Day 1 of the Domestic Exchange: Austin, TX
We just came out of a powerful two-week International Exchange in Mesoamerica, but we know that not everyone can travel internationally nor be away from home for several days. We also know that we can build relationships of trust and solidarity across difference without having to leave the country. For the first time, Move to End Violence coordinated a three-day “domestic exchange” for Cohort 4 members who were unable to travel with us to Guatemala but who are deeply interested in themes of migration, government repression, land, and resiliency.
Our small group gathered in Austin, Texas today for a series of meetings with three organizations–Jolt, Youth Rise Texas, and American Gateways– that are focused on Black and Brown communities, building power, and meeting needs while centering arts and culture, healing and resiliency, and self and community care.
We started the day with Jolt, whose executive director Cristina Tzintzún is a member of Cohort 4. Organizing Director Tess Ortega described their work to build power within Latinx communities across the state, much of which is focused on the leadership of young and adult women. “Women are more likely to vote and volunteer, and we want to make sure they get the credit by being in leadership.” Via their many student chapters, they polled young people on issues they care about – immigration, climate change, health care, and college affordability topped the list – and what they would need to vote in upcoming elections. “Many people in our community can’t vote, that’s why it’s so important that those who can do vote to make sure our needs are represented.” One of their key strategies is using arts and culture as a form of resistance and supporting artists-in-residence. Their quinceñeara on the steps of the Texas Capitol protesting a bill that would allow law enforcement to ask anyone for their residency documentation went viral.
When asked about how Jolt addresses anti-Blackness in Latinx communities, Tess pointed to their work to build relationships and coalitions with Black organizations and that they intentionally include Afro-Latinx representation in their art and materials. “Latinx is not a separate community from Black folks. We push on what it means to identify as Latinx.”
Buoyed by the power and joy of cultural resistance, we went to Youth Rise Texas, where they are supporting the next generation of Black and Brown organizers to fight mass incarceration and immigrant criminalization. They do this by working deeply with small groups of young adults aged 15-20, many of whom have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, through using art to tell their stories, youth organizing training, and centering healing and mindfulness. After watching a video about their mobilization efforts to reach young voters, they opened our afternoon together with a session of guided meditation led by one of the youth organizers and going around in a circle to share our favorite self-care quotes and messages. Audre Lorde, Nayyirah Waheed, Chani Nicholas, and Maya Angelou were all referenced, along with messages some of the young people created themselves.
One thing that captured our attention is the way young people are deeply respected in the organization and the care that is taken to never exploit them. Advanced youth organizers are trusted to lead much of the training curriculum, building a pipeline of leaders who will eventually take over the organization. A restorative justice culture where anyone can call for and be part of a circle when harm has happened supports their work to dismantle power dynamics. All youth organizers are paid, including summer program participants, with the understanding that many are either helping support their families or they need economic stability to be liberated from their families. A youth emergency fund provides short-term funds for basic needs for any member who needs it. This has required Youth Rise to advocate for the real cost of their program with funders, which is also an opportunity to be explicit about what it really takes to support young leaders.
We closed the day with Natalia Drelichman, Director of Legal Programs and Team Development at American Gateways, which provides legal services and education to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, including victims of trafficking. She described real challenges, including the lack of social services available for people in need, knowing that searching for a safe place to sleep takes precedence over legal matters. The fact that the Texas state legislature only meets once every two years (one of four states in the U.S. to still do that), making it sometimes difficult to pursue more creative legal and policy strategies. And misinformation and the way that media saturation can cause people to lose interest at a time when long-term engagement and solutions are needed, such as with the public’s understanding about family separation and the scare that immigrants who access public benefits will be denied citizenship.
We also discussed the impact of trauma and the need for self-care. Natalia raised the triple trauma of immigration – the push factors in their home countries, the danger of the journey to the U.S., and the inhumane conditions once they reach the. border. Many migrants are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and the process continually re-traumatizes them. One way they are trying to address this is by having trans folks not be detained at all and instead moved immediately into shelters with trans-competent services. They are also paying attention to self-care for the staff. “We have to think about what do I need to care for myself so that I can be more present for my clients.”
It was a very full day that reinvigorated us, sparked ideas and questions, and planted seeds for possible future collaborations. Off to Houston tomorrow!