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Social Justice Alliance Connects Globally
Louis Head Interviews Michael Leon Guerrero
T his past April a group of organizers and leaders representing grassroots organizations, unions, and student groups met in San Antonio, Texas where they formalized a strategic relationship to help advance their efforts in communities and workplaces throughout the U.S., places many of them have called the “South within the North.”
Michael Leon Guerrero is coordinator of Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), the alliance formed by the 33 organizations represented at the Texas meeting. GGJ seeks to act as a vehicle for organizing a national progressive movement made up of low-income and working people in the U.S.
A summer internship program sent Leon Guerrero, who is Chamoru (of Guamanian descent), away from his home in California in the late 1980s to work with the SouthWest Organizing Project in New Mexico. He stayed on and became a field organizer and a driving force behind many of the organization’s campaigns on environmental and economic justice issues. In 1992 he became co-director. In December 2004 he left the staff of SWOP in order to assume full-time responsibilities at GGJ. I spoke with him during a visit to Albuquerque.
HEAD: Who makes up Grassroots Global Justice?
LEON GUERRERO: GGJ includes U.S.-based national and regional networks like Jobs with Justice, United Students Against Sweatshops, the Indigenous Environmental Network, National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice. Unions and worker organizations such as United Electrical Workers, PACE Local 8-675, Southwest Workers Union, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee are also members, as well as community-based organizations like Community Voices Heard, Environmental Health Coalition, and the SouthWest Organizing Project. So GGJ represents a wide range of constituents—migrant farmworkers from Ohio and North Carolina, industrial workers in Pennsylvania, welfare mothers from New York City, public school workers in San Antonio, members of various indigenous nations, and many others.
A reality often overlooked is that the basis exists for a viable social movement here that can challenge for power. We could go back many years to look at the roots of this movement, but my point of reference is the 1980s. Many of the organizations that make up GGJ were established during that period in response to specific things such as the lack of affordable healthcare, Reagan’s cut-backs of welfare benefits, oppressive labor conditions, and environmental injustice. In spite of, and in response to a hostile political environment in the U.S., we have built strong labor and community institutions for progressive change. They have survived for the better part of three decades and have become more sophisticated with time.
The grassroots environmental justice networks that emerged in the 1990s—several of which presently help make up GGJ—brought together groups around sets of issues. Does GGJ seek to replicate this approach at the national level?
There is certainly room to mount national campaigns focused on specific issues and we view part of our role being the promotion of such work. For example, we have started to coordinate some activities among the members of the alliance. We have formed a few committees and working groups. This is the first time that grassroots organizations and networks have been able to mount such an effort at the national level simultaneously with our counterparts throughout the Americas.
We recognize that there is now an opportunity for us to come together and bring our prior experience to a national formation that transcends the kind of work that we did in the 1990s. As a broad-based alliance GGJ brings together groups not so much around a specific issue or theme, but rather to discuss a national agenda from the grassroots.
The name of the new alliance suggests that you are looking at the international arena. I recall that, from the beginning, organizations such as the Southwest Workers Union, Southerners for Economic Justice, the EJ networks, and others always viewed their work as being related to what is going on in the world.
FLOC has engaged in international organizing campaigns for years. The Southwest Network and others have developed bi-national relations and campaigns. But across the board the levels of contact and practical work have been uneven.
What became GGJ was born out of the World Social Forum experience in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2002. Roughly 50,000 people came from around the world. Seeing the strength of popular movements building national power—calling for social and political agendas based on human rights, sustainable economies and environments, worker rights and indigenous sovereignty—made us realize a few things. One is that our struggles in the U.S. are not isolated and that we are not alone. Second is that it is possible to win and build political power at the national and international levels. Third is that we have a lot of work to do in the U.S.
We also came to understand that it is very important that grassroots efforts taking place within the U.S. obtain more visibility in the international community. It was striking to us that many of our colleagues in other parts of the world have little knowledge of conditions here and that they often do not even know that there are organizations working for social change here.
Why is that?
In part because they are exposed mainly to U.S.-based NGOs that focus exclusively on U.S. foreign policy and its political and economic consequences in the global South or the practices of certain multinational corporations abroad or related labor conditions. The predecessors of these groups were often called solidarity organizations. They do noble and valuable work. But their personnel may spend far more time living and working abroad than in the United States. They rarely have any connection or lines of accountability to U.S.-based social movement organizations and they address international issues as if they were distinct from the problems in their own country. Their perceptions of the work that our organizations do may be ill-informed.
With this in mind, we have sent over 400 community and worker leaders from the United States to the past three Social Forums. In 2004 we developed strategic plans for the coming three years, and we organized a popular education conference on globalization. This past April we held a first membership meeting where 33 organizations formally joined the alliance.
The material conditions of a labor organizer in the U.S. will almost always be noticeably better than those of someone in the same relative social position in a region such as Latin America. This must be thought provoking for organizers and community or workplace leaders who visit a country such as Brazil, for example.
The most important thing is the development of a political movement that understands that the struggles of Mexico, Latin America, or south Asia are inseparable from those of working and community people in the U.S. To do so we must bring workers and communities together rather than promote competition between people, as happens when the whole position on jobs gets pushed during battles over trade agreements, and then gets parroted by the media.
What can organizations in GGJ learn from their counterparts abroad?
One thing we can learn is how people in the global South have built strong organizations and movements with fewer resources than are often available to us here. How have they been able to develop the kind of infrastructure that is reflected by their evident strength? It forces us to look at how we do our organizing work and what it will take to win at a broader level. If we have more at our disposal, then we ought to be able to strengthen our work. The degree to which we do can also have a positive impact in the South.
What role do you believe GGJ can play in developing U.S. policy?
Our role is to begin to provide a real alternative to the neoliberal agenda. There are several burning questions inherent in this. What do we see as the role of government? How do we assure there are adequate resources to provide for social needs such as healthcare, social security, and environmental regulation? How do we tax and spend in a fair and just way? How do we protect the sovereignty and resources of indigenous nations?
This involves a set of more profound discussions that we are just beginning to have. We see the United States Social Forum as one vehicle towards doing this. GGJ is on the planning committee for the USSF and we are staffing the process until the USSF has adequate resources to do so. The forum will take place in the summer of 2006 and we are very excited about it. This will be a much-needed opportunity, a platform from which progressive voices in the U.S. may better express themselves.
How does this movement and specifically Grassroots Global Justice project itself on the international landscape, beyond participation in occasional meetings?
We must be more consistent and strategic in our participation in the international community. We have been sporadic and our participation temporal. For example, when we organize a delegation to the United Nations Conference on Racism little follow-up will take place or adequate planning for the next international event. No connection from one event to the other will occur. Many of our global counterparts participate actively in the United Nations process, yet in the U.S. most people are unaware of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the Millennium Goals, even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
One of our tasks is to build more consistency and a greater sense of purpose when we participate at the international level. An important step for us is to join the Operating Secretariat that will organize the Social Forum to be held in Venezuela in January 2006. This will give us an opportunity to learn more about the international landscape and how we can be more involved.
Some GGJ members already have established international exchanges that may bode well for the future. What can you tell us about these?
Jobs with Justice has started an exciting project with the New Trade Union Initiative in India to bring workers from India and the U.S. together to define perspectives and strategies on outsourcing and immigration. Southwest Workers Union and Project South are members of the Convergence of Movements of Peoples of the Americas and, together with mass organizations in Latin America, were doing important work on CAFTA and the FTAA. Community Voices Heard has conducted exchanges with CONGESCO, connecting welfare mothers in New York City to people organizing in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The United Electrical Union is developing joint strategies among General Electric workers in the U.S., Brazil, and other countries. These efforts are essential and it is important that we support them. Their success is an indicator of the degree to which we can build true solidarity. It is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive work, yet we know it must be done.
Louis Head is executive director of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Cuba Research & Analysis Group. For 16 years he was a staffperson at the SouthWest Organizing Project.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.