Download our FREE Artkit, designed to support our people’s struggles, lift up our people’s victories within the movement and expand the political imagination of our movements. The Artkit includes best practices for making stencils, banners, reproducible posters, paper masks, and signage for actions, marches and events.
“Do it with Radical Thinking”
– Angela Glover Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer, PolicyLink
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending PolicyLink’s equity summit. Below are some highlights from their agenda:
- Lessons from Chicago, Part I: Community Organizing, a discussion moderated by Sylvia Puente: executive director at Latino Policy Forum
- An Intersectional Movement for Immigration Reform
- Girls and Women of Color: The Next Wave of the Racial Equity Movement, led by Sarah Eagle Heart, CEO of Native Americans in Philanthropy and Jamaica Gilmer, Founder and Executive Director of The Beautiful Project
- Lastly, reclaiming Community: Building Civic Power Through Arts and Culture
The Girls and Women of Color: The Next Wave of the Racial Equity Movement workshop, made it to my favorite list because this is one of the identities I dearly hold to myself. As a WOC, I would like to affirm we are not the “next” wave, we have, are and will continue to be the wave for the racial equity movement. Women are the future and we need to keep supporting our girls.
If you think you are powerless and can’t do anything to support the sisterhood, let me tell you that’s wrong. You can always do something!
1. Look in your neighboorhood: be a mentor/tutor to young girls, talk to them, empower them, show them that it is possible to become anything you want to be regardless of any odds. If you can buy from WOC-owned business, PLEASE DO IT!
2. Look for projects that might be doing similar work as the Beautiful Project is doing, and if you seem to find there is none in existence how about if you create one :D?
3. Look at the women in your family and friend group: UPLIFT THEM!
As Angela said during policy link’s opening: when you make decisions do it with radical thinking.
Be-Support-Uplift and Empower Women of Color with Radical Thinking.
I would like to thank Angela, Policy Link, Chicago, and all the speakers, presenters and discussion facilitators for this opportunity and space for us – Radical Thinkers-
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June 29 – July 30, 2018 | As the culmination of the When We Fight, We Win! Arts & Culture Tour, AgitArte will curate an exhibition of artwork by When We Fight, We Win! and AgitArte artists at the Abrazo Interno Gallery at The Clemente in the Lower East Side, New York. The exhibition opening event on the evening of June 29 will include performances and talks by participating artists.
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Since January 16th, a team of AgitArte artists and collaborators have been hard at work in Casa-Taller creating the scroll project, a participatory art object and cultural response to Hurricane Maria that tells the story of U.S. imperialism through the lens of the current economic and environmental state of Puerto Rico and its diaspora.
Artwork by/Arte por Emily Simons for AgitArte, 2017
“I took a call from Dey and Jorge shortly after the storm. I had been worrying about them and was relieved to hear their voices, though heartbroken to hear the stress and exhaustion and overwhelm in between their words, which were encouraging me to create a map to show and clarify the political moment of post-Maria reality.
From media coverage of the storm and its aftermath, I pieced together several core truths revealed by Hurricane Maria and the supporting realities that uphold them, focusing mostly on disaster capitalism, the context of US imperialism in the Caribbean, and the US-imposed economic austerity that has wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico in recent years.
After several rounds of candlelit feedback from folks in Santurce, and many days of conversation with the team that would be taking a much deeper dive by making a decolonial scroll in the months to come, I set down some quick illustrations to those truths. Mapped radially, these truths require the viewer to flip the image (or themselves!) upside down to grasp the full picture.”
-Reflection by Emily Simons
“Recibí una llamada de Jorge y Dey poco después de la tormenta. Estaba preocupada por ellas, y me tranquilizó escuchar sus voces, aunque con el corazón roto al oír la tensión, el agotamiento y el agobio en ellas. Esto me motivó a crear un mapa para mostrar y clarificar la situación política de la realidad post-María.
Tomando de la cobertura mediática de la tormenta y sus consecuencias, reconstruí varias verdades fundamentales reveladas por el huracán María y las realidades que las sostienen, centrándome principalmente en el capitalismo del desastre, el contexto del imperialismo estadounidense en el Caribe y la austeridad económica impuesta por Estados Unidos, que ha causado estragos en Puerto Rico en los últimos años.
Después de varias rondas de comentarios a la luz de las velas por parte de la gente en Santurce, y de muchos días de conversación con el equipo que se zabulliría mucho más profundamente en los próximos meses cuando hicieran un “scroll” decolonial, hice algunas ilustraciones rápidas de esas verdades. Dibujadas del centro hacia afuera, estas verdades requieren que el espectador gire la imagen (¡o a ellos mismos!) al revés para captarla completamente.”
-Reflexión de Emily Simons
AgitArte’s Artistic Director, Jorge Díaz talks to Lewis Wallace for Scalawag about the links between the current crisis and the island’s colonial history—and how art and cultural work are a part of combating white supremacy.
Southerners Combating White Supremacy Profile #1
Jorge Diaz is the Artistic Director of AgitArte, Inc., an arts and cultural organization in Puerto Rico that does what it calls “cultural solidarity with grassroots struggles against oppression.”
Scalawag initially reached Jorge for another story when he was scrambling to get resources into Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in September. As of the time of publication, many parts of the U.S. territory had gone without water and electricity for six or more weeks following the storm’s catastrophic strike on the island. In early November a Puerto Rican oversight board told Congress that the island needed “unprecedented help” from the federal government in order to recover. The crises include lack of food, clean water, health care and housing.
“I’m just trying to figure out how to move more resources,” Jorge said by phone. “It’s a difficult time because there’s a lot of opportunism around Puerto Rico, and trying to figure out how to make sure that all the resources get out to folks.”
Jorge talked to Scalawag about the links between the current crisis and the island’s colonial history—and how art and cultural work are a part of combating white supremacy. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lewis Wallace, Scalawag: You have talked about how Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. South, geographically but also in terms of the politics and culture. Can you explain what you mean?
Jorge Diaz: Puerto Rico is the southernmost border of the United States. That’s something that’s not usually talked about. If you look at the level of income and poverty in Puerto Rico, it’s very similar to many states in the South. Puerto Rico shares the kind of poverty and neglect by the federal government characterized by conservative states, and the same neoliberal policies and practices have been applied to Puerto Rico, the difference being that we are a straight-up colony, which is not the same situation. We’ve been an invaded country since 1898. Legislation policies, military presence, and underdevelopment have all played a part in making Puerto Rico dependent.
LW: Tell me about the work you are doing right now in Puerto Rico and how it relates to the overall struggle against white supremacy in the U.S.
JD: We’re a cultural solidarity organization that does work in Puerto Rico and the U.S. to increase other organizations’ capacity in cultural organizing, specifically around arts. But right now, the work we have been doing is relief work. Because we’re a non-profit, we’ve been approached by a lot of other people to be a fiscal conduit to get resources to folks on the ground. We’ve been doing a fiscal campaign and direct relief work, through the support centers, or what we might call centers of mutual support. These include collective kitchens, brigades to clean and clear up paths and start rebuilding in the mountains. We’ve also done cultural programming workshops, and other cultural activities in mutual support centers. In Spanish it’s Centros de Apoyo Muto, which translates as mutual support or solidarity. And we’ve been doing visual work around the catastrophe.
How does this relate to white supremacy? We have to look at it in the context of colonization, and how the practice and policies that are happening in Puerto Rico right now with FEMA and the U.S. military are because we are seen as second-class citizens. Puerto Ricans belong to this colony and have a citizenship that’s not the same as others born in the U.S. Our incapacity to run our government, and our treatment by the US, through the Monroe Doctrine and the idea that Puerto Ricans cannot govern ourselves, that’s based on white supremacy.
The treatment that we’ve gotten on the island is the same as [what] Black folks have seen after Katrina. The idea that we are an inferior race allows the U.S. government to do whatever they want. This white supremacist ideology is what allows them to continue to impose colonial power over us.
LW: What’s the importance of the cultural work you are doing, and why focus on that cultural work right now in Puerto Rico?
JD: All work is cultural work. But when we talk about cultural work in the context of art and media, we’re talking about trying to shift hegemony. People talk about shifting narratives but I think it’s more than narratives. If we’re talking about how the construction of race happens through cultural work and arts, whether it’s books, media, textbooks—all these different ways in which we learn how we look at the world, in which we shape how we think of our identities in terms of race and class—we have to have a counterproposal to that hegemony.
In our work it looks like public art, it looks like puppetry, it looks like popular education and street theater, because that’s what we have access to. If we’re going to look at a liberatory process, we have to open up those narratives. The way this society is established culturally is through access to power and the capacity to construct what the U.S. is. If we are talking about transforming it, we have to talk about cultural work that’s going to go hand in hand with the political and economic work to transform the society.
LW: How do you define white supremacy? This is something we’re asking various people as part of this series.
JD: We tend to forget about the structural white supremacy, that creates the conditions for racism in this country. White supremacy plays out in different ways, but ideologically it’s this construct of whiteness that is also tied to place, and tied to the U.S. being this superior country in the world. Being white is the construction of not only skin color, but of a whole nationality and imperial construct, which then folks can buy into at different levels. That’s why we see a lot of working class white folk buying into whiteness, because they don’t have any other access to the American dream. So they hang onto this concept of whiteness and the American Dream.
White supremacy looks like patriotism, patriarchy, and racism in the U.S. And then beyond U.S. borders, and in the Caribbean, it also has the sense of “we are the ones who are going to implement democracy as we see fit all over the world.”
It starts with the hatred of Black folks, and anti-Blackness. Being Black is seen as the worst thing in this country. But it also plays out internationally, looking at Black nations as inferior. White supremacy in the U.S. is tied to these structures of power, and militarization is the way in which it plays out, whether it be police or actual military.
LW: How is white supremacy showing up now, in the Puerto Rican recovery effort?
JD: I am careful to separate white supremacy from other practices related to economic extraction. What’s happening in Puerto Rico is a continuation of what’s happened forever here. There’s a very imperialist attitude of not understanding the needs of folks on the ground. White supremacy facilitates that process of being like, ‘oh those lazy Puerto Ricans, oh, those immigrants.’ White supremacy allows the discourse to not happen, for Puerto Rico to not matter.
A friend of mine who’s a bartender heard a military guy at the bar called Puerto Rico the bastard son of the United States. The idea of the bastard is also tied to race. The bastards are the Black or mulatto or indigenous folks who had a kid with Europeans. If you look at all the images, cartoons of U.S. invading Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans are picaninnies, they are caricatures. This is part of a larger structure in which we belong to a caste of inferior folks that don’t have access as a people to that supposed American dream, and that construction of whiteness that’s a promise of this country.
LW: What is most important for people not on the island to know about what you are up to?
JD: We’re not a relief organization. For us, being a cultural solidarity organization means that food and water is at the basis of cultural work, of our survival. We’re doing this work to support the basic needs of folks, but the intention is to build a kind of popular power that can contest the neoliberal practices and colonial practices of disaster capitalism on the island. Puerto Rico needs to be decolonized, and that means that Puerto Rico needs to develop capacity and get the hands off from the U.S., so we can be free.
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Faced with the collapse of the State and the abuses of FEMA in post-Maria Puerto Rico, we have organized ourselves in self-managed spaces around the Island known as Centros de Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Support Centers + CAM). In addition to providing support to overcome urgent needs in the communities, we promote their empowerment and create discussion spaces to generate critical thinking and the understanding that we are facing a political disaster that is even more dangerous than the natural disaster.
In CAM, the following 3 main functions are organized:
* Social dining rooms where we serve food prepared for free.
* Collection centers where we collect local and diaspora aid to distribute in the communities according to need.
* Permanent Solidarity Brigades to open roads by force of ax and machete; and support in agriculture and housing reconstruction.
Some CAMs also offer the services of popular health clinics, cultural activities, community garden workshops and education for children. We are located in Caguas, Río Piedras, Mayagüez, Humacao, Utuado, Lares, Naranjito and Old San Juan.
We are not in a Shock State. We are organizing to combat the onslaught of disaster capitalism and its henchmen. Help us with your donation!!!
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AgitArte Build-Solidarity-map-pr.pdf https://goo.gl/eYG6X9
Last night, we exchanged with local organizers and movement builders (Karla Rosas from Congreso and Angela Kinlaw from Take ‘Em Down NOLA) in New Orleans for a When We Fight, We Win! book event and update on the status of Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria, now under US military occupation.
Hosted by the Community Book Center and emceed by the amazing Paulina Helm-Hernandez, AgitArte Board Member and Special Projects Director of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), the event included a call-in from AgitArte Founder and Artistic Director Jorge Díaz Ortiz who is organizing on the ground in Puerto Rico with many others, feeding hundreds per day and providing space and leadership for ground-up mutual aid in Puerto Rico. Dey Hernandez, AgitArte Project Coordinator / Designer and Art Director of When We Fight, We Win! shared ways folks can join and support AgitArte’s work, and read a moving piece about her experience since the storm hit her country two weeks ago.
In the next few days, AgitArte will be meeting with folks who experienced and organized in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to build solidarity and gather resources and knowledge to share with our people in Puerto Rico.
Thank you to all who joined us in New Orleans!