To achieve equity, we must build intersectional solidarity

Added May 8th, 2018 by Victoria Crouse | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Victoria Crouse

The sun cast a warm glow over the colorful little stores lining both sides of 26th Street in Little Village—the commercial hub of the historically Mexican neighborhood in Chicago. I sat on a packed bus of advocates touring Chicago’s historic communities of color as part of a workshop at Equity Summit.

Attendees of the tour of Chicago's historical communities of color stopped by the Bronzefille Incubator; and organization that supports local entrepreneurs in the historically black community of Bronzefille.

Attendees of the tour of Chicago’s historical communities of color stopped by the Bronzefille Incubator; an organization that supports local entrepreneurs in the historically black community of Bronzefille.

Home to thousands of immigrants and families of color, Little Village also happens to be home to the largest single-site jail in America, our guide informed us. Flanked by four cement walls, Cook County Jail stood as a constant, ominous warning to residents in the community. A short distance from the jail sits a new community park—the product of years of community advocacy for green spaces in the neighborhood. The glaring contrast of the jail and the park is obvious to anyone who visits the community, but the park serves as an example of the ability to make something beautiful and liberating in a space of oppression.

Despite being on the receiving end of decades of systematic racism and neglect, Little Village and Chicago’s other historic communities of color—like Bronzeville and Chinatown—are resilient thanks to community members who have found innovative ways to revitalize local economies and slow the encroachment of gentrification. That afternoon, the tour of Chicago’s historic communities of color set the tone for my week at Policy Link’s Equity Summit. I walked away from the workshop understanding that in order to build a truly intersectional movement for justice, advocates need to recognize and confront racism in our communities and our policies, and have a willingness to work in solidarity with one another to achieve justice.

As Policy Link’s CEO, Angela Glover Blackwell phrased it in her opening plenary speech, “solidarity is hard.” It is a difficult thing to create and maintain. But in order to succeed in achieving an equitable society, we must transcend our silos and self-interest and show up for one another in movements for justice. That week, 4,000 advocates from across the country came together and tried to do just that. We heard one another, learned from one another and strategized together.

Victoria Crouse go to catch up with friends and fellow attendees working on policy issues in different states at the Summit.

Victoria Crouse go to catch up with friends and fellow attendees working on policy issues in different states at the Summit.

The conference sessions were organized around different areas of equity work in communities. I attended sessions on the topics of inclusive gender justice, intersectional immigration reform, and criminal justice, among others. In each session, I listened to the voices of those closest to the pain: community activists, returning citizens, and undocumented immigrants. I listened to them recount stories about triumphs and losses, as well as lessons learned in the field. Each time, I left energized to do the work in Michigan.

Edna Chavez speaking at the March for Our Lives in Washington D. C., on March 24th. Source: Huffington Post

Edna Chavez speaking at the March for Our Lives in Washington D. C., on March 24th. Source: Huffington Post

One of the conference highlights for me was getting to hear Edna Chavez share about a recent policy win for students in California. Chavez is a community organizer and high school senior from South Los Angeles, who advocates for gun reform in her state. Last month, a video of Chavez recounting the horrors of gun violence in her community at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., went viral. Her words resonated with thousands of people across the country. During her Q & A session with Angela Glover Blackwell, Chavez shared an example of the power of youth activism. She shared about how students and community activists in South LA had recently succeeded in securing the implementation of the Student Equity Need Index in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The index will ensure that the district allocates approximately $300 million in supplemental funding to the schools who need it the most. Her words reminded all of us in the audience that as we do this work, we must trust young people because they are directly impacted by policymakers’ decisions, and they are already leading the movement.

PolicyLinkI returned to Lansing with a renewed spirit to continue doing justice work. As advocates, it can be difficult to keep ourselves from getting discouraged in the face of ongoing crises in our communities. Flint has now gone four years without clean tap water. Detroit has been dealing with a water crisis of its own, and its residents are still fighting to be heard. Immigrants are being targeted in their communities every day. We haven’t achieved equitable funding in our state budget. There is much work to be done, but in order to succeed we must do the work together.

— Victoria Crouse

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