Guadalupe Vidal never thought much about community organizing. That quickly changed, however, when President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides protections to undocumented students.
“I realized it was through movements that DACA passed,” Guadalupe said. “It passed because people fought for it. It didn’t pass because Obama woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m going to make this law.’ It passed because there was a movement of people moving towards a goal.”
“[DACA] passed because people fought for it. It didn’t pass because Obama woke up one morning and said, ‘I’m going to make this law.’”
Guadalupe, who is herself undocumented, had been pessimistic about the prospects for change prior to DACA’s enactment. “I thought, ‘that’s never going to happen for us,’” she said. “They always promise and then nothing happens. But DACA changed my life completely. It’s allowed me to work and to plan my future.”
This sudden, drastic improvement in her life left Guadalupe inspired and eager to become involved in the social movement that made it all possible. “I just thought, ‘I have to do something to give back,’” she said. At the time, she was a new transfer student at City College. There, she met Yatziri Tovar and Isabel Mendoza, who co-founded the “Dream Team,” a group of students organizing to provide a safe space for undocumented students at City College. (Check out CLP’s recent profile of Yatziri here.)
“I told them I was so grateful for DACA and wanted to get involved, whatever I could do,” Guadalupe said. “I admired that they were both open about their immigration status, which I never was before. They just had this attitude of ‘We can do this.’”
“I admired that they were both open about their immigration status, which I never was before. They just had this attitude of ‘We can do this.’”
Though new to the group, it didn’t take long for Guadalupe to rise to the leadership challenge posed by her newfound advocacy—after participating in the group for some time, the Dream Team elected Guadalupe as their President. “I felt so honored,” she said. “They saw that I was trying my hardest. It’s like anything: when you try your best, there’s a good outcome.”
Nervous about her new role, however, she decided she needed to learn more about community organizing. “That’s what pushed me to take the class,” she said, referring to a course taught by Professors Susanna Blankly and Hilary Caldwell called Introduction to Community Organizing, and is associated with Community Learning Partnership’s Minor in Community Change Studies at City College.
“I took the course so that I could bring something back to the Dream Team,” she said. “We want this team to keep on going through the generations. It’s like a legacy. Whatever I can learn, I want to learn and bring back to team so we all learn it.” Eager to be able to apply what she would learn to her everyday organizing, moreover, Guadalupe appreciated that the class wasn’t purely academic an academic pursuit; her professor Susanna Blankly, for instance, was a full time organizer at Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA).
“From day one, Professor Susanna put into practice everything that she knows and does in her organizing at CASA,” she said, noting she was particularly inspired by the opportunity to watch Susanna in action at a tenant’s association meeting in a building that had not had gas for six months. “I gained great admiration and respect for how she was organizing,” she said. “She just knew her work – how to control the environment. We’re talking a room full of more than 20 people and she was able to manage it and say this is how we’re going to do this. I just thought, Wow. I want to be her. I want to know how to be that kind of leader.”
“It seems like history repeats itself. We won’t change things doing what we’ve been doing. We need to learn new ways of organizing.”
Guadalupe hoped to put into practice some of the organizing she was learning through the course. “It helped me see what we were missing and what we needed to be doing,” she said. “We’d been reading about movements that fail. We studied history to see what we did wrong. But it’s still happening! I asked my professor, ‘When is it going to be over?’ When will we learn? It seems like history repeats itself. We won’t change things doing what we’ve been doing. We need to learn new ways of organizing.”
The need to continually find innovative organizing techniques, Guadalupe says, is all the more important following the Election of Donald Trump. “The election allowed us to see the bigger picture,” she said. “Our organizations and what we support are at risk under this new President. It’s probably going to get worse so we need to wake up and unite. We have not done enough. We have to wake up from this idea that things are okay and make a greater movement for everyone instead of just looking out for my organization or my community or what I believe in.”
As an example of this type of collaboration, Guadalupe points to some recent organizing she’s witnessing between the immigration rights movement and Black Lives Matter, a group dedicated to combating police brutality. “Now, Black Lives Matter is saying we support immigration reform and we’re saying we support Black Lives Matter. We have to be united. This is a great lesson that the election has taught us and the class has taught us because we learn from each other, from our interests and our beliefs.”