How do you understand the political moment that we’re in? And what do you think we need to do differently right now?
Right now we are in a moment of structural and societal change. Change is scary for many, especially in a society where capitalism and racism have been so baked into the fabric of our society. As newer generations work to break out of an oppressive system, the oppressors and elders who are scared of change and scared of admitting they perpetuated a system of harm, are fighting back tooth and nail to keep the status quo of oppression. At this point it’s so scary for them to lose power and for them to live in a place of uncomfortability due to progressive change that they’d rather go back to old draconian oppressive laws that harm so many of us. And that exists across all sides of political ideology.
But I do think we’re on the precipice of change. We need to band together. If you don’t recognize the intersectionality of racial justice with environmental justice or with reproductive justice then you’re missing a larger piece of how we band together to win and, ultimately, beat the oppressor out. I think we are missing some of that solidarity. And if we can figure out how to shift that then we will get to the structural societal change quicker and literally save lives in the process. We also need to trust emerging leaders and younger generations and support them in fighting for freedom and change that can actually build an equitable and just society. Trust us, resource us, learn and grow with and from us. Change is one of the only constants in life- we cannot continue to stifle it at the cost of so many lives.
So what are some key actions happening in your local community that you think folks across the country should be watching?
Right now in San Antonio, ACT4SA is leading a charter amendment initiative to do several things. Really, the idea is to decriminalize our community and protect our rights. But also fight mass incarceration. exercise our power as a local government protecting ourselves from oppressive regime that is the Texas State government right now. But this charter amendment initiative is Prop A on the ballot, also known as the San Antonio Justice Charter, and it will decriminalize low level marijuana, decriminalize abortion, ban no knock warrants and chokeholds, and make permanent the site and release program which allows for citations over arrest for certain low level nonviolent misdemeanors. And what’s really groundbreaking about this is that if passed, this will be the first city in the South to decriminalize abortion, to literally make a real stand and change as a city and say, We’re not going to follow these oppressive trigger ban laws. And what I really feel like can happen should we pass this, is that we’re going to be able to serve as a rubric for other cities to do the same; to exercise their home rule city power, the power to govern their own police and tax dollars, to say this doesn’t represent our community and we’re not taking part in this and we have a legal ground and standing to do so, so that we can save lives. So I think folks all around the country should be watching Proposition A and I think they should be getting involved. It is going to be a very big battle. We’re up against huge opposition. But it will literally shift the narrative in San Antonio and across Texas on abortion rights, on saving brown and black lives from police brutality, on mass incarceration. We can literally shift and change and set the narrative here in San Antonio and across Texas.
Is there anything you are currently celebrating regarding your work?
We collected over 38,000 pen-to-paper signatures in less than 3 months,on a shoestring budget, to get Prop A on the ballot. We did it with $100,000, less than we thought we could do it. We just had built such a strong coalition and worked so hard that we made this happen when others thought it was impossible. Our community is ready and that feels good! Outside of this ACT4SA also launched the first public dashboard tracking officer suspensions for San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) spanning back 12 years. You can look up by Officer name, by type of misconduct, you can filter by their incident summaries, by where they are in the disciplinary process. And it really helps to highlight and track not just these problematic officers or bad apples, as they like to call them, but the problem of wandering officers, officers that keep going around getting hired at other places. And it really highlights the problems with our police contracts, because we’ve had officers that you can find in this dashboard that have been suspended or indefinitely, suspended 234 times and keep coming back. Our goal is to continue adding more police departments across the state to turn this into a statewide dashboard!
It’s huge that y’all did that on a two-string-budget! But, can you tell me more about what having that extra $100,000 would have given you space to do?
We did it but it was a lot of tears, a lot of hours, a lot of sweat, and a lot of labor. There was a point where we thought we weren’t going to make it in time. That news came right before Christmas. So that was a little gray cloud over the holidays. And we really had to work to resource together and put in overtime hours over the holidays to make this happen. So, the extra 100,000 would have allowed us to be able to have more paid folks on the ground, and to have more resources. We potentially could have collected our signatures and been done before the holiday season, and it would have been a lot lighter labor for our entire team. And honestly, it could have even helped us set up for this “Get Out the Vote” campaign coming up. We literally had to spend every single penny we had just to get the signatures to get on the ballot and had to start fundraising from zero again for our GOTV campaign and that’s not ideal.
How does your work align with FFJs endeavor to divest from systems that support the PIC and invest in BIPOC communities who are building models for promoting community safety and justice (divest/invest model)?
Since our founding, ACT4SA has organized and fought for alternative non-police responder units for mental health crises, fought to expand cite and release programs, and support other methods of decriminalization that will keep folks out of jail. When folks go to jail, it’s not rehabilitative. You’re getting them stuck in a system of poverty. They lose their jobs, their housing, they’re separated from families, they’re deported. All this is only going to keep them in this punitive system. And really what these folks need, and needed to begin with, was support and the ability to be able to raise themselves out of poverty and these environmental factors that led them to whatever offense it might have been to begin with. San Antonio is one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation to start, but the 2020 census showed that we were tied for poorest of all major metropolitan cities in the nation. ACT4SA has always advocated for the money saved from not jailing people to be reallocated back into our community to help us rise out of poverty and live truly equitable, thriving and healthy lives. We don’t only exist to police the police, but to educate our community on the history of harm systems of criminalization have had on our community, and find solutions together to break down that system and erase the harm it’s done.
Can you say more about the educational aspect of your work?
We are working on developing a workshop series to launch after the Prop A campaign covering several topics: history of policing, what abolition truly means, conflict resolution without the police, Fighting Anti-Blackness in your community, what restorative and alternative justice means, and know your rights workshops. These workshop series are for the broad community, and we’d love to open the space for funders, or community members partners as well. We’re all learning. We want to create a base frame of knowledge that moves folks to abolition and to figuring out life-giving solutions.
Further than this, tools such as copthedata.com (our police suspension dashboard) have multitude of educational resources to educate our community, such as a breakdown on the police disciplinary process, articles highlighting the “wandering officer” problem, articles on how police contracts shield officers from accountability, glossary of terms, and more. We link education and accessibility into everything we do. If we are not empowering our community with tools and knowledge on how to achieve the changes they want to see in San Antonio, then we aren’t building up the next leaders to continue the movement.
What is the difference between practicing life-giving systems and risk management that current institutions follow? Life-giving systems is such a beautiful term!
Practicing lifegiving systems means addressing root causes of harm or of a problem and finding sustainable solutions that center preservation, empowerment, and growth, rather than simply putting a bandaid on a wound and letting it continue to fester. You’re focused on healing past and present trauma and injustices, and preventing future trauma and injustice from happening. It’s true to healing and actual medicine.
How does ACT 4 SA incorporate Healing Justice into the organization?
Inside our organization we consistently work to promote non-punitive responses to harm. It is a work in progress as a new organization, but we’ve already held a few accountability conversations to address actions that may have been harmful to an individual, a partner, or the organization by speaking in a way that focuses on finding healing and solutions that work for the collective, rather than just shaming the individual. We also are working to bring a workshop on somatics to our organization, and build out our individual commitments that help center us in the work we are doing.
What do you want funders to better understand about the work you do?
Some of the initiatives we pursue are groundbreaking and new, but doesn’t mean they aren’t worth investing in. Doesn’t mean they can’t win a narrative shift, even if the policy doesn’t go through, or ballot initiative fails. This is long-term movement building and a long-term fight. Sometimes change only happens incrementally but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth investing in.
What should funders be doing in this moment to support social movements and lasting change?
General operating and unrestricted funds, and multi-year grants are how you fund a movement. It’s going to take multiple years so, funders need to think about that when they are looking toward funding lasting change. We’re not going to get started on a campaign to get cops out of schools and have that done in three months or six months. I’ve spoken with organizers around the country, and it’s been a two to three year campaign. But, even more than that, we sometimes get very incremental wins that contribute to lasting movement and lasting change. And it can take many years to get where we need to be. That doesn’t mean that the resources aren’t needed.
On the other side, I think funders should be asking us what we need to win. While funding is core, there are lots of other resources and tools and things that we need on the ground. I’ve had a funder before, ask if there were other resources, or folks they could connect us to. Because there were other grantees doing amazing work in other parts of the country, or there were other resources in terms of information on movement lawyering and litigation, or they knew a really great pollster at an affordable price. You know, we asked some of our folks if I could just get clipboards and hand sanitizer and PPE. There’s many, many ways to resource a movement. It’s a long term movement and a long term fight, and it’s very incremental at times so consistent funding is VERY important to getting to the overall end goal.
It sounds like you want funders to be preemptive in how they support you and be building a network?
Yes. One of the things I’ve learned, even though our organization is young, is that networking is huge! That connection to community, to other communities, those networks to other leaders and movement builders, is one of the things that we need to win and create this lasting change. Because many times you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Somebody has already thought of it and is there to help. That peer mentorship, that emotional support, that friendship, even on a deeper level is what makes this movement sustainable.I think, funders being able to open up their own networks of other grantees, funders, or other folks in the movement is what’s gonna help this be a sustainable ecosystem.
Can you share your insights on what it takes to develop sustainable, powerful leadership at the helm of the social justice movement? Are there any reflections that are particular to your leadership development with policy and advocacy? Around your general leadership? How can funders support?
One of the things that has helped ACT4SA and me personally to be successful is great mentorship and early start-up funding and coaching through BRIDGE Movements. First off, organizations like BRIDGE and startup accelerators need to be funded more to build the movement ecosystem. Programs and organizations like BRIDGE are worth investing in because they’re literally finding startup organizations to build the progressive movement here in Texas, running these intensive six month programs, and continuing to support us even as alumni. Fund peer support, fellowships, and leadership development programs! They teach us about things like; compliance, how to build a programmatic memo, the importance of a CPA, and how to build a budget.
Secondly, general support grants need to be given out more. Trust that we know how to best organize our communities and direct resources and funding where it’s needed. And give multi-year grants for sustainability. Some programs and campaigns take years of work. Let’s be honest- you can’t remove cops from schools in 6 months, it takes years. Heck- we’ve been fighting over a year now just to get a polling location at our jail- something that shouldn’t be in the least bit controversial because we supposedly all believe in the first amendment and voting rights.
Finally, fund new organizations. The reality is that most start-up’s don’t get this type of support, because funders will only invest in organizations with a proven track record who have been around for years. It’s silly to me because it’s hard to make what’s considered a large enough impact or track record if you don’t get resourced from the start. Founders often have to go years unpaid or even being paid pennies as a sacrifice for the work they do. This is not sustainable, which is why many new organizations fail or people never launch them at all.
What do you envision your community looking like in 10 years? What are 3 integral steps you believe will bring this into existence?
I dream that we are going to have progressive leadership that centers life and people over developers, over profit, and over money. I dream that in 10 years, we’re going to have a community that has made significant strides to literally lift our community out of poverty, out of houselessness, and that we’re adequately resourcing mental health, housing, substance abuse, and health care. So that they can be healthy and be thriving, and we can be just and equitable. In 10 years, we will not have Greg Abbott or Ken Paxton, here in Texas, and we will actually have folks that believe in the people and communities and are actively fighting against racism, against capitalism, and against the patriarchy. And I’m really hoping that my nephew’s, their generation, are the ones that are really leading the helm and have been given an opportunity to lead the helm.
The first step is mobilization of our communities. We have to band together, we have to work together and mobilize on a mass scale to bring this change in a 10 year period. And that really can only happen if we’re well resourced to reach out to our community AND speaking to folks at their level and where they’re at, and giving them the opportunity, skills and tools to become leaders. I think we also need to seriously revamp who’s in leadership; in our city, county, state and federally. We need to hold those folks accountable and we need movement leaders to step into some of those roles. And the other part is just valuing life. I think we have to have a cultural shift to value life over property and money and lead with the understanding that love, and a commitment to seeing life as precious.
What fuels your commitment to be an FFJ Movement Advisor this year? How has FFJ supported you?
What’s fueled my commitment to be an FFJ movement advisor is I know how hard and scary it is, especially as a BIPOC woman, and I see many other great organizers, activists, advocates, whatever you want to call them, working to do the same in our community. And I want to do what I can to resource my community to help these changemakers get to that level where they can really affect that long term impactful change that they are dreaming of. And that’s my biggest commitment to being an FFJ movement advisor. If there’s something that I can do to move philanthropy to support these changemakers on the ground, that are just starting up but have incredible ideas and I will do everything I can and dedicate all the hours I can to make that a reality.
Are there any resources you find helpful when centering your work and why? (orgs, books,articles, people)
My biggest resource has honestly been my mentors and peers within FFJ and within Interrupting Criminalization with Borealis Philanthropy. My mom is also a big resource and help for me. Mass Liberation also has a ton of resources specifically to help on the ground Black-led organizers and advocates and a lot of them focus on Healing Justice and an abolitionist framework. They’ve been a big resource in helping us build our organizational culture and be able to pass it on to those that we’re bringing into our org as we grow larger.