It’s been almost 7 months and I had another reflection one again about organizing in MS. I think these things are popping up in my head because I’m job-hunting, and hoping that I’ve learned from those experiences.
Having worked in the NPIC, and in Mississippi’s organizing environment, I think we’re all trained to just go for it: just train people and try to turn them into some radical machine that’s going to change the world. Acting as if we’re entitled to the community’s attention, work, or gratitude leads to a lot of frustration and I know I fell into that pattern.
Too often we don’t think about what it takes for the community to survive in hostile states and environments. Having grown up in L.A. I’d say that fear and racism are the same across the board, but in some places, fear and racism as seeped into a geographic area’s DNA. In Mississippi, I think the air feels heavier for people of color, as if it’s trying to warn us that others have existed as oppressed people, and have left their stories behind to teach us.
If the average person of color feels oppressed, angry and depressed in a state like Mississippi, I’m sure the undocumented community feels even worse: they are the forgotten undocumented people in a forgotten state, in a forgotten part of the world (which incidentally, people only remember whenever they need to prove to themselves that they’re not the worst).
Now I’ve gotten used to nice Buenos Aires with its lack of stop and frisk, lack of stand your ground laws, lack of anti-immigrant laws and deportations, I’ve realized that Mississippi’s undocumented immigrants should great a freaking medal just for staying: for not giving up after the first check point, or the one after that, for finding ways to survive after one of the most draconian E-Verify policies was put in place, for opening restaurants, for daring to drive far away for any reason (such as heading to ATL to watch a FIFA game or gambling in NOLA), for not giving up before DACA and still going to school despite the lies told by their counselors and for remembering who they are despite being forgotten by the rest of the country and the rest of the immigrant rights movement.
Surviving in a police state and staying takes an enormous amount of courage. Just like stay at home moms who are doing a thankless, unpaid bulk of labor, surviving in the place that killed Emmett Till and so many others is a revolutionary act. I wish I had seen it this way when I was living/organizing there, and that I had been more grateful.
This reflection came to me yesterday as I was drinking my coffee, wondering what I’ll end do next, panicking over where I’ll live as soon as I return to the states, and freaking out at the prospect that maybe, it’s not my destiny to return at all…. but I decided that I don’t want to organize in Mississippi when I return, unless the community makes a request for it and leads these efforts. I think many organizations who’ve come in had good intentions, but they were trying to “save” people who weren’t asking them for anything, and it kind of annoyed the hell out of those who were supposedly being “saved” because no one stuck around. But mostly, no one* truly thought about just what it takes to survive as a lonely person, in the loneliest state, in the loneliest towns…and to have to do campaigns? Fight anti-immigrant laws? I suppose if allies who came in—including myself—acknowledge thatLIFE itself is tough already, then perhaps people wouldn’t feel as if the NPIC is trying to extort the little energy left in the community to just hang in there.
I hope someday the community feels strong enough to have bigger actions, or be more vocal and “out,” but for now, I’m impressed enough at their survival skills and I don’t need to see people giving fancy “empowered” speeches, I’m already impressed and grateful that at least a few people have let me into their lives.