by Callie Lambarth & Melody Martinez
On a warm and sunshiny Saturday in Portland, the SJF Grantee Summit in Portland filled the house of the Curious Comedy Theater. On April 21, about 85 grantees, community members and organizations, SJF staff, board members, and Giving Project members and alums showed up to share part of the day together to listen to grantee panelists talk about their alliance-building and coalition-organizing and learn about some of their ongoing work.
Reyna Lopez, executive director of PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste) emphasized the power and impact of the Capaces Leadership Institute collaborative and coalition work as being able to “build power and accountability at the ballot box.” It is important to have space for allied organizations to come together and for Latinx communities to “create the agenda” with a deep understanding of what the needs are.
Cassie Cohen, Coalition Coordinator of PHCC (Portland Harbor Community Coalition), described that the work requires having continual “conversations about power, privilege, and oppression to constantly be checking that” through their coalition work in order to build power for the community.
Monserrat Padilla, Network Coordinator of WAISN (Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network), highlighted the healing of relationships and cross-organization work that can happen in coalition spaces to ultimately “empower, protect, and resource communities.” She reinforced to participants that “you have to be multi-issue to know what work needs to be done.” By focusing on the process of political education, WAISN is building a long-term collective movement.
In response to a question from the audience, Padilla amplified the position that “to work with undocumented communities, you have to hire undocumented communities” and that there are organizations who have already committed to and prioritized how to figure this out. To end her talk, Padilla led a chant, followed by audience snaps and applause, closing with, “We are in our rightful place.”
In the afternoon, three powerful organizers took the stage to talk about gender justice.
Trish Jordan, Executive Director of Red Lodge Transition Services, shared about Red Lodge’s work providing culturally specific support for Native women, particularly after incarceration. We heard her speak about their Behavioral Health Program, which provides a holistic model of healing that integrates the connection that Native women have to the earth with food and medicine. The program also provides professional and peer-to-peer support that centers on women learning to value themselves and honors the value that they have in and extend to everyone around them.
Denechia Powell-Twagirumukiza, one of the founding members of Queer The Land spoke passionately about the right for people to root in place and the importance of safety and wellness programs that are led by the people most impacted and that center the needs and experiences of queer and trans people of color. We learned that Queer The Land’s “Build Autonomy and Safety for Everyone (BASE)” and “Decolonizing Health Series” are ways in which Queer The Land lives and leads this work: focusing on community wellness by providing self-defense training – everything from boxing to community self-defense and “re-indigenizing” health by looking at the ways in which Indigenous ancestors took care of themselves.
Emily Lai, Momentum Alliance’s Interim Executive Director, powerfully and resolutely reminded us that, “gender justice is in everything” – it encompasses a variety of issues like immigration, gentrification, reproductive health, criminal justice, etc. It involves all the issues that affect people of color directly. In speaking about Momentum Alliance’s Reproductive Justice Youth Advocates cohort, she spoke to the importance of engaging a diverse group of young people, especially LGBTQIA2S+ youth of color and young women of color in gender justice organizing and in leadership. We learned about the different workshops Momentum Alliance provides that create safer spaces for survivors of violence and women and engage youth in relevant conversations about identity, gender, sex, and youth culture.
The take home message of this powerful and timely panel was clear: gender justice and racial justice are inextricably intertwined. These frameworks create space, security, and self-determination for all people – especially women, girls, and non-binary individuals – allowing for us all to be able to identify and express our gender and sexual orientation without fear and to have the economic, social, political power and resources to make healthy decisions for ourselves and for our families and communities in all aspects of our lives.
SJF’s Grantee Summit in Portland was a burst of hope in dark times. It served as a powerful reminder that movement building isn’t the vocation of any one individual or group — we are stronger when we come together and lift each other up.
Callie Lambarth is a Giving Project alum and volunteer based in Portland.