Proyecto Faro has been viewing its work within an accompaniment model. Based on the principles of nonviolence, “accompaniment is the process of walking alongside someone and joining with them in solidarity and support.” (Witness for Peace) In the midst of repression or political violence, accompaniment can diminish risk and danger for targeted people and help them feel less alone in their struggles and more encouraged. Relationships of friendship built through accompaniment strengthen our ability to organize and mobilize for change. Accompaniers can invite family members, friends, and other organizations to further contribute to a larger community response of care and change-making. And the more diverse, unified, and empowered our local community is in working for immigrant justice, the more effectively we can connect with regional and national networks and movements.
Solidarity based organizing is an approach rooted in shared interests and mutual liberation, and implies a targeted or oppressed group is the expert on their experience and struggle, and therefore must lead the work to achieve justice. In this model, an understanding of power and privilege, the intersection of different forms of oppression, and the ability for those in solidarity to listen to and amplify the voices of those impacted are central tenets. It may involve providing material support but is mainly focused on change-making and justice. This is quite different from a charity model which often takes place without an acknowledgment of power differentials, is mainly framed as helping, and usually begins and ends with material support. Ultimately the charity model functions more as a band-aid and can inadvertently make it difficult for communities to empower themselves and push for change.
Community or grassroots organizing (unlike most charity or social service efforts) is about building power and making change. Building power initially requires relationships of trust. Accompaniment and material support are strong acts of solidarity. And as people in solidarity show commitment, reliability, and respect for immigrant leadership through accompaniment work, we help lay the foundation to act together and represent a meaningful set of alliances and communities, and ultimately create a base of power. This may mean ICE will have a harder time preying on people and this may mean we can help pass the Immigrant Protection Act, legislation for Rockland to be a sanctuary community, which the Rockland Immigration Coalition has been working on.
In social justice movements, political work is larger than that which pertains to the apparatus of representative democracy. The political sphere is viewed as much larger than the electoral system, involving community power, economics, grassroots campaigns, and social justice organizations and movements. Proyecto Faro has not been involved in electoral work but we understand our organizing as political work. We don’t reject electoral work but we are focused on addressing the difficulties and needs of the immigrant community and supporting their leadership development and empowerment.
To understand institutionalized oppression the common formulation “prejudice plus power” is helpful. Power here refers to institutionalized power. Through different phases in history, various overlapping systems of oppression evolved. If the basic dynamic of oppression is that a dominant group has more power and privilege, this is reflected in the institutions of that society, with the use of violence or the threat of violence against the marginalized group(s) making it difficult for them to achieve liberation. Certainly, depending on one’s simultaneous membership in a number of groups (status, nationality, class, race, religion, gender, sexuality, age, physical ability) one can, on the one hand enjoy privileges in some ways while on the other hand be marginalized in other ways. And some people can be entirely or nearly entirely privileged in respect to all groups, whereas some people can be entirely marginalized vis a vis all groups.
Allyship vs solidarity: For a very long time the word ally has been used to name members of dominant groups who support and actively work to further the liberation of marginalized groups. Many still use the word but in the past several years there’s been a move away from this word, as a strong critique has emerged by members of different oppressed communities. The problem is many people claim to be allies without actually being involved in work for change. Some call this ‘virtue signaling’– many people speak about being allies and identify as such, but are not involved in the struggle for change. Many oppressed people believe allyship has come to mean words and performance, whereas solidarity signifies putting beliefs into action and activism. Some might argue it’s mere semantics but many believe it’s helpful to distinguish between those who make claims and those who are actually organizing for change.
So what does solidarity look like? Someone in solidarity with a group resisting their oppression shows up to that group’s events and activities and asks how they can best be of use, rolls up their sleeves, and follows through. While sometimes there is the need, request, and opportunity for a solidarity activist to be highly visible and vocal, people working in solidarity are glad to do unglamorous or behind the scenes work to advance the struggles of those fighting their oppression. Solidarity activists work to organize and mobilize other members of the dominant group to join solidarity efforts. Those in solidarity take leadership from those most impacted. When they (inevitably and usually unintentionally) make mistakes or offend, and subsequently get feedback, they avoid becoming defensive and learn to do better. Solidarity activists understand their privilege and use it in spaces with other members of dominant groups to challenge oppression and push for change, amplifying the voices of marginalized people and visibly supporting their organizations and movements.
Shared leadership is a non-hierarchical practice of collectivity in the functioning of a group. This means there is not a chair, president, coordinator, secretary etc. of the larger project or subcommittees. Responsibilities like meeting facilitation, agenda drafting, or note-taking are rotated. This provides an opportunity for everyone to develop, hone, and model skills, and engenders a culture of collaboration, empowerment, and shared investment.
Consensus decision making is an approach to decision making that aims to receive, address, and synthesize input, concerns, viewpoints, and ideas of all involved. Unlike voting on competing solutions and views, consensus building promotes communication, empathy, and creativity. It cultivates community as people feel valued and heard, thereby allowing deeper commitment to the group and its aims.
Stepping up/stepping back is a principle many social justice groups adopt in organizing and in meetings to acknowledge and remedy unequal privilege or power differentials. It asks people to be aware of the ways unexamined or unacknowledged privilege often results in members of dominant groups speaking too much or taking too much space, and the ways internalized oppression frequently keeps traditionally marginalized people from speaking up and providing leadership. This strategy encourages those with greater privilege to practice stepping back and working to make space for others to speak and guide. It encourages those with less institutional power and privilege to find the courage to speak up more and take up more space in guiding discussion and work.
Social justice communities and those working in solidarity refer to our immigrant sisters and brothers who do not yet have citizenship or resident status (e.g. temporary protective status, work permits, visas, green cards, asylum etc.) as undocumented persons, migrants, refugees, asylees, persons without status, and persons with precarious status. In thinking about why the most vulnerable immigrants come to the U.S., people in the immigrant rights movement are clear that in the Caribbean and Central and South America and elsewhere in the global South, the U.S. government –through covert and dirty wars and coups, training of paramilitary, involvement in drug trafficking, trade policies, neoliberal austerity programs, and inaction on climate policies– has destabilized economies, destroyed democracies, and influenced agricultural conditions which produce waves of climate and economic refugees, political asylees, and immigrants escaping gang violence. We understand the U.S. Mexico border as the result of an early phase of U.S. empire, representing colonial land annexation. This arbitrary line crosses through generations-old communities where indigenous people live. Many Central American immigrants say, “I did not cross the border, the border crossed me.” With this in mind, those working for justice for immigrants reject language that decontextualizes and dehumanizes victims of decades of interventions and economic violence.