As great as the internet is for connecting faraway people and communities, there’s still nothing like coming together IRL. Last weekend, hundreds of Latinx and Chicanx organizers and activists met in San Juan, Puerto Rico to do just that—and it was an inspiring convening of fighters ready to take on today’s ugly political climate.
The gathering, called Lánzate, was curated by Mijente, a nonprofit hub for Latinx organizing grown from the #Not1More campaign. You may remember Mijente from these viral “Make America Mexico Again” hats, (a satire of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign refrain), or from the Republican National Convention in July, where they helmed the #WallOffTrump effort that united various organizations in a taste-of-your-own-medicine style protest. (People used their bodies and sheets to form a literal wall around the RNC.)
The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo in Santurce was the host of this second edition, which featured workshops and plenary sessions about the intersection of migrant and reproductive justice, strategies for ending state violence, community organizing boosters, exploring Afro-Latinx identity, tools for economic autonomy, the state of LGBTQ movements, how to best be an ally to First Nations, and so much more. Representatives from groups as well as unaffiliated activists had traveled to Puerto Rico from 19 different states, and in a heady two-and-a-half days, they had nearly 30 sessions at their disposal.
It was impossible to absorb all that Lánzate had to offer, but the emphasis on community helped. People shared; they genuinely connected. Many learned even more than what Mijente originally had in store. The final registration count was 361 people; a revitalizing ripple effect of encouragement, understanding and strength in the activism and organizing in Latinx communities is inevitable.
On our end, that starts now. Read our highlights and takeaways below.
Focus on healing
How can we continue to fight if our spirits are diminished? Generational trauma, lived violence, altering self-truths for the comfort of others—these are things Latinx people must grapple with. Integrating healing practices almost seems like a given, but in many spaces for social and political justice, it isn’t. At Lánzate, there were two sessions directly related to healing, as well as a community altar in the museum’s common courtyard area. It was filled with ofrendras ranging from viandas to artwork to books and stones and musical instruments; a sign above it read, “Protectors not Protestors.”
In one session, organized by Diana Cervera and Silvia Rodriguez Vera, both of whom incorporate art into their activism, the power of feminine energy was central. Everyone was given two sticky notes: On one, we’d write down a fear, and on the other, a source of empowerment. We traded, picking up each other’s notes from designated walls either because we identified with them – or, if you were standing in the back, because that was all that was left. Even the arbitrarily chosen notes, though, had an impact; at the very least, learning other people’s fears and points of strength expands your compassion for others. We broke into groups after that to mold scenarios interpreting those ideas with our bodies. The act of collaborating both mentally and physically was unifying—I felt like I could weep, but I also felt powerful, and I didn’t feel alone.
Striving for accessibility
Lánzate was conducted in both Spanish and English, which could have, for some, been exclusionary at times. To prevent that, everything was translated. Headsets for Spanish or English were available to anyone who wanted them, and speakers and attendees worked together to ensure the pace was mild enough for translators to keep up. Imagine if the rest of the world was this considerate about language.
Childcare was also provided—a crucial aspect in making attending the conference possible for more people.
Examples that work
People United for Justice was on hand for a session guiding attendees through their successful campaign to oust Arizona Sheriff and anti-immigration crusader Joe Arpaio. Chile’s Movimiento de Pobladores en Lucha was also represented by Rodrigo Paredes Ceballo, who delivered a condensed version of their work “contra el estado, sin el estado, desde el estado.” Learning about the work of other organizations can elevate your own efforts, from the strategies employed to altogether new-to-you ideas to consider implementing.
Emphasis on music
The sounds of Latinx culture played as much a role as anything else at Lánzate. Between workshops and plenary sessions, there was bomba y plena, DJs, a rendition of the revolutionary anthem “La Borinqueña” and a performance about the gentrification of Santurce from Puerto Rico’s own radical theater collective, Papel Machete.
— Mijente (@ConMijente) December 2, 2016
— Mijente (@ConMijente) December 2, 2016
— Mijente (@ConMijente) December 4, 2016
Puerto Rico’s time in the spotlight
In terms of issues and communities represented, Lánzate was a widely inclusive event, but the conference was organized in Puerto Rico specifically as a means of spotlighting the island’s issues—and how these affect the boricua diaspora, too. In a session and a general plenary, members of Jornada: Se Acabaron Las Promesas and El Campamento Contra La Junta guided attendees through their work in fighting PROMESA and La Junta de Control Fiscal, the effects of colonization and the efforts to decolonize, and the struggle against the AES Corporation’s dumping of toxic carbon ash in Peñuelas. The solidarity felt from the audience was immense, warm, palpable—a feeling only an in-person gathering like Lánzate could provide.