Saturday, December 19, 2015

Reflection from Paris PT3 - Diana Lopez

It was very clear going into Paris that the negotiations will never fully benefit or protect our communities. The past 500 years has been testimony of the trajectory of colonization. And as long as colonialism thrives in the economy any treaty, agreement, negotiation whatever you name it will not be made in our name. Along with 100+ people from Canada and the United States, the It Takes Roots delegation, comprised of Grassroots Global Justice, the Climate Justice Alliance and the Indigenous Environmental Network, brought solutions from communities facing environmental destruction and a slew of other issues caused by the capitalist, extractive economy. People already developing alternative plans around health, economy, education and environment through cooperatives, sustainable agriculture

The San Antonio Delegation from Fuerza Unida and Southwest Workers Union realized that in order for the Paris trip to be a success we needed to bring it home. If our family at home did not know why we were there and understood the necessity of challenging the structure and in return providing solutions then we could not come back and continue our work.

On November 24th, Fuerza Unida and SWU held the first of two panels titled Womyn, Gender and Climate Change. Here stories of how patriarchy has caused the stripping of culture, the institutional commodification of womyn and the destruction of a healthy, safe, self determinate communities were shared. But what was also shared are the traditional solutions of our abuelas and abuelos that healed us growing up.  The end analysis is that womyn are mother earth, our cycles are synced and womyn’s body composition mimics that of the elements that make up the earth. Towards the end two questions were asked that shifted the discussion. “What is the relationship between migration and climate change?” and “What is the role of LGBTQI communities in climate change?”

Issac Garcia from RAIZ/Planned Parenthood answered the latter. He said by isolating the queer and trans community we are only isolating our own movement. Trans people of color are being murdered on the streets and isolated by our own community. How can we reach true justice without fully including gender and reproductive issues?

The first question around migration brought the conversation together into a discussion that was a story sharing session between youth, elders and everyone in between. From butterflies to workers to indigenous practice to farmers to Syria to the migration of chemicals in the body/Mother Earth to racism and detention centers . . . Everything Is Related. What I learned is that our communities on the ground, the abuelas, and mothers, students, teachers, organizers are making those connection and we are the ones building a just transition.

To fully understand why migration opened up the flow of connection we must look back to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 when the United States created a border between Mexico and the US causing the division of families and the criminalization of Latino people. Since then every US president has increase funding for the wall, created a system of private detention facilities for women and children and support the creation of policy that allows farmers to murder migrants on their property without penalty. And looking beyond the treaty there was a structure of conquest that stripped native culture and enslaved black and brown bodies.

People from the Southwest understand migration as a human right, natural to every human as it is to animals and insects. We flow between English and Spanish with ease never fully speaking either perfectly. We use local plants, music and food to heal. People cross the river to be with their family without barriers. Climate change exacerbates the natural barriers people have to cross in the name of a better life, and when they do they are faced with exposure to toxic chemicals, wage theft and displacement, therefore, migration and the climate agreements go hand in hand. The detention center action on December 9th brought those stories together into one struggle for dignity and justice. Without an agreement that will reducing emissions to a safe level of 1.5 rather than a goal of 2.0. Our people will continue to be exposed to harmful toxins and suffer the worst from extreme weather in addition to the cumulative effects of a flawed education, food and economic system.

The negotiations in Paris fail to identify true solutions for addressing climate change and saving Mother Earth. Instead they identify the best ways to commercialize nature. The Paris accord is based on a carbon market that allows the riches countries to continue business while using land grabs and trading schemes to offset their carbon emissions. In addition the Obama administration sees the Clean Power Plan as the golden ticket while coercing other countries to follow suit when the plan allows for maximum greenwashing. Ultimately at the expense of human rights and Indigenous Peoples.

Why was Paris a critical point in the climate justice movement? It allowed communities with real solutions to come together and challenge business as usual calling on systems change not climate changing. The next few years need strong, rooted and fiercer leaders to fight against gentrification and the commercialization of nature and to ensure the implementation of true solutions for our people and the planet.

** Thank you to all the gente who supported through donations and those that shared our stories from Paris. Thank You to all the wonderful organizers and members who shared knowledge at Fuerza Unida on Nov. 24th and those that came out to the Drag Show and the Loteria. Mucho Amor y Fuerza!

San Antonio x Fuerza Unida Delegation on Dec. 12

Orientation Dinner w It Takes Roots Delegation Dec. 4th

Migrant Rights Action

Dec. 10 Human Rights Day Action at the Peace Wall

Reflection from Paris PT 2 - Arty Trejo

Mi Regreso de Paris

Southwest Workers’ Union (SWU) joined over a dozen of national grassroots organizations in a delegation named It Takes Roots To Weather the Storm under our participation with Grassroots Global Justice alliance in Paris of 2015 to go up against the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in their annual Conference of the Parties (COP). The COP serves as a decision-making for global powers like the US, China, India, and other European nations to negotiate on matters of the carbon markets and extractive economy, for examples the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, cap and trade, and land grab. In other words, this allows big profiteers arrange their schemes of, technology, occupation, and green-washed colonization of natural resources of our Mother Earth.

In the momentum of previous COPs, grassroots movements, and other leaderships have mobilized towards climate justice, in which, we counter the false solutions of the COP with our real solutions for resilience, and community-based efforts towards a just transition and restorative justice for our Mother Earth. We intersect these real solutions with labor, race, gender, food sovereignty, land, housing, migration, and health.

My personal experience in the COP has been very challenging, I have witnessed it Lima, Peru of 2014 and now in Paris. The goal for SWU is to stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples, people of color, and working-class groups who have prioritized their grassroots movement in environmental justice like the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), South West Organizing Project (SWOP), People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODERSF), Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), Community2Community, Cooperation Jackson, Asian Pacific Environment Network (APEN), Communities for Better Environment (CBE) and many more.

My role as an organizer from San Antonio is to carry the narratives of our community who have been impacted by fracking from the Eagle Ford Shale, the privatization of water by San Antonio Water System, and the pollution by oil refinery Calumet and the military bases who continue to haunt the Southside from the Kelly Air force to Port San Antonio. Paris displayed a movement of international solidarity of bodies who stir up the governments of each region to a system change. When we demand a change for social justice, we are protecting each other and recognize the harmony of our visibility with Mother Earth. You will read material from news media stating the failure of the Paris Accord at COP21, and it is true, however, we knew once inside this belly of the beast, we would encounter an opposition of our narratives by lobbyists, governors, and political presidents who are willing to put our bodies in danger for their capitalistic agenda.

Our victory did resonate in the streets of Paris. I could hear the echo of our presence in Parisian popular sites like the Eiffel Tower and the Wall of Peace, I can recount the our footsteps in front of the Arc de Triomphe when we started our march of 300k people. We made those streets loud! Manifesting our opposition to coal, gas and oil; our opposition of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), the use of extreme energy, mining, racial and gender injustice. Our delegation has incredible youth leaders who articulated dialogues to news media and shook an audience of international solidarity to its core.

Diana Lopez from SWU sat down and shared her San Anto experience, her work in the organization and victories against polluting sites; to in a room where only a few from our community can do. It is hard to be able to become visible, however, our It Takes Roots […] delegation aligned to uplift our work. SWU has set a path to speak about workers rights, community resilience through food justice, and youth leadership development; our framework towards an equitable and equal alternative economy continues to challenge the capitalistic and extractive economy. When I witnessed Diana speak of injustices, I felt bigger and more confident of my position to be in Paris. It gave me the push to speak at a workshop called “The Future of Our Movement” to propose social forums or assemblies in which include our barrios to participate and attend major dialogues for an environmental justice and community resilience. It is our communities, our barrios, our campos, our families who are impacted the most due to (global) capitalistic/neoliberal negotiations at COP.

Texas is inside the belly of the beast; we witness a total neglect of land, economy and natural resources. Exploitation of labor, land, water, and energy continue to plague our health. We are witnesses of low-income, minimum wages, high-cost water rates, and extractive resources like fossil fuels, coal, and fracking plus the drought, floods, heavy rain and high temperatures climate change has cause to our region. Another issue we connected in Paris is the injustices seen towards migrants. As a child of migration, this hit me the most. Our delegation participated in an action against Paris’ largest detention center, which has documented the abuse and death of migrants who become political refugees from their region and seek for shelter and safety. Our action counted with a participation of European allies, World March of Womyn, IEN, and other caucuses who are in depth for justice of migrant rights. Here, once again, Diana spoke of her personal experience of being from a migrant family. The sincerity she spoke, made people realize the struggles individuals and families face in their communities due to governments failing to human rights, and land rights.

Finally, on December 10th, our delegation organized and mobilized over 150 people to be part our action in front of the Wall of Peace to call-out the US imperialism. This date is International Human Rights Day; our theme was to connect our grassroots organizing and the international solidarity on human rights. On this date, we had an agenda including speakers on issues of race, gender, indigenous rights, militarization, pollution, migration, etc. We also talked on our opposition of Obama’s new Clean Power Plan, in which is a green-washed clean energy (false) solution. I had the privilege of being the facilitator to this action, and was able to navigate through an agenda filled with many narratives who demand system change and not climate change. It also included youth from SWOP speaking on the intergenerational issues and complexity of race and gender in communities separated by patriarchy and other policies. We were able to receive news media attention from Al-Jazeera+, Democracy Now! Uprising News, Indigenous Uprising, and other outlets that care for grassroots movements.

Again, some might say the summit for the agreements in Paris was a failure but our victory stays strong in our climate justice movement and the return of Diana Lopez, Lucha Lopez, Adela Arellano and me to our San Anto community and share our experience. It is very empowering to share a room with our community to speak and continue to organize on the struggles we face daily. This movement is important because it includes where I live and my family; the fundamental victory is the resilience of my community. We are the ones stirring up for a system change.

The deluge of a democratic deceit, handcuffs…binds and rewinds
Times delicate work of liberation.
- Suzanne Dhaliwal

TEJAS and SWU at the Notre Dame Cathedral

Arty leads chants in the It Takes Roots Delegation at D12

Human Rights Action on Dec. 10 at the Peace Wall

Reflection from Paris Pt 1 - Lucha Lopez

December 12 - Climate Justice Day of Action

By Lucha Lopez

My trip to Paris was very great, inspirational, kinda blew my mind. It was the first time I crossed the Atlantic to Europe. Being in the airport was strange, everyone kinda looked the same & different from pale white to dark black. I swear for a moment I thought I was in downtown San Antonio surrounded by Mexicans, but a foreign language pours out of their mouth Arabic, Turkish, French, German and African. I hear people talking English in British, Irish, and Australian accents. The airport is connected to the metro. We are looking out the window, theres a lot of graffiti, it looks like the United States, except so many ancient buildings. A homeless guy leaves a yellow note asking for help. Its kinda familiar or comforting in a strange way; the feelings of gratitude mingled with apprehension, fear and wonder. All these internal feelings, will my time here in Paris matter, will I make a difference in the overall scope of things globally, can I connect it locally. How did I get here wow?!

There are numerous amounts of immigrants in Paris I was expecting to be among a sea of white French people. They're there, but mixed in with all these other races of people. What is even more surprising is all these people are speaking French with features from the Middle East, Egyptians and Latin. The feeling is over familiar, being within a global society participating within the universal patchwork that makes up the human existence. How will this trip impact me? This is the very seat of colonialism, historically speaking. When I walk through the streets of France I can help but think of all the oppression, war and killing, so much blood.

Being around such powerful people from all over is very inspiring. Meeting new movement folks is such a fun bonding experience. Growing up within the movement is hard sometimes, because when you think about all the work people before you did and/or parents/family, even then after so much progress, there is still so much more Heavy Work that still has to be done or is bearly being addressed now in 2015. Hearing people speak about their local work and experience in the United States is very uplifting and seems recognizable so far from home. Listening to local people talking about police brutality and people dying in police custody is hard to take and immigrants talking about their experience inside a detention center is depressing but somehow seems to link us together in the fight for basic human rights.

Listening to all the devastation back home and abroad caused by corporations, oil companies, the states and the cities within them leaves me feelings vulnerable and makes me miss my family immensely. Hearing about all the destruction of our environment and the planet as a whole from deep sea oil spills to the fracturing of our sacred mother to gain access to all of her resources to the killing off of animals, species by species, makes everything seem hopeless. The auctioning of native items in Paris is a low blow and seems as though it was specifically planned along with our arrival to set us back as we are all connected by our sacred items and feel personally connected to them. Having so many indigenous women, men and youth was an amazing feeling. All the ceremonies connected to water were very powerful for me especially as a mexica apache azteca woman.

Participating in all of the actions within the 10 day frame I was there was encouragement for my lucha soul and really made me happy to be fight the good fight. The actions filled me with so much exhilaration, hope, joy and satisfaction. Happy to be yelling our local chants at the eiffel tower and exited to share struggle through the local french chants.

Loteria Cards in the Art Space
Photo by Arty Trejo

Lucha Lopez on the Dec. 12 Red Lines Action
Photo by Adela Arellano 

Monday, July 06, 2015

People's Movement Assembly in Jackson, MS

Reflection on Jackson

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to the People's Movement Assembly in Jackson, Mississippi to talk about Just Transition. The Assembly was held by Cooperation Jackson; a grassroots organization focusing in movement building away from the current capitalist system and to an economy based on cooperatives and worker owned enterprises for a more just society. It was my first time ever attending a space devoted to talking about issues, which particularly hurt marginalized communities. It was my first time in a space full of so many different community organizers.  

During the school year I work with a youth group, so I chose to sit in on the Youth Organizing workshop hoping to get ideas about how engage the youth I work with. In our workshop we talked about the world we do see and the world we want to see in the future. Two of the discussions that most struck me were talking about what education means and discussing the meanings of and feelings we get when we use certain environmental terms.    

It was interesting to see how the format of our discussion was a lot like a class I would take at my school. The workshop was mainly us sitting and sharing ideas with each other. A lot of classes at my college are similarly discussion driven for at least a portion of the class. The huge difference between these two being that one is accessible and the other is super inaccessible. And that was something that was talked about, redefining and revaluing education so that education can mean learning in community settings like that.

Then the discussion around words was interesting and important. Everyone responds to words differently but to have a movement that resonates with people you have to have functional dialogue. People often use words without really examining their meaning and I think discussions around language and really helpful. For example, we talked about people’s thoughts and feelings about the word “sustainability.” For me, I’m coming from a very formally educated background where it’s usually white people I’m talking to about sustainability and for me when I hear the word I think of how the more it’s used, the less it seems to mean. But a couple other people’s reactions in the group were things like “sustainability means love to me” and it really struck me how different our interpretations were.    
I occupy two very different spaces. I have the privilege of getting a fancy education at a school where most students are white and from the upper classes and I am a brown person from a low-income neighborhood. Environmental discussions at my school and aware from my school are super different. I feel like in the elite environment of my college there’s a lot of scientific understanding of climate change that is divorced from the realities of communities, especially those of color or poor communities. Whereas discussions in spaces like at Cooperation Jackson, talking about the importance of fighting climate change is rooted in addressing issues faced by frontline communities. 

The importance of knowing about climate change and environmental issues in general and making the connections to the larger oppressive system we live in is to get people angry. There’s a lot of apathy amongst people and that’s why the system functions. More people need to be aware of these injustices being perpetuated against certain peoples so that they’re angry enough to do something.
- Grace Obregon

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Air Quality talk in San Antonio, TX

My name is Grace and I have the great opportunity to be interning with Southwest Workers’ Union this summer! I was born and raised on the Northeast side of San Antonio, and I go to college in Colorado. My focus this summer is working with SWUs Environmental Justice initiatives, so far I have been learning more about the environmental problems in the region including the other national, and global issues of injustices. I’m really looking forward to working with and learning from SWU this summer. Here these are some of the things I learned about researching air quality in San Antonio: 

Lets start with the different causes, and effects to air pollution. Currently San Antonio is affected by Ground-level Ozone, it is considered to be one of the most harmful effects is in our air quality. Ground-level ozone is the main component of smog, and this type of air pollution most harmful to people's health; exposure to Ground-level Ozone causes respiratory problems like coughing, chest pain, irritation of the throat and lungs leading to health diseases like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. There is also a risk, and the increase likelihood of heart attack or stroke. These health problems are a concern in which SWU brings awareness to children, youth, elders, and working-class members of our community who is exposed to air contamination.

Ozone located in the stratosphere protects us from dangerous UV rays from the sun. Having mentioned the concern about Ground-level Ozone, I will mention its formation. Ground-level Ozone is created when Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) reacts with Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) under the presence of heat, and sunlight--a green house gas--Nitrogen Oxide is 300 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. It is important to clarify that trees and other vegetation naturally produce both NOx and VOCs and we would have them in the environment regardless of human interaction. However, it is human activity that has disrupted nature’s balance completely off and produced unnatural amounts of these compounds into the environment. We need to observe the environmental destruction led by corporate companies using extreme energies, and extraction processes that amplifies the contamination to mother earth, and our health.

People have increased the amount of NOx present in the air through agricultural, transportational, and industrial habits. For San Antonio, half of NOx emissions come from vehicles and about 30% come from major industrial facilities, like power plants, chemical plants and refineries. VOCs come from products like paints, gasoline, solvents, pesticides, glues, and cleaning supplies. VOCs are actually a bigger problem indoors than outside due to all the household products people use. But outdoors, over 60% of VOC emissions for San Antonio come from smaller commercial buildings, like gas stations, and residential buildings.[1]

The city’s response to controlling ozone levels is primarily based on voluntary actions. The Environmental Protection Agency designed the Air Quality Index, which rates air quality from “good” to “very unhealthy,” to help the public understand the daily risk of air pollution and “protect themselves.” There are three levels of “unhealthy”: unhealthy for sensitive populations, unhealthy, and very unhealthy. When any of these warnings are given for a certain day, business owners and individuals are supposed to do things like drive less and avoid being outside to protect themselves that day. However, there are state officials who do not view our health to be a priority and does not regulate injustices done to our environment. 

There are so many issues with that system. It would be great to have a system that seeks to give people more information but people need to first have an understanding of what Ground-level Ozone and environmental issues are in general to understand why it's important. More importantly though a just transition for putting the responsibility on individuals doesn’t address the real systemic issues we are facing in our health, economic justice, and workers rights. Huge industries, like commercial agriculture and fracking, are hugely responsible for the contaminants in our air but they are not being held responsible like they should be. Relying on individuals to change their habits while letting huge companies do as they please helps the very few at the expense of many.

San Antonio is included in the Eagle Ford Shale region; drilling for oil and gas in the region has increased hugely since 2011 but effective regulation hasn’t come with that growth. Due loose and protected government regulation, it is difficult for SWU to document how many emissions are released in the air by drilling sites. However, the Alamo Area Council of Governments did an investigation concluding that most likely more emissions are being released into the air than allowed and certainly more than is healthy for the environment. These emissions contain VOCs that can then travel in the air throughout the region, including San Antonio, to mix with NOx and create more ground-level ozone. A correlation can be seen over the past years with the development of the Eagle Ford Shale region and increased air pollution in the region.[2]

Familias of color from low-income and working-class are the frontline communities of all ages are more likely to develop and be diagnosed with asthma, other breathing problems than predominately white families with socio-economic advantages.

-       Grace Obregon

for access to cited works given, please copy and paste links into your browser


Thursday, May 07, 2015

International Workers Day May 1, 2015 with the Southwest Workers Union

May 1st, 2015 is a special day for many people around the world in all parts of the world. For us here at Southwest Workers Union (SWU) and in solidarity with social movements from all over the world we celebrated International Workers Day. 

 International Workers' Day, also known as Labour Day in some places, is a celebration of laborers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labor movementanarchistssocialists, and communists and occurs every year on May Day, 1 May, an ancient European spring holiday. The date was chosen for International Workers' Day by the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago on 4 May 1886. This Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

This years march was well attended with over a 150 people marching. Starting at Milam Park / Plaza Del Zacate, we headed towards the SWU office stopping in three strategical spots. First stop being the Alamo, a symbol of colonialism and slavery. Next being the Torch of friendship, where we chanted towards the Mcdonalds, We don't want Burgers and fries, we want our wages super sized! In solidarity with the fight for $15 movement. Next we passed in front of the Hyatt where workers are currently in negotiations for better working conditions. When we reached our ending point, we rallied in the Roots of Change garden and read the May 1st declaration that was put together during our Workers Assembly on April 25th and previous actions from years before. The day was beautiful, the energy was wonderful and the evening brought the perfect sunset to the end of our rally. 

Leading up to the march, SWU had a few events to bring attention to the relevant issues that are expirienced in San Antonio, in Texas, in the United States and World Wide. One of the first events we had was a Workers Assembly on April 25. 
The assembly is the space to begin alignment, movement, and understanding of our current reality. We invite workers to share thoughts and experiences to create change for living wages.
We talked about the current food, economic, education and health systems that are not designed to benefit us-the poor working class. We discussed formats to govern ourselves and the systems needed for our communities to grow and prosper. The attacks on our community takes many forms. SWU and its members understand that organizing is diverse and developing these systems has many faces. formats and levels. In order to respond, resist and win, we will need more than one strategy, a public infrastructure that grows youth and builds a base of community leaders with political analysis and organizing skills. 
To have a living wage if you live in Travis County you would need to make $42,000 a year for a house hold of 3 and a 2 bedroom apartment.
To have a living wage if you live in Bexar County you would need to make $34,880 a year for a house hold of 3 and a 2 bedroom apartment.
April 26 was the Know your rights as a worker workshop. Workers discussed their rights and were consulted by attorneys concerning work related issues.
April 29 SWU attended The No fast track  for the Transpacific Partnership protest in front of the federal Building and then later that day we protested in Solidarity with #Baltimore in honor of Freddie Gray. 
We find there are many intersections in our movements wether it be workers rights, human rights enviromental rights and migrant rights. Please join us next year for the 10 year anniversary of the San Antonio MayDay march 


for more info contact
Southwest Workers Union