It was a week ago that I arrived in Orlando, Florida, to participate in the Immigration Youth Organizing training with over 200 youth activists and advocates from all over the Sunshine state. I’ve been meaning to write about my experiences since I came back to DC this past Monday, but haven’t been able to carve out time and fully process my experience of last weekend. Truthfully, its so much to process that I’m thinking multiple posts will have to be written.
I want to tell you about the 30 minute phone bank drive that got over 300 commitments to the Sept. 23rd DREAM day of action, I want to tell you about one youth organizer who gave up a possible spot at MIT (his dream school) to stay at the training in solidarity with DREAM students who don’t have access to higher education, I want to tell you about each and every single aspect of the weekend that made it so powerful.
However, as I sit down to think through the training, my mind keeps coming back to one moment. It was the final day of the weekend, and people were exhausted but energized and ready for the fight. The youth facilitators had done an amazing session analyzing power structures, racism and oppression. All of the participants had just gotten out of breakout groups where they had role played scenarios of oppression and had practiced and perfected their ability to stand up for themselves and fight for justice with words. A staff member from Representative Suzanne Kosmas’ office had come to speak in front of the crowd.
It was a tense moment, as he took the stage. The youth facilitators were told he would only take two questions. It was the first encounter between these passionate, engaged and idealistic youth and the political game. The staffer got up and began to talk about how immigration reform “couldn’t happen quickly” and talked about how the youth should tamper their expectations, even going as far as saying it could take two or three years for reform to be passed. Honestly, I felt a bit sorry for him. It was clear that he only had vague details of who he was addressing and was unaware of the fact that these youth have the backing of a major national campaign. In short, he didn’t know who he was dealing with.
In what could have been a disheartening moment for many young activists, one of our youth facilitators, Felipe, grabbed the microphone and delivered an off-the-cuff question that took this staffer to task.
“You say we have to deliver leadership from the community in order for reform to be passed? Well, look around, here is your leadership. You say that these things take time? Well, this campaign wasn’t just created, it has been ongoing for years. So I ask you, will your Representative stand with us and stand for justice to help pass comprehensive immigration reform”
It didn’t even matter what the staffer’s response was. What mattered was Felipe’s push back, his strength and most of all, his absolute determination that this was possible.
Believe me when I tell you that I’ve seen the future of the movement and it is powerful. The training in Orlando was a transformative experience for everyone involved. The youth who traveled from across the state of Florida to be there, the facilitators who before had worked with Marshall Ganz to train young people for Camp Obamas, the Reform Immigration FOR America staff there to lend support: everybody left changed.
I sat each day in amazement as these youth shared their stories; some of them for the first time ever. I heard their struggles, their incredible stories of triumph and overcoming obstacles and their ever-present determination to turn those struggles into a fight for a more just world. I was humbled over and over by the sheer magnitude and depth of what I was witnessing.
At the end of the weekend, one of the lead trainers, who had previously trained organizers for Camp Obama’s (one of the most successful organizing campaigns in history, mind you) managed to capture the spirit of the weekend. As a part of the training, the youth were asked to read an excerpt from “Parting the Waters” about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And, this trainer said that she has trained so many youth organizers and they always do a section on the history of the civil rights movement. Each time she teaches this section, she imagines what it would have been like to be in the room with those leaders who made history, what it would be like to have known Ralph Abernathy or JoAnn Robinson or Martin Luther King Jr.
In tears, she said
“Now I know what it would have been like, because this weekend I have been in the presence of leaders who are going to make history.”
Sounds dramatic right? It was. But it was the truth. These youth leaders are passionate, committed and endlessly inspiring. With their support and their drive, this movement cannot fail.