#BlackLivesMatter Enough to Organize

Aug 30, 2014   //   baji, black history, Blog, civil rights, racial justice  

Post by BAJI New York City Organizer Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye

It is important for people to understand that on a basic level the imagery of Ferguson does not reflect the reality of Ferguson. We are looking, from our varied distances, at a trick mirror positioned by a media complicit in the echoing violence of of Kajieme Powell’s murder. Media complicity is not just in conservative outlets like Fox News who rhetorically rehearse the violent sentiment that fired, at the very least, six shots into Michael Brown’s body but also in liberal and alternative media that cannot grapple with antiblackness that is as American as enslavement. Almost as if this violence is due to a new police militarization, or outdated training, as opposed to a much more mundane antiblackness. That is to say, what we have always known; that Black bodies cause anxiety that can only be released by violence. Despite reflecting this anxiety in their coverage news outlets cannot analyze this unique relationship Black people have with an antiblack world. So the distorted media narratives on public demonstrations in Ferguson even when framed in empathy are saturated with worries about lawlessness and disorder.

why-black-lives-matterThe varied responses Black communities or individuals have to brutality is not the concern of this writer. The need to defend certain actions misses James Baldwin’s perspective on looting, Martin Luther King Jr.’s on riots, or local voices on this present moment. What these words seek to highlight is the well-organized, highly disciplined work happening locally and nationally. Though leadership does not reflect past movements you are not seeing a leaderless movement. There is no disapproval of spontaneity here instead a call to focus on what you are actually seeing, a masterfully calculated strategy. BAJI staff along with dozens from across the country have just been welcomed into St. Louis by the spiritually affirming arms of Saint John’s United Church of Christ led by Pastor Starsky Wilson. The gathering in that building quickly led to an outlined agenda, programming, and the clear grounding framework around the valuing of all Black lives not just the outsized male figures that crowd out broader conversation and sadly, political imagination.

What has become a national call started as the simple phrasing of a disputed truth that #BlackLivesMatter. Answers came from across the country joining the US Human Rights Network, Crunk Feminist Collective, and National Organization for Women and many others all responding to a gesture into and against the chaos of genocidal policing attacking all Black bodies.

From the very beginning intentional links between the 1960s Freedom Rides and the #BlackLivesMatter Ride to St. Louis were evident in the national reach and the relationship building with frontline Ferguson organizers.

The messaging for this campaign was crafted precisely to create a banner, “under which Black people can unite to end state sanctioned violence both in St. Louis, but also across the United States of America.” But local endorsements from the Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) and Organizations for Black Struggle (OBS) firmly plant this work in Midwest soil. With international eyes now shifted to a city some say the Black Power Movement passed, what the past has forgotten the present names and where Ferguson goes so goes the post-civil rights nation.

#BlackLivesMatter is happening on multiple levels including several online locations with information about the direction of this work. We are now in an appropriate space to reflect on how a tech savvy generation born of and in the information age has matured into political work. Who will acknowledge their genius?

 

#BlackLivesMatter #BLMride

 

For live tweets from the ground follow @BAJItweet and @Blklivesmatter

Passing the Torch

A speech delivered by BAJI Co-Director, Gerald Lenoir – July 27, 2014

BAJI PTT-1

Eight years after the founding of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, we are gathering here to witness the passing of the symbolic torch to a new leader from a younger generation of social justice activists. I, as BAJI’s founding Executive Director, am relinquishing my leadership role in favor of Opal Tometi, my colleague and friend for the past four years.

Since I announced that I was leaving BAJI, I have been asked a number of questions by a number of people: Why are you leaving? Are you retiring? What are you going to do after BAJI?

Let me first say what I have said repeatedly, I’m tired but I’m not retired! I am following in the footsteps of Rev. Phil Lawson, who I think was reported to have retired at least three times! And he’s still on the case! So, no, I’m not retiring.

Why am I leaving BAJI? First of all, I’m not leaving BAJI. I’m leaving as a staff member of BAJI. BAJI is not an organization that you leave. For me, it is a family of kinfolk and a home for a set of progressive values and politics that is nurturing and life affirming. So why would I leave that?

What I am doing is providing a space for a young and talented leader to exercise her skills and realize her potential. I am stepping back; Opal is stepping up. Or as my wife Karen put it, “Out with the old, and in with the new!”

Seriously, though, this leadership transition is a testimony to the commitment that the BAJI board, Opal and I have had to develop new leadership in black communities and to organize our communities across generations.

Eight years ago last month, I started as BAJI’s very part-time director. Two month prior to that, Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Kelvin Sauls brought a group of us together to discuss how we, as people of African descent, could bring the issue of immigrant rights to African American communities. Please stand if you were in the room that April evening in Walter Riley’s law office.

If you all remember, there was an easy consensus that we considered immigrant rights as one of the cutting edge issues in the historic and ongoing struggle against white supremacy and for racial, social and economic justice in this country. We decided at that very first meeting that we would form an organization to educate and organize and bring African American and immigrant communities together in struggle.

The immediate impetus for BAJI’s formation was the massive demonstrations that were occurring across the country in support of fair and just immigration reform. Indeed, they were the largest demonstrations in the history of this country and compelled us, as activists to act in solidarity. We understood that as Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique, stated, “Solidarity is not an act of charity but mutual aid between forces fighting for the same objective.” We knew the truth that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

We believed that the true emancipation of black people born in the U.S. is bound together with the liberation of immigrants of African descent and with immigrants for Asia, the Pacific Islands, Latin America, the Middle East, and ultimately with the liberation of all humankind.

I have always said that BAJI is a small organization with a big agenda. Our agenda involves unmasking the hoax of white supremacy that dominates and permeates every aspect of our lives and relegates communities and countries to marginalization and poverty. It includes peeling back the layers of myths, lies and half-truths that we are spoon fed in our schools, at our work places and in the media.  It requires that we reveal the root causes of poverty, displacement and migration that impact all of our communities as the inhumane policies of our U.S. government and corporations, policies deliberately designed to maximize profits and minimize people.

But we knew that exposing all of this was not enough. As legendary Civil Right organizer Ella Baker told us, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed…It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising a means by which you change that system…”

Heeding Ella Baker’s call, we set out to organize in our communities to address the evils that kept all of us from realizing our full human potential. In those early years of BAJI, I began to crisscross the country seeking out opportunities to gather people together, especially people of the African Diaspora, to craft solutions and to mobilize support for fundamental changes. L.A., New York, Newark, Chicago, Seattle, Washington, DC, Detroit, Jackson, MS, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tucson—I was a one-man traveling road show! Meanwhile, Phil Hutchings joined me on staff as the Bay Area Organizer during that second year and anchored the Bay Area work with our volunteer committees in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

BAJI, that small half-staff operation began to grow until today, we have five full-time and two part-time staff in the Bay Area, New York, Atlanta and Phoenix. Amazing! And after five years of pulling it together, the Black Immigration Network has become our flagship program, bringing together black immigrant-led and African American-led groups for mutual support and coordinated action. We are on the move! Moving forward with organizing for Haitian Family Reunification, advocating for and end to the New Jim Crow of mass incarceration and mass detention and deportation, and supporting workers’ rights campaigns.

I am leaving BAJI at a time when the organization is maturing and blossoming as a national leader in the social justice movement, a movement building organization with a long term vision that goes beyond the immediate struggles to change policies. As Rev. Sauls often says, “Legislation is not our destination. Our destination is true liberation.”

And as I leave, I must express my deepest appreciation to some of my kinfolk who have been with me on this journey. It is a long list, so bear with me.

Let me first thank my wife of 37 years, Karen Lenoir and my son of 34 years, Jamana Lenoir. They have been rock solid support for me personally and for BAJI as well. In fact, Jamana not only designed and laid out the flyer and program for this event, he is also our photographer and videographer. Thank you, Jamana. Thank you, Karen.

Let me thank my BAJI family. First, Rev. Phil Lawson, I want to be like you when I grow up! You have truly inspired our movement and have been a guiding force in BAJI’s formation and in our ongoing work. Your treasure trove of knowledge, compassion and spiritual wisdom has left a lasting impression on me and your words will remain in my heart and mind. We only met each other when BAJI was formed and we have become, as you often say, “the family members we never met.” Thank you, Phil.

Rev. Kelvin Sauls, thank you, thank you, thank you, my brother from another mother! The gospel of liberation that you preach and practice has been an important part of BAJI’s perspective.

To Nunu Kidane, my sister from another mister, I am so grateful to you for your deep, deep sense of justice and for the close bonds of friendship, kinship and camaraderie we have enjoyed over the past eleven years.

Phil number two, Phil Hutchings, you, my brother, are da bomb! Your journey from SNCC to BAJI has been seamless. Your political acumen and social graces are legendary. Thanks, Phil.

Leonard McNeil, Big Mac! I am in awe of not only your physical size but also the size of you commitment to social justice. You are a giant of justice. Thank you so much.

My sister Alona Clifton, You are so great! You have toiled along side of me for all these years. I appreciate you being unapologetically black and your frankness and forthrightness. As you relocate to Atlanta, please know that you will be missed. Please accept this small token of appreciation as a going way gift.

Walter Riley, you are a consistent warrior for justice since you teen-age years in North Carolina. Your work in support of Haitian liberation has contributed greatly to our work in support of Haitian immigrants. Thanks for your guidance and support.

Ronald Colthirst, our Ambassador to San Francisco. Brother, thank you believing in BAJI and for carrying the message across the bay.

Denise Gums, thanks for your songs and solidarity. You have enriched BAJI and have contributed to the movement for justice.

Amahra Hicks, our Contra Costa representative for so many years. You are much appreciated for you long term commitment to black liberation and to human rights.

To the newer members of BAJI in the Bay Area—Regine Neptune, Marcel Jones, Tatiana Chaterji, Zef Amen— and to the new BAJI board members—Janis Rousheuvel, Aimee Castenell, Thomas Assefa and Marybeth Onyeukwu—thank you for volunteer you time and talent to BAJI and to the movement.

And to the BAJI staff, I want to say, you rock! Tia Oso, our Black Immigration Network coordinator, you are so awesome! Stand up, Tia, and be recognized. I am in awe of your talent, political savvy and uncompromising stance for justice. I have so enjoyed working along side of you.

To Terence Courtney, our Southeast Regional Organizer in Atlanta; Juwaher Yusuf, our Program Associate in New York; and Ben Kabuye and Devonte Jackson, our organizers in New York and Oakland respectively, I appreciate your dedication to your communities and to BAJI. You make BAJI work!

To all of our BAJI allies nationally and locally, especially within the Black Immigration Network, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Detention Watch Network, Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights, the Bay Area Equal Voices Caucus, the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund and the Haiti Action Committee, it has been my honor to work along side of you and with you to rid our country and our world of injustice.

And last, but certainly not least, let me give my praises to the BAJI co-director and soon to be Executive Director Opal Tometi. Opal, will you come to the stage and join me, please?

Opal, when we met in Phoenix in 2010, we could not have foreseen the collaboration that we would forge. You, my sister, are so amazing!  You have the talent, personal commitment and political perspective to take BAJI to the next level.  Your vision for BAJI is, at the same time, expansive and focused. It has been one of my greatest pleasures to work with you and to walk along side of you on this journey to justice. Thank you, my sister! Today, I pass the torch of leadership to you. I am confident that you will keep the flame of freedom lit for all to see. Congratulations!

A Call for Global Solidarity with the Palestinian Struggle

Jul 24, 2014   //   baji, Blog, human rights, racial justice  

Post by Devonté Jackson, BAJI Bay Area Organizer and Regine Neptune, BAJI Bay Area Organizing Committee Member

Nearly 697 Palestinian deaths have been recorded in Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza, approximately 160 were children. Yesterday, the Israeli military bombed Gaza’s only power plant killing 6 people, wounding 20. This disastrous bombing campaign has been justified by right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who claims the bombing campaign is a response to terrorist attacks targeting Israeli citizens orchestrated by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization that has represented the Gaza strip since 2006.

Prior to the Israeli bombing campaign on Gaza, 3 Israeli teenagers were abducted, murdered, and buried under a pile of rocks. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu places responsibility of the brutal abduction and killings on Hamas and have since strategically utilized the killings of the Israeli teenagers to justify the massive slaughter of Palestinians who Netanyahu claims are being used as shields for Hamas. Palestine

In addition to the bombing campaign orchestrated by Netanyahu, Israeli mobs terrorized Palestinian communities in search of those responsible for the killings of the 3 Israeli teens. During this search, Israeli extremists captured and lynched Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16 year old Palestinian. This caused widespread civil unrest in Palestinian communities.

Tariq, a Palestinian-American Florida resident and cousin of slain Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was brutally beaten by Israeli soldiers during his stay in Jerusalem because of his alleged participation in a protest against Israel. Tariq and his family denies participation in the protest and claims Tariq was observing the protest from a distance. After being beaten by the soldiers, Tariq was placed in an Israeli jail for 3 days, his family was forced to post $850 in bail, then he was placed on house arrest in Jerusalem. During this time, Tariq’s family requested support from Florida representative Kathy Castor (D) but she refused to offer substantive support during this difficult time.

We are not surprised at the unwillingness of Florida Representative Castor to represent Tariq. Florida’s legal system has proven to be racially biased. George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, a young black man, for walking home with candy and a drink and was protected by the Stand Your Ground Law, while Marissa Alexander was recently denied trial by Circuit Judge James H. Daniel for firing a warning shot towards her husband, Rico Gray, who has a history of domestic abuse and had threatened Alexander’s life prior to the warning shot. It is clear that the our legal systems do not protect and serve the interests of black people and people of color in Florida and the US more generally.

The Palestinian struggle has commonalities with the historic and contemporary struggles in the U.S. against mass criminalization, state organized violence and brutality, racist legal systems, and the legacy of extralegal violence against marginalized people. We share similar experiences as people living under the oppressive policies and practices of a hegemonic state and we must practice global solidarity in order to end the Israeli bombing campaign and illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories which have facilitated mass displacement of Palestinian people. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, approximately 5 million Palestinians are eligible for refugee relief efforts.

We must also shed light to the Anti-African Movement in Israel. Many African communities in Israel face daily discrimination and violence because of their race and ethnicity. Prime Minister Netanyahu has identified African migrants as a threat to Israel and has made it his priority to limit the migration of African people into Israel to protect the Jewish identity of the Israeli state.

We recognize Israel’s treatment towards its African population as part of a global phenomenon of anti-blackness and white supremacy which terrorizes, criminalizes, and subjugates black communities and communities of color across the globe. In order to put an end to this, we must recognize that our liberation is tied to the liberation of all people. For us to create social, economic, and racial justice in our communities, we must build a united and powerful global movement aimed at achieving collective liberation for all.

#freePalestine #endtheoccupation

The Movement Continues

Jul 22, 2014   //   About BAJI, baji, black history, Blog, Board & Staff, Opal Tometi, Press  

By Gerald Lenoir, BAJI Co-director 

The day is fast approaching when I will pass the torch of leadership to BAJI Co-director Opal Tometi.  It feels like it was just yesterday when Rev. Phil Lawson and Rev. Kelvin Sauls called together a group of African Americans and black immigrant Bay Area activists and BAJI was born.  That was in 2006 and none of us knew where this experiment would lead us but we were willing to take the journey.  We knew that immigrant rights were a racial justice issue and that African Americans and immigrants should be coming together to fight for racial, social and economic justice. 

Since those initial days, BAJI has grown from one part-time Executive Director to now having local BAJI Organizing Committees in New York, Georgia, California and Arizona who are building coalitions and initiating campaigns among communities to push for racial justice. At the local and regional level, we’re providing training and technical assistance to partner organizations to develop leadership skills, working with faith communities to harness their prophetic voice, and initiating vibrant dialogues with African Americans and black immigrants to discover more about race, our diverse identities, racism, migration and globalization. Also, BAJI’s flagship initiative, the Black Immigration Network (BIN), is now a national alliance of nearly 30 black-led organizations that convenes them to advance just immigration policies and promote cultural shifts our communities need.  And of late, BAJI and its allies have embarked upon a national agenda of taking on building the BIN Kinship around the issues of mass criminalizationHaitian family reunification and workers’ rights.
  
We’ve come a long way since the early days of organizing small group sessions in Bay Area African American churches.  But we still have a long road ahead of us to peace, justice and equality.  As I leave, I hope you will continue to support BAJI and join us thisSunday, July 27, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Everett and Jones BBQ, 126 Broadway in Oakland, where we are hosting “Passing the Torch: Celebrating the Leadership of Gerald Lenoir and Opal Tometi” where we will be honored and the work of BAJI will be uplifted.

I hope to see many of you at the BAJI “Passing the Torch” event this Sunday afternoon.  And please know that I’m leaving the staff of BAJI, but I’m not leaving the movement.  See you on the frontlines!
    
Take care,

Gerald Lenoir
BAJI Co-director (until July 31)

Passing the Torch: Celebrating BAJI’s Leadership

Jun 25, 2014   //   About BAJI, baji, Board & Staff, Opal Tometi, social movements  

On July 31, Gerald Lenoir will step down as Co-Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and BAJI Co-Director Opal Tometi will become the Executive Director. Gerald is the founding Executive Director of BAJI and led the organization for eight years. His leadership has inspired the social justice movement and has brought BAJI to a new level of influence. Opal is a new generation of leadership. She has invigorated the work of BAJI and has brought novel ideas, new energy and new ways of organizing. Join for an afternoon of food, friendship and fun cosponsored by Everett and Jones Barbeque. See full event details here.

Tickets are $35 (general) & $15 (student/low income) and are available here.

All proceeds will benefit BAJI’s work to stop mass incarceration and mass detention, to fight for the reunification of Haitian families and to support economic justice and workers’ rights.

For more information, contact us at (510) 663-2254 or gerald@blackalliance.org.

Essence Feature: The Other Face of Immigration

Jun 10, 2013   //   baji, Black Migration News  

Essence Magazine features the voice of a young Black Immigrant woman from Jamaica in the July Issue. Pick it up on newsstands if you support this type of reporting and storytelling. Also participate in their poll to show your support of immigrant rights.




 

Solidarity with Haiti

May 6, 2013   //   baji, Blog, Campaigns, caribbean, debt crisis, haiti  

Post by Kijani Tafari, BAJI Bay Area Organizer

Often times it’s easy for Americans to live our lives unaware of the global context that we are a part of.  Many U.S born people will never know the impact that our government policies have globally and how we inadvertently contribute to the oppression of people worldwide. Americans have a bad habit of living life in the small bubble of local current affairs and are oblivious to global issues. A large part of our US centric views is because we have limited sources of media that expose us to anything on an international scale and the little international news we get is distorted to justify the imperialistic doctrine that our government presses on us.

As relates to Haiti, Many of us heard about the earthquake that decimated the whole nation but many of us don’t know that prior to the earthquake, Haiti was in dire need of aid. After the earthquake made an already adverse situation even worse, billions of dollars from all over the world were donated to help Haitians recover. Yet three years after the tragedy, Haiti is no better off.  Many Americans go about their day to day and have no idea that these things are going on and the US government is playing key roles in many situations.

BAJI is teaming up with our ally, InSolidarity to send a delegation to Haiti to witness the struggle of our brothers and sisters firsthand and to see how we can join hands with them to fight for justice for all of us. In order to raise money to send our delegation, we have been hosting ”Raising Up for Haiti,” a series of fundraisers that feature Haitian activists, art, and culture. At our kickoff event we had Haitian activist and BAJI ally’ Pierre LaBossiere speak to us about the Haitian plight and the history of Haitian liberation struggle. We also watched the film: “Haiti – Where Did the Money Go” We also had the special treat to have the dynamic choir Vukani Mawethu come through and lift our spirits with freedom songs and inspirational music. Stay tuned for the next event  announcement.To find out how you can help contact Kijani@blackalliance.org

Ignoring our Father’s Dreams?

Post by Tia Oso, BAJI Arizona Organizer

Around a table of African immigrants in Las Vegas, preparing for President Obama’s January 29th speech on Comprehensive Immigration Reform, the questions flew. What will President Obama do for us? Will Africa be acknowledged? We are so different, how can we come together on one issue? Students, business owners and professionals in medicine and other fields voiced their concerns from personal experience. After telling stories and voicing strong opinions, we decided on a common thread. We want immigration reform that simplifies the process of immigration for our families and encourages success. We want policy reform that reflects the interests of Black immigrants. We want President Obama to support our American dream.

As we lined up to enter the gymnasium to hear the speech, some of us dressed professionally, some in fine African attire with prints from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Gabon. We got looks and of admiration, smiles and handshakes. One of the members of the Cameroon American Council delegation remarked “we are the only Africans here”.

“Stars and Stripes Forever” and other patriotic marching songs played as the President’s arrival became imminent. The crowd cheered enthusiastically when Congressman Steve Horsford (D-Nevada) appeared. Horsford is the first person of color to represent Nevada in Congress, and he met with several members of Nevada’s immigrant community the evening before the speech. The assembled group recited the pledge and sang the National Anthem with enthusiasm. It caused me to seriously ponder, in light of the subject of the meeting, when will these lofty words “liberty and justice for all…land of the free” ring true for ALL Americans?

As President Obama began his remarks, he laid the groundwork framing the U.S. as a “nation of immigrants” with various stories of hard fought journeys from Mexico, Ireland, Italy and Germany, even the West Indies. Notably absent, however, was any mention of any of the 54 countries in Africa. In telling the story of immigrants “doing their part to build this country by hand” while facing “hardship, ridicule and racism” there was no reference to the FREE labor of African slaves brought the U.S. in chains to do that building. It is the free labor of African slaves and low wages during the industrial revolution that propelled America’s economy to be the strongest in the world. To flat out omit the truth of this history and the reality of the contribution that millions of Black immigrants make today is an insult. Without the determination of President Obama’s father, an immigrant from Kenya, pursuing a life in the U.S and the hard fought battles of African-Americans breaking the chains of slavery and asserting their civil rights, President Obama would not be President today. I cannot accept the absence of our forefather’s dreams in a speech before the entire nation in this pivotal moment in history. How can Obama say that we must “remember where we come from” and deliver a speech that denies his own roots! Perhaps, he should remind himself of his own reflections and musings on race and its implications on the history of this nation and his life in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995).

Many African immigrants shared my sentiment of disappointment in the President’s remark, demanding “Don’t forget about Africa” as he shook hands on his way out of the hall. In the fight for immigrant rights and social and economic justice, this is just the beginning. Many of us, individually, in communities and organizations have been forced to face the reality of America’s “broken immigration system” for generations. Through bureaucracy, quotas, thousands of dollars spent, blood, sweat and tears to make a better life for ourselves and our families, we have pressed on, determined to succeed. How can President Obama champion the story of Mexican American “dreamers”, while simultaneously ignoring the dreams of his own father? Black immigrants have also endured punitive enforcement measures, I.C.E home invasions and a President, whom many would call brother, touting record deportations as a success as families are torn apart and dreams are destroyed. As President Obama has rolled out a platform of principles that echo right-wing priorities for increased enforcement and border militarizations, penalties and criminalization of migrants and a narrow path to citizenship, we must not be pacified. I call on fellow organizers, activists and freedom fighters to hold President Obama and the United States accountable, once again, to the ideals this country is supposed to be founded upon. We cannot afford to remain silent and our community can no longer wait for its dreams

 

Ella Baker, Dream Activists, and Lessons Learned

Blog post by Terence Courtney, BAJI Southeast Regional Organizer

As I approach 2013, I can’t help but reflect on 2012 to help jump start conceiving of future strategies that will advance the  mission of BAJI (Racial Equity, Economic Justice, & Immigrant Rights)  next year.  This time of year seems to call us to it.  I ask myself what have been some common themes from the victories and failures that have fundamentally affected the forward march of our cause?  What have been some powerful tactical approaches that changed the dynamics for creating social justice?  Are there historical roots and corollaries that will help inform a theory I can learn from and apply today?  These are deep questions.  And while I can’t say I say I know all the answers, I believe I am starting to see some patterns.

December 13th 2013 will mark the one hundred tenth birthday of Ella Josephine Baker.  Baker was an outstanding and extraordinary civil and human rights organizer who is often overlooked when we talk about leaders from the Civil Rights era.  With a career that covered some of the most turbulent periods in US history (the 1930’s through 80’s), Ella Baker worked with and helped found some of the most iconic organizations in black American history.  When we think of organizations like the NAACP, the SCLC, SNCC, and others, we have to place Baker as powerful agent for change in their pantheon of heroes.  She often would travel throughout the south –alone- organizing people to fight Jim Crow.  And this was during a time when it was extremely dangerous for black people to organize alone, especially black women.

Besides her heroism, Baker was brilliant theoretician.  She developed a method of organizing that was set apart from what was traditionally being done.  Her model of organizing called upon a more collectivized and egalitarian process that in many ways radically challenged the status quo, and gave people a vision of bettering their lives without falling into traps.  And from what I see in the successes over the past year -one way or another- the lessons that Ella Baker taught so many years ago are alive and working.

Consider that Baker’s theory for change called upon 3 main elements:  (1) Focus on grassroots organizing, or organizing that is rooted and springs forth from a community and their concerns, where they get to make decisions about their lives; (2) Prioritizing the people in that community who are most impacted by the issues, because they have the most at stake; and (3) prioritizing the use of Direct Action, to destroy fear and seriously challenge unjust powers.  And one group in the Immigrant Rights struggle that has achieved victory by –perhaps not consciously- using the Ella Baker model is the Dream Activists.  I’m very impressed by these young people who have changed minuses into pluses by going deeper.

Being undocumented, many Dream Activists are illegible to vote, and they live under the constant threat of imprisonment and deportation.  Yet, they have not let those hurdles stop them from making real change.  Like black people under Jim Crow who similarly found themselves disenfranchised, Dream Activists found that they had more than one way to improve their lives; they began to organize their communities, prioritize those most affected by the attack on Immigrants, and utilize direct action.  As one blog written on the Dream Activist website says, they got Back to Basics.   And doing this enabled them to bypass the morass of Washington DC, and force the hand of Obama; making him sign an Executive Order called the “Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.”  And whereas many groups would have rested on the laurels of this improvement, the Dream Activists that I’ve spoken with are not placated by the Order, its small scope, or expiration date of Feb 28, 2013.  They know that if they can achieve this victory, there is more to come if they keep doing what they’re doing.

My hats off to them, and I think Ella Baker would be proud.  So, it seems to me that there are some lessons the rest of us who are concerned with Immigrant Rights, Human Rights, or even Civil Rights can learn, or re-learn from Dream Activist and the Ella Baker model.  As the centrists and right wingers continue to try to chip away at our voting rights, we need to keep in mind that we secured our voting rights by using direct action, and it perhaps by using these lessons we can protect past gains, and fight for more.

Speaking Truth to Power – BAJI Arizona focusses on education and movement building

Blog post by Tia Oso, BAJI Arizona Organizer

BAJI Phoenix has focused this fall on educating a wide variety of populations on the importance of solidarity in the  journey for migrant justice and cross-racial alliance building for successful progressive movements. Arizona Organizer, Tia Oso, was featured as a panelist in the Arizona State University’s Healing Racism Community Dialogue Race and the Border: At the Intersection of Fear, Immigration and Justice on October 9, 2012. Tia took the opportunity to elevate the conversation beyond personal attitudes about race, to systemic effects of racism, including the use of racial profiling in laws like SB1070 and the effective shutout of Black men from the U.S. workforce due to felonies in their backgrounds. White Supremacy, global capitalism and systemic exploitation must enter the discourse to have an accurate picture of the forces behind anti-immigrant laws, policies and attitudes. The experience of African-Americans in the U.S. is extremely pertinent and interconnected with that of immigrants of color, especially when it comes to jobs and the criminal justice system. Recognizing this fact, BAJI continues to lift this perspective in critical conversations, such as the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project conference, which took place October 10th, 2012 in Oakland, CA. Too often overlooked in migrant justice advocacy is the story of Black immigrants, as well as the importance of engaging African-Americans in progressive movement building.

As a participant in the U.S. Human Rights Network Southwest Regional Conference and Human Rights training, discussion focused on using the United Nations Convention to Eliminate all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to bring international attention to the critical condition of people of color in the United States. Attended by several grassroots organizations and individual activists, it was sobering to hear the stories of how systemic racism continues to devastate people’s lives in a myriad of ways.  Even those who seek refuge and asylum in the United States are faced with challenges brought by xenophobia and discrimination. Arizona receives a number of refugees through the United States Refugee resettlement program. At the Faith Based Summit on refugee resettlement on November 1, 2012, faith based institutions representing many belief systems, non-profit agencies, government agencies and advocates came together to discuss the unique challenges and the charge of providing shelter, safety and tools for navigating life in the U.S. to immigrants forced from their home countries. BAJI’s perspective on identifying and naming the unique challenges faced by Black immigrants was valued and necessary.

Increasingly, with the shifting demographics and the clearly multi-racial and increasingly progressive leadership shown possible in the recent National election, it is more important than ever that we use critical analysis and a multi-level approach to answering the challenges to economic and social justice. Educating the community is a key-part of the process and BAJI Arizona will work with the Greater Phoenix Urban League to offer a series of political education forums beginning in December 2012. The series is aimed at providing in-depth perspective and encouraging dialogue around issues affecting communities of color. Through these and other initiatives, BAJI Arizona is dedicated to being a voice for truth and real change.

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