|Members of Andy's Youth at the conference|
On March 22, families affected by police brutality and organizations such as Andy’s Youth, Young Survivors, Urban Shield, End Sheriff’s Violence Coalition and WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend) gathered in Los Angeles for a statewide organizing conference.
The conference was held on the heels of a growing mass movement from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles. Participants traveled to the event from Santa Rosa, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego and the central valley. The objective of the conference was to strengthen the statewide movement through political discussion, practical skills sharing and planning.
The central theme was how to best build a united front against police terror. The workshops, reflecting the overarching topic, included discussion of immigrant rights, gentrification, gang injunctions, women’s rights, political repression and prisons.
Building the struggle
Nicole Guerra, a central organizer in Santa Rosa with Andy’s Youth, shared with the conference the plans of the organization and the anti-police brutality movement in the city to reinvigorate the immigrant rights movement by joining the struggles together on May Day. This action would build towards an upcoming statewide demonstration on June 7.
11-year-old Christopher Arceo spoke about his time organizing within Young Survivors, including two rallies demanding justice for his father, Rigoberto Arceo. Young Survivors is a new organization formed in 2013 by various families involved in the southern California movement. The purpose of the organization is to provide critical social support and counseling to the youth who have lost parents to police terror. A second and equally critical function of the organization is to train youth organizers like Chris.
Patrisse Cullors-Brignac of the End Sheriff Violence Coalition emphasized the need to develop and spread cultural forms of resistance to ensure mass participation in the movement. Suggestions from participants included the creation of art, music and even hosting regular community parties to bring people together on a social basis before providing education on police terror and other related subjects.
WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend) led a workshop that highlighted the injustice of the court system in its attempts to imprison Marissa Alexander. The workshop emphasized that women and the LGBTQ community need to organize against sexist and homophobic abusers, whether in uniform or not.
Conference participants were also able to take advantage of two “know your rights” workshops lead by Arnoldo Casillas and Jim Lafferty. Arnoldo shared information regarding rights to search and seizure, detainment and arrest while also discussing the significance of civil trials. Arnoldo represents many of the families involved in the movement throughout the state, including Andy Lopez. Jim Lafferty, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, gave a primer on the rights of protesters at demonstrations and some of the legal considerations involved with organizing marches.
Damion Ramirez, co-founder of Young Survivors and best friend of Michael Nida, pointed out in the closing session that for the movement to grow into a truly united front it would be important for people to consider their behavior and attitudes toward the struggle of other oppressed people and to work together in solidarity. He drew parallels between the terrorist watch lists targeting Muslim communities and the gang injunctions affecting Black and Latino neighborhoods.
Damion, a union plumber, further stated, “If I’m a plumber and I come to your house to look at your plumbing system - and you tell me, ‘Well … everything is alright but I have this one pipe right here coming out of the wall and it’s just not working.’ I’m not going to tell you, ‘Ok, I’ll fix that one pipe for you.’ Because I know I’ll be back in two weeks to fix the next one, and the next one and the next one. Because once the system is corrupt it needs to be removed and replaced. The whole system. Not just police brutality, not just police terror. We can’t do that. We can’t sit here and think we're going to stop the system that endorses police terror if we’re not going to deal with immigration, we’re not going to deal with the jails, we’re not going to deal with the gang injunctions.”
All out in Santa Rosa on June 7
Organizers and families agreed with Damion's general sentiment as well as the sentiment of the conference – recognizing the broad solidarity that could be created by the shared experience of terror at the hands of the police – and committing to finding new ways to build it.
Discussing how to build as broad a movement as possible, participants highlighted the importance of participation in May Day actions throughout the state as well as Pride, among many other methods of taking the police brutality movement to the front lines of struggles for all oppressed people.
As a next step, ANSWER LA announced the organization of transportation to Santa Rosa where the practical connections between the immigrant rights struggle and the struggle against police terror are being formed, to join a demonstration commemorating what should have been Andy Lopez’s 14th birthday.