October 28th, 2014
In spring of 2008, I sat at my computer in San Salvador, El Salvador, and poured my passion into an application to become an organizer at the Rural Organizing Project.
… my conscience told me that I had to find a different organizing model, based on slow gains over the long term and not on the immediacy of all or nothing campaigns. I decided to leave the US to look for work with the best role model I have: my uncle, Armando Marquez Ochoa, who has been working with urban and rural base communities in El Salvador for over 20 years…Now as my commitment here draws to a close, the time has come for me to pack up my new tools and return to my own struggle, and to my own community.
Organizing is my calling, it is what I will be doing for the rest of my life. I don’t see this as a simple path, as it crosses struggles against racism, war, class violence, inhumane immigration law and trade policies, and moves towards the vision of an organized, humane and socially aware population. But despite the barriers in our country of misinformation and isolation, there are small victories every day that are based in clear analysis, goals, and in a consciousness of the humanity of others. Real change comes from creating long term relationships based first on communities and second on campaigns. This is the organizing that I want to be a part of.
Reflecting on my last 6 ½ years at ROP brings up so many images, sweet memories that I will cherish. Sharing living rooms, buses, libraries, and the streets with so many of you. The Rural Caucus and Strategy Session. The marches, the forums, the way we have claimed our communities as deeply valuable, claimed our neighbors as deserving dignity and respect. How we have struggled with each other, to make space for all of our voices and to acknowledge and overcome our inheritance of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism.
It has not always been easy. But it has always been worthwhile. My gratitude is so enormous I hardly know where to begin.
Thank you to those of you who have taken care of me, and witnessed my own transformation and growth. Thank you to those who have let me try to take care of you, and create space for you to be your best self. Thank you to those who come to this work with your eyes wide open and somehow manage to keep your heart open as well. Thank you to those who have been my mentors and heroes. Thank you to those of you who have forgiven my mistakes.
It has been such an honor.
Names and faces float through my mind, so many of you! My heart swells! I especially want to thank my coworkers of the past years, Cara, Jess, Keyla, Sarah, Amy, Kari, Rosa and Sam. Also thank you to the powerful leaders I have been surrounded by: Yesenia, Frank, Jorge, Dancer, Greg, Lionila, Sally, Mari, Ramon, Andrea, Lorena. This list could be pages long! I have learned an enormous amount from you and find so much to believe in in each one of you. Thank you for the way each of you shine as organizers and leaders. Thank you for your companionship and patience with me as I work to round my rough edges, broaden my thinking, and find my strengths. Thank you for the celebrations, the hard work, the long hours, the road trips. I have loved learning with you.
Marcy, our founder, anything that we have succeeded at in ROP has been “on the shoulders of giants” – you are our giant. Thank you for your powerful vision, the sharp thinking, for modeling how to weather complexity, the tough feedback and for the doors you have opened. I would not be who I am without you.
And the inevitable question, what will I do next? I’m excited to have accepted a position at Enlace International, an organization that works with low-wage workers in the US, Mexico, and Central America. Yes, I will continue organizing! I will split my time between the Private Prison Divestment Campaign, and the Enlace Training Institute. The private prison industry that makes billions of dollars off of incarcerating our loved ones is the Goliath we have to slay to keep our communities safe and families together. As a graduate of the Training Institute, I’m excited to be part of taking the Enlace tools to groups that can use them to build stronger movements, and win victories, for justice. I hope to cross paths again with many of you as I continue in the struggle.
And for now, as I say farewell to the ROP office, to my coworkers, and to our board, Latino Advisory Board, 50 Human Dignity Groups and advisors and allies around the state… I know it’s not a true goodbye, but rather a “see you later.” We will be in touch.
Me & my daughter Esperanza on a ROP road trip in Central Oregon (Photo: Greg Delgado)
Amanda Aguilar Shank