Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Many struggles, one movement

Monthly Archives: August 2016

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

#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.