-society of several hundred families, a “movement baptism” that created the conditions for embodying radical new forms of human relations. The MST doesn’t actually legally exist in Brazil, and many of the movements represented there were very suspicious of the growth of World Bank and foundation-funded Non-Governmental Organizations and Non Profit Organization (seeing with incredibly clarity the ways in which they coopt movements and movement leaders).

One of the profound lessons for me was on the meaning of true IMG_1824internationalism and solidarity. The MST is in a very challenging moment in Brazil’s political and economic history: the ruling Workers Party has betrayed many of its original principles to the whims of international finance capital; the right wing is mobilizing larger crowds than have been seen in decades. Yet, instead of turning inwards, they continue to launch programs like this training, have helped started countless other movements around the Brazil, and remain committed to the development of an international revolutionary social force. In fact, I believe that’s exactly what see as necessary in this context, rather than turning inwards.

It’s hard to some up any one main takeaway from that 6 weeks. I’m incredibly inspired to be personally connected 60 people fighting in inspiration liberation struggles around the world. I’m inspired by the deep and broad commitment to political education and leadership development. I’m deeply moved by the way in which the MST both fights for total social transformation while building the new social right now. And I’m so impressed with the many examples of the ways in which strategy flows from a profound and sharp assessment of the objective and subjective conditions during this phase of advanced capitalism.

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