Interviews for Resistance: “Shutting It Down” on May 1

Sarah Jaffe April 25, 2017

"We really do believe that this is going to send a strong message to the administration, but also to the country, that we are in a moment of crisis," says Alejandra Valles, secretary-treasurer at SEIU United Services Workers West. (Caravan Against Fear/ Twitter)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. Since elec­tion night 2016, the streets of the Unit­ed States have rung with resis­tance. Peo­ple all over the coun­try have wok­en up with the con­vic­tion that they must do some­thing to fight inequal­i­ty in all its forms. But many are won­der­ing what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talk­ing with expe­ri­enced orga­niz­ers, trou­ble­mak­ers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fight­ing for a long time. They’ll be shar­ing their insights on what works, what does­n’t, what’s changed and what is still the same. 

Ale­jan­dra Valles: My name is Ale­jan­dra Valles. I am the sec­re­tary-trea­sur­er for SEIU Unit­ed Ser­vices Work­ers West. The union rep­re­sents jan­i­tors, secu­ri­ty offi­cers and air­port work­ers across California.

Sarah Jaffe: You are one of the orga­niz­ers of the Car­a­van Against Fear that is going on right now.

Ale­jan­dra: The Car­a­van Against Fear was orga­nized by SEIU USWW. Also, Glob­al Exchange, Rompe­vi­eto TV in Mex­i­co City. But then, also, over 230 orga­ni­za­tions, bi-nation­al orga­ni­za­tions, that have come on board. The Nation­al Day Labor­er Orga­niz­ing Net­work is also one of the main orga­niz­ers. We real­ly decid­ed we need­ed to fig­ure out how to mobi­lize the mass­es and how to break through this paral­y­sis of fear that the [Don­ald] Trump admin­is­tra­tion has been strate­gi­cal­ly try­ing to imple­ment across the coun­try and the world. 

Sarah: Tell us about it. How has it been going so far? Where are you currently?

Ale­jan­dra: We are in Tuc­son, Ari­zona. Now I am sit­ting here at a refugee-owned Ethiopi­an restau­rant, a small mom and pop that had heard about the car­a­van and reached out and want­ed to host a lunch for us. It is beau­ti­ful to get a warm meal on the road since we have been eat­ing fast food and junk food. Believe it.

We stopped here and had some authen­tic Ethiopi­an food. The restau­rant is refugee owned, so that means so much to us that folks are learn­ing about the caravan’s mis­sion and want to help in what­ev­er way they can. We have already gone through — we are on the 12th day, I believe. We have gone through all of Cal­i­for­nia, from Sacra­men­to to Bak­ers­field, Modesto, Presto, San Diego, Los Ange­les, San­ta Ana, and then we came to Ari­zona. We went to Phoenix and were received there. We also went to the Tohono O’od­ham Reser­va­tion at a mis­sion that they have there to talk about their oppo­si­tion to the wall in their sacred land. We are in Tuc­son, Ari­zona protest­ing against Martha McSal­ly, who is the con­gress­woman who has been very anti-immi­grant in her stance in Congress.

Sarah: How many more days do you have?

Ale­jan­dra: We are going all the way until May 1st. We still have a lit­tle over a week and a half, almost two to go. We have been sleep­ing in church­es. We have been sleep­ing on the floors — any­where that will open up their offices to us or their pews. We are on our way to Nogales where we will be greet­ing and meet­ing with a bunch of com­mu­ni­ty folks there who will tell us about what it is like in Nogales for migrant work­ers and for the work that they are doing on immi­gra­tion jus­tice. Then, after that, we are going to go to Las Cruces, tomor­row, where we will be speak­ing on behalf of a sanc­tu­ary ordi­nance that the city of Las Cruces is think­ing of try­ing to pass. The car­a­van real­ly is lift­ing up resis­tance efforts across the coun­try. How can we demand more from our local com­mu­ni­ties, our city coun­cils, to stand up and to fight back against the Trump admin­is­tra­tion rhetoric of anti-immi­grants polices and fear tactics?

Sarah: I want to talk about May Day, but first I want to talk a lit­tle bit about your union and why it is impor­tant for your union to be involved in this fight?

Ale­jan­dra: I think it is incred­i­bly impor­tant for all of the labor move­ment to be involved in this fight. We have seen a fight around issues of class and wages and ben­e­fits for work­ers, but the issues of racial jus­tice of Black Lives Mat­ter or immi­gra­tion jus­tice of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice are real­ly at the fore­front of our mem­bers’ lives every sin­gle day. Before they are a work­er, they are an immi­grant. Before they are a work­er, they are a black human being. Before they are a work­er, they are a mom and dad and friend and a sis­ter and a daugh­ter. We just decid­ed that we need­ed to take this on. The car­a­van itself is incred­i­bly diverse. It is built of peo­ple, of African Amer­i­cans who have been crim­i­nal­ized for decades and know what it is like to be dis­crim­i­nat­ed against and killed and dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed because of the col­or of their skin, but it is also built of a lot of immi­grant women who also know what it is like to be mar­gin­al­ized and to be dis­crim­i­nat­ed against and exploit­ed because of their immi­gra­tion sta­tus and because they don’t speak Eng­lish in this country.

We real­ly felt strong­ly that we need to resist at every lev­el. Our employ­ers need to resist when ICE comes knock­ing at their doors. Our com­mu­ni­ty needs to resist and rise up the way we have in oth­er moments, like 2006. Our con­gress­men and assem­bly­women and men have to resist, as well. We said, We have to break through this paral­y­sis of fear that Trump is using to try to keep us from doing any­thing and to try to keep us scared of our own shad­ows and liv­ing in this under­ground econ­o­my.” But, at the same time, we have also seen him tar­get­ing peo­ple of col­or, start­ing to pub­lish lists and real­ly crim­i­nal­iz­ing us in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways. That is what we are out here doing. We are telling all the com­mu­ni­ty, we are telling young kids, There is noth­ing wrong with us. We are hard­work­ing peo­ple. We help make this econ­o­my work and we are going to stand up for our rights,” and hop­ing that the rest of the coun­try and the world will follow.

Sarah: Your par­tic­u­lar union has a his­to­ry of being involved in immi­grant work­ers’ rights and the 2006 Day With­out an Immi­grant. Right?

Ale­jan­dra: Our union has led the fight on Jus­tice for Jan­i­tors back in the 80s and 90s when immi­grants were beat­en by the LAPD in Cen­tu­ry City and also went out on a mas­sive strike of almost 88,500 work­ers that shut down the city of Los Ange­les. Our union has been fight­ing for immi­gra­tion jus­tice for decades, to bring work­ers out of the shad­ow and into unions them­selves and the labor move­ment, embrace them and orga­nize them and lift the stan­dards for all workers.

At the same time, we have also been incred­i­bly involved in look­ing at what is hap­pen­ing to black work­ers — black work­ers who at one point made up and had a large pop­u­la­tion in the city of Los Ange­les and across Cal­i­for­nia and also make up a large por­tion of a lot of the indus­try. We have seen a dis­place­ment of black work­ers in our coun­try and in Cal­i­for­nia, specif­i­cal­ly. We have been very involved in orga­niz­ing black secu­ri­ty offi­cers. Many of them who wear a uni­form but live in pover­ty. We are fight­ing for black work­er jus­tice and high­light­ing why it is that black work­ers are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed and dis­crim­i­nat­ed against at work, but then also in their own communities.

This car­a­van is real­ly bring­ing our com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er. It is trav­el­ling from Cal­i­for­nia all the way to the south­ern bor­der. We are going to dri­ve all the way south to L.A. and we are going to par­tic­i­pate in a nation­al gen­er­al strike as work­ers, as rank-and-file mem­bers who are say­ing, We have every­thing to lose in this moment. Our eco­nom­ic and our human worth needs to be respected.”

We need to stand up and make sure the whole world and that Don­ald Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion under­stand that we help make this econ­o­my work. We pick the fruits and veg­eta­bles that end up at our tables. We wash and clean the toi­lets of the rich­est build­ings, many that Don­ald Trump him­self owns. We guard and we pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties. We put on our uni­forms as secu­ri­ty offi­cers to make sure some of his build­ings and oth­er build­ings across the coun­try are pro­tect­ed and also where we are first respon­ders any time a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter or emer­gen­cies hap­pen. We con­tribute to this econ­o­my every sin­gle day. Don­ald Trump needs to respect our human worth, this admin­is­tra­tion needs to also respect our eco­nom­ic worth, as well. That is why we are going to shut it down on May 1st.

Sarah: Since the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump the strike has real­ly kicked up anoth­er notch in the pub­lic con­scious­ness. There was a lot of debate around the Women’s Strike about whether it was priv­i­leged to take a day off from work. I would love to hear you talk about why it is impor­tant for the least priv­i­leged work­ers in our econ­o­my to actu­al­ly use the strike as a weapon.

Ale­jan­dra: Per­son­al­ly, I believe that all of the dif­fer­ent instances, the Women’s March was an incred­i­ble inspi­ra­tion. It was the largest mobi­liza­tion that we have had in the his­to­ry of our coun­try. I think that is the way we make change in this coun­try, in this world. It’s when peo­ple who are not nec­es­sar­i­ly impact­ed the same way as mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties, when those peo­ple are stand­ing up, they are tak­ing risks and they are help­ing to lead that charge. Mar­tin Luther King said that loud and clear, when you have white allies, you have inter­faith allies that join the front lines, that is when you start­ed to real­ly make a dif­fer­ence. I think that all the groups that are try­ing to do their best to resist in this moment are putting their lit­tle grain in the sand and inspir­ing us.

But, I also do believe that amongst us, even myself, I am a U.S. cit­i­zen. My par­ents were undoc­u­ment­ed. But, all of us need to take a look at our own priv­i­lege and fig­ure out how we, as human beings, help lift up some­body who is not as priv­i­leged, who is mar­gin­al­ized and who is more vul­ner­a­ble and dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed either by their sta­tus or because they are women of col­or or peo­ple of col­or. I believe that this is the moment. I am hope­ful and inspired by what I have seen so far. I real­ly do believe that all of what we have been doing is prepar­ing us to May 1st. I think a lot of those efforts have been build­ing towards this major esca­la­tion and then, it doesn’t end on May 1st. We are going to have to con­tin­ue. I feel very hope­ful about it and I think that any­thing any of us can do, [we should] but always con­stant­ly remind­ing our­selves that we do have that respon­si­bil­i­ty to car­ry oth­ers on our shoul­ders and cre­ate real spaces for them to lead and to come around their strug­gles and build sol­i­dar­i­ty. That’s the way that we will defeat the racism and the hate of the Don­ald Trump administration.

Sarah: Tell us what May Day is going to look like in Los Angeles?

Ale­jan­dra: May Day is going to be incred­i­ble in Los Ange­les. We are expect­ing thou­sands of peo­ple. There are esti­mates right now that there is going to be prob­a­bly more than there were at the Women’s March. It is on a Mon­day, so we have been talk­ing to busi­ness­es. You can see our posters up all over the Fash­ion Dis­trict, all over High­land Park that say Somos El Pueblo. Shut It Down May 1st,” Somos El Pueblo. Huel­ga May 1st.” They are beau­ti­ful posters that Ernesto Yer­e­na, who trained with Shep­ard Fairey, who also did We the Resilient” for the Women’s March, has real­ly added that ele­ment of art and cul­ture to this movement.

I real­ly do believe that it is going to be live­ly. I think it is going to be full of arts and cul­ture and this amaz­ing heart­beat of sac­ri­fice, of peo­ple of col­or, of white allies, of women, A Day With­out an Immi­grant. We are also work­ing with some musi­cians who want to come and to per­form. But, we are lit­er­al­ly call­ing for not just show­ing up to work on May 1st, to shut down your busi­ness, to walk out of school, [but also] to come out with your fam­i­ly mem­bers to march with us. There is going to be a local march, lots of them. It’s not just Los Ange­les, it’s San Fran­cis­co, Oak­land, San Diego, San­ta Ana, Orange County.

We real­ly do believe that this is going to send a strong mes­sage to the admin­is­tra­tion, but also to the coun­try, that we are in a moment of cri­sis. What we are see­ing right now is a lot of our rights being vio­lat­ed. If we don’t do any­thing — May 1st and the car­a­van, all of it is pre­ven­ta­tive — it is to get to the point where we don’t have a cat­a­stro­phe where we open up a Pandora’s Box of con­sti­tu­tion­al rights that are being vio­lat­ed left and right. But that is, unfor­tu­nate­ly, what we are see­ing with this Don­ald Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Every­thing from the ban and the raids and the depor­ta­tions of peo­ple, the per­se­cu­tion by law enforce­ment of our immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties when they pull them over and pres­sure them and use those pres­sure tac­tics to get them to sign away their tem­po­rary pro­tect­ed sta­tus or the only sta­tus that they have and they imme­di­ate­ly give up their right to due process. The assaults that we are see­ing on women at deten­tion cen­ters and the loss­es of that — we are expe­ri­enc­ing a human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis right now and it is Pandora’s Box if we let this hap­pen because it means that all of our con­sti­tu­tion­al rights are at stake.

Sarah: Any­thing else peo­ple should know about Car­a­van or May Day or the work that you are doing?

Ale­jan­dra: Just that we real­ly urge peo­ple to get involved, to get more infor­ma­tion at Car​a​vanA​gain​st​Fear​.org. You can fol­low the car­a­van [on Face­book and Twit­ter], every­thing we are doing. Say­ing no” to the per­se­cu­tion of immi­grants, say­ing no” to depor­ta­tions and the sep­a­ra­tion of fam­i­lies … say­ing yes” to resis­tance efforts, and shut­ting it down and going out on May 1st. You can find all of that on Car​a​vanA​gain​st​Fear​.org. We will take it to the streets in the same way that we did in 2006. Si se puede.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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