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From the Fight for $15 to city council, with Stephanie Gasca


Stephanie Gasca is one of many people this year moving from social movement, community, and labor organizing work into campaigning for office. She got her start with the Fight for $15, and works for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, which translates to Center for Workers United in Struggle, a worker center that helped bring Target to the negotiating table for retail janitors with several years of strikes. Now she’s running for a city council seat to make sure that the communities where she lives and works are represented by people who understand their struggles against state violence, against poverty wages, against racism and a vicious immigration system.

I am a mother first and foremost. I have a 14-year-old black son that I am raising here in North Minneapolis where the police have killed black men before, where the police harass our black youth on a regular basis. My politics are automatically different because of my life experiences.
Because of my background and where I come from and being one of nine children and having my step-dad being impacted by the broken immigration system and having our family being hit by poverty wages and a lack of access to education and opportunities and having my mom being impacted by not having paid sick leave, all of these things, all of these disparities, all of these specifics that everyone loves to go on about the numbers and this and this and that, that is my real life. I have a brother who just came home from federal prison in August who I am trying to support right now, helping him and ensuring that he gets a job and ensuring that he has access to the resources that he needs so that he is successful at re-entry and that he is not trapped by the system, because the system is designed to slap folks with a felony and they just keep them going back into the system.
When we talk about children being highly mobile, my niece is living with me right now who hasn’t had stable housing in 5 years because my sister cannot afford the rising cost of rent. All of these things that we talk about, I am living them every single day. So, my politics are automatically different because this is my life. These aren’t reports that I am reading. These aren’t statistics that I am looking at. This is my life and it is about a fight for my survival. It is about the fight for the survival of my family and my community. That is how I always approach my work because that is what it is. I can’t approach it any other way.

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Turning up for DACA recipients, with Ricardo Aca

Ricardo Aca has renewed his DACA several times and in the lead-up to the deadline imposed by Trump’s rescinding of the policy allowing immigrants who arrived as children to remain in the U.S. he divided his time between helping young people renew their status and demanding that members of Congress step up and pass a DREAM Act to give them legal status. But it’s not just young people who came here as children who should be allowed to stay, he argues–it’s time for the U.S. to recognize the status of all immigrants.

We struggled a lot to get to where we are today. Even this label Dreamers, which we kind of no longer want to be associated with, because at the end of the day we are the representations of our parents who are the original Dreamers and people need to know that. That is also part of the reason why we are asking for a clean DREAM Act where we deserve to be here, but also, our parents deserve to be here. We don’t want to compromise our future because we don’t want to be separated from them who are just as important as we are. We are the representation of them because they wanted us to get a better education, they wanted us to have better jobs, which we do have. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the work of our parents. That is something that people don’t really know in this narrative. People think of our parents should be considered criminals because they broke the law, but they don’t know what it is like to come from somewhere like Mexico or Venezuela or Colombia where there is a lot of political struggle. They don’t know what it is like to be living in this country where you don’t have access to resources, you don’t have access to education, you don’t feel safe, there are drug cartels. People need to know that there is a reason why we came here and now that we are here, this is where we consider our home and this is where we want to be.

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Creating a sanctuary union, with George Miranda

Eber Garcia Vasquez had been a New York City Teamster for 26 years when he was deported on September 6th. His union fought to keep him here, but when their campaign was unsuccessful, Teamsters Joint Council 16 moved to ensure that this happens to no one else. The union’s declaration that it would be a “sanctuary union,” explains Joint Council 16 president George Miranda, means education, bargaining, and refusal to cooperate with ICE.

Immigrant rights and labor rights are explicitly tied together. You can’t have one without the other. If you lose on one issue, whether it is immigrants or the labor, you lose the other. It is obvious that we are tied together and there is no way that we could say that we are not a union of immigrants. It seems to us that we need to protect our members. We are all immigrants, but we need to protect our members more than ever now since this administration has taken the position that they have taken on immigrants.

So we have decided to be a sanctuary union, meaning that we protect our members. They are working, they are earning their living, they are supporting their families, and they are not doing anything that is criminal or whatever, we are not going to cooperate with the immigration service whatsoever in going after our members. We are going to indoctrinate our members and help them with attorneys and whatever other expertise they need in order to protect them and their families and, hopefully, get them out of the mess that they may find themselves in.

That is what sanctuary unions mean. We are going to indoctrinate all of our members, all our stewards as to exactly what that means.

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Defending DACA, with Alan and Renee


On Tuesday, September 5, the Trump administration announced a “phase-out” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), program for immigrant youth. This decision leaves hundreds of thousands of young people vulnerable to deportation—young people who voluntarily gave the government personal information about themselves in order to gain protections in the first place. Around the country, emergency protest rallies were held. In Kingston, New York, outside of the office of newly-elected Republican Congressman John Faso, I spoke with two immigrant organizers about the decision to revoke DACA and the struggle for justice for immigrants.

The fee is around $465, that includes biometrics, and applying for a work permit. We pay basically for everything, there’s no fee waivers, nothing like that. Maybe for residents, to become citizens there are waivers but for DACA there’s nothing. There’s 800,000 DACA recipients, and that’s just lowballing, if you do the math, 800,000 times $465 comes out to be $400 million. That’s a lot of money into the economy. That’s not counting when you go purchase a car, that’s not counting when you go to get a driver’s license, paying taxes.
We did that. We had to ask people for money because we didn’t have $465, it’s a lot of money for a low-income household.
They have to really understand our struggle in order for them to do something about it. Everybody says “Oh, just apply for citizenship.” But there’s no path for that. They don’t know how hard it is. They keep telling me “just be a legal resident,” they don’t know how hard that is. Especially now that the fees are going up. The fees are going up even to become a citizen, $300 more, to become a legal resident it’s $300 more. They’re making money off immigrants, that’s why I think they want to keep it at that level, to get money from us.

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Defending Immigrants, Rebuilding Texas, with Greg Casar


Even as Hurricane Harvey battered Texas’s coast, its politicians were adding more fear to the state’s immigrant residents. From the rumors of immigration checkpoints along evacuation routes to looming bills to further criminalize undocumented people to the threat from Trump to revoke DACA protections, there was a lot to be afraid of. Yet Texans beat back one big threat to immigrants, and the coalition they built, Austin city councilmember Greg Casar says, will help them turn the tide in the future.

[Senate Bill 4] has become a statewide issue, so there have been statewide calls by organizations for all local elected officials to join in on this lawsuit. What I think was really important and special about this moment was that community organizations on the ground, like Texas Organizing Project and Workers Defense Project and United We Dream, were on the demanding that local elected officials stand up and fight back and sue. There were grassroots attorneys that were advising those organizations through their work. Local Progress, which is the national network of progressive local elected officials, set up infrastructure in Texas to coordinate progressive city council members and county commissioners to play sort of an inside/outside game to stand with the activists, but also work on the inside to move the rest of their local government to join this lawsuit.
I think, if you read Judge Garcia’s opinion, it becomes so clear that both the overwhelming damage that SB4 could have caused, that community members themselves raised, was critical for his decision, but also, it was critical to his decision with how many jurisdictions and municipalities stated that there could be irreparable harm caused by the law to those jurisdictions’ safety and wellbeing if the law went into effect. I think it was really critical that both grassroots organizations like United We Dream, Workers Defense, and TOP and an organization like Local Progress were helping to coordinate something that had never been done in the State of Texas before, which was local governments all joining together to sue the governor and state on an immigrants rights and social justice issue like this one. It wasn’t just the mayors sweeping in to save everybody.

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Mapping the power behind Trumpism, with Molly Gott


To effectively protest, you have to know who you’re protesting and where the pressure points are. The folks at LittleSis have created a database and research tool that helps organizers figure out who their opponents are, how they’re connected, and where to push in order to get results, and now they’re introducing a project to help bring those research skills to people across the country. Molly Gott of LittleSis tells me all about it.

The first project that we did was on corporate collaborators of Trump in Philadelphia. We went through and looked at “Who are the key donors to Trump in Philly? Who are people that he had created business relationships for? Who are people that were leading business councils or members of business councils that he was appointing?” to really put those folks on display. We released that set of information ahead of May Day when there were some actions happening in Philly, to bring the focus not just on Pat Toomey who is our Republican Senator, but also these corporate villains that are in Philly and didn’t really want to be publicly associated with Trump. That was one thing.
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Some of my thinking around “What is the role of research in our movements?” came about because I was involved in building some of the jail support apparatus in Ferguson and seeing the ways that actually attracted and gave roles in that movement to folks who maybe couldn’t do other things and gave them a home to be doing political work. So, I was thinking about the way that research can do that, as well. We have been pushing folks, which has been really fun to be doing research in community more. In Philly, we had research pizza nights where we all just bring our computers and do a bunch of tasks really quickly. It is way more fun than just being by yourself behind a computer screen, for sure.

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After Arpaio, what next for Arizona? With Alejandra Gomez


Donald Trump’s pardoning of infamous “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio was a signal to his base–both the police and the open white supremacists. But Arizonans aren’t done fighting. They removed Arpaio from office in the last election, and they’ve been organizing across communities to build a coalition, led by Latino youth, to change the very nature of Arizona politics. Alejandra Gomez tells me all about it.

Arpaio is the type of person who always wanted to be in the media and anything that really got him media attention he would do. So, Tent City was one of the worst ideas that could possibly happen. A complete violation of human rights and prisoners’ rights. What would happen in Tent City was, in Arizona, the temperatures reach about 120 degrees at any given time in the summer. You have prisoners outside with no air conditioning, people that have been incarcerated, outside with no air-conditioning. There are outhouses for bathrooms. So, all of the feces and urine have stagnated so you have that smell. You also have everything that is accumulating in terms of bacteria and all of that among the people that have been incarcerated.
On top of that, Sheriff Joe would make it known that he felt people that were in jail should not receive what he would consider food as a luxury. So, he would often give moldy bread and green macaroni to people that were in custody. People had also passed away in the jails because of the harsh conditions. That is just Tent City.
Under his jurisdiction there were smaller cities, these areas where you have largely Native American and Latino populations. In Surprise, Arizona there were a number of rape cases that were being reported of young women, of young girls, and the sheriff was failing to investigate those rape cases. Millions of dollars were misappropriated. This was all before SB 1070. Then, the raids started to happen and Arpaio completely revamped all his vans and basically it looked worse than border patrol. They would have signs, “If you see an illegal person, report them.” Pictures of people. It was a terrible sight to see these vans. Outside of his office, he had a big military tank. All of that is like, “Why does a sheriff need a military tank?” also. That goes back to the misappropriation of funds.

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Fighting the backers of Trump’s agenda, with José Lopez


Major corporations spend a lot of time burnishing their brand images, but under the surface, they’re often involved in things that would make their customers cringe. A new campaign aims to highlight a few of those cringeworthy practices–specifically, the investment in the Trump agenda from some of America’s biggest corporate names. This week, they’re targeting JP Morgan Chase and the megabank’s investment in private prison companies that house thousands of immigrants arrested and awaiting deportation. I spoke with José Lopez and Daniel Altschuler of Make the Road New York about this week’s action targeting JP Morgan.

Right now, a ton of the financing for the expansion of GEO Group and CoreCivic is coming from JP Morgan Chase. GEO Group and CoreCivic currently are the country’s largest private prison and immigrant detention companies. What we want to point out is that if the financing and the connection is coming from JPMorgan Chase, and they are connected to the current administration in many ways, we want to be able to draw that connection for people.
It has everything to do with profit. I think the message tomorrow is we want to be sure that companies like JPMorgan Chase are not profiting off of the backs of immigrant families and are not putting profits before a moral obligation to keep families together, to keep mothers with their daughters and their sons and their husbands and their loved ones.
There has been a ton of work over the last couple of months. Some escalations and some arrests have happened a couple of months ago in front of the JPMorgan headquarters. There was a shareholder meeting that took place in Delaware where hundreds of people marched on the shareholder meeting and a couple went in to confront Jamie Dimon. We just want to continue the drumbeat of going after corporations like JPMorgan Chase who stand to profit off of the misery and suffering of our communities.

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No Muslim Ban, Not Ever, with Murad Awawdeh


Donald Trump’s centerpiece policy, his Muslim travel ban, is back in court and protesters are back in the streets. Murad Awawdeh and the New York Immigration Coalition have been planning strategies for resistance since before the election, and that groundwork has allowed them to be ready for the fight.

The work prior to Election Day was planned out for us well in advance of the election. We had a “What if Hillary Clinton Wins?” and “What if Donald Trump Wins?” At first people thought we were crazy for doing scenario-planning for both, because everyone thought it was clear who was going to win. Just erring on the side of caution, we decided that it was really important that we do that. Prior to the election, we were looking at “What can real immigration reform at the federal level look like?” and “How do we revive those thoughts in a way where we are providing 11 million undocumented people a pathway to citizenship and to status in the United States?”

The reality was that whoever won, it was going to be a difficult fight. It is just a different fight now. As opposed to just thinking about “What is that pathway?” now we have to think about this large scale enforcement apparatus that is being created, that is building off of the huge enforcement apparatus that President Obama already had in place. With Donald Trump being elected, we dusted off our “What if Donald Trump Wins?” scenario plan and started to spruce it up. Then, shortly after that, we kicked off our This is Our New York campaign, which really was to illustrate the values of New York and how immigrants have been the backbone and the foundation of building this great state.

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We have been able to build up our resistance movement built on people from all walks of life coming together to say “This is not right. This goes against who we are.” You can see through the actions that we have done at JFK when the Muslim ban came down, where 5-10,000 people showed up in a span of four hours. The next day we had a march from Battery Park, which overlooks the Statue of Liberty and marched straight to the DHS building at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City and over 30,000 people showed up to that. After that, we had about twenty other events that drew thousands of people consecutively. It became this huge resistance force on the ground. And not only on the ground, but in the courts and providing people with the legal assistance that they needed for free. That was something where we were able to demonstrate as an organization our ability to really put pressure on the streets, but also provide the legal expertise that was needed at that point to help people get out of the situation they were in when they were stuck in JFK.

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Fighting Wall Street for Racial Justice, with Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks

There have been a lot of debates recently about Wall Street and its role in fights for racial justice. For Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks, co-founders of a new organization, the Action Center for Race and the Economy, understanding and combating the power of finance is an indispensable part of the struggle for both racial and economic justice, fights that cannot be separated out from one another.

MW: To me, the Trump administration is actually a perfect example of the demonstration of our analysis. On the one hand, you have a group of people who are just outright racist, who are just pushing forward the most hateful, xenophobic ideas that you could possible imagine. And on the other side, you have this group of people who are some of the economic justice targets that we have been fighting for the past ten or twenty years. Folks from Goldman Sachs, Steven Mnuchin, and that whole bunch.

In our analysis it makes a lot of sense that those two camps of people came together. There is a wealth extraction plan that they are pushing forward and the tool to do it is the racist hate language. Blaming the problems of the economy onto Black and Latino, brown folks and whoever else they can blame. It makes perfect sense that those two things are together and it is a really important calling for us to focus on race as a central piece of the work that we are doing. Because, if we don’t, it can be used as a tool against us.

SB: I would add that one of the original sins of the Democratic party going into the 2016 election was the failure of the last administration and the supermajorities in Congress to actually offer meaningful relief to struggling families in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The focus was on “How do we make sure that we can keep the financial system afloat?” and they left working families, struggling families behind.

One of the things that really is important about that is that one of the ways in which Wall Street ensured that they were able to push through their agenda was by racializing the issue. It was that the home owners who were facing foreclosure, they are irresponsible Black and Latino families who got into loans they couldn’t afford and so they didn’t deserve help. The reality is, we know, that Black and Latino families were actually targeted with predatory mortgages.

But, the other side of that, though, is that while it is true that Black and Latino families are disproportionately the people who impacted by the foreclosure crisis, in raw numbers it was a lot more poor white folks who were foreclosed on because there are a lot more poor white folks in the country than there are poor Black and Latino families.

The “white working class,” they very much were impacted by the same pro-Wall Street policies that were justified by scapegoating people of color. What is interesting now, of course, you had Donald Trump who really appealed to a lot of folks who felt left behind by the Democratic Party by saying the system is rigged. He wasn’t wrong that “The system is rigged.” It was rigged. Of course, it was rigged by the very people that he has put in his cabinet. So, it is this vicious cycle. As Maurice said, this is the perfect example of how race and class and racial and economic analysis go hand in hand and come together to give us the moment that we are in now.

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