Our Power Will No Longer Be Ignored Because of Our Age

Photo by Kristen Graham

“Our Power Will No Longer Be Ignored Because of Our Age”

On the morning of March 14th, Juntos along with the Philadelphia Student Union organized the “Student Vision for School Safety March.” Thousands of young people across the city of Philadelphia walked out of their schools and put forward their vision for true school safety means. Juntos youth member, City Perez-Nieto, a Junior at Science Leadership Academy adressed the crowd with the following words.

Speech cowritten by Cindy Perez-Nieto & Odalys Peralta of Juntos

“Good morning everyone my name is Cindy Perez-Nieto. I am a junior at Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber and a youth leader at Juntos.

I want to start off by saying that we stand in solidarity with the young people in Florida, who have been protesting and spreading the word about the importance of school safety after the tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.

Now, this issue has been going on for too long. It has come to point where this issue has been normalized, we aren’t surprised anymore when we hear about another mass shooting. We now have gun rights activists trying to arm our teachers but we know more guns is not the solution. I honestly don’t know what I’m more afraid of, if there could occur another school shooting or knowing that my teachers might be armed in school. As a student, I believe that arming our teachers is not the right solution.

With so many regulations our schools already feel like prisons. Schools are supposed to be a place of learning and we need to feel safe in order to learn. Having more police officers in schools is not helping with our learning so a first step it to stop investing in cops and start investing in infrastructure such as counselors to help better our education.

Our priority should be on improving our academic level. We need to face the fact that gun violence isn’t the only issue in our schools but the criminalization of schools are also important. The underfunded schools in our city are largely populated by students of color, these schools have metal detector, cops, but don’t have counselors, nurses, or teachers

What we’re seeing out in the streets today is a clear example of what real power looks. School safety has been an issue for many years and for many years politicians have stood by and done nothing. Today, we the young people of this country are saying “enough is enough!” It’s time for action and it’s time for change.

Now we all know that the School District had told many of us that we could only participate in a 17-minute walk-out in honor the victims of tragic Florida shooting. However, we, the students of Philadelphia, know that the issues of school safety extend past Florida.

For many of us, our schools have not felt safe for as long as we can remember. For us to have safe schools we must think broader than only gun regulations.

Safe schools mean schools with more counselors than cops.

Safe schools mean schools with equal funding.

Safe schools mean schools where we don’t fear the presence of ICE.

This is why those 17 minutes were not enough for us if we wanted to bring attention to these issues and make an impact in our community and schools.  This is why I am here today, to make my voice be heard so that the voice of many youth out there is also heard. Our power will no longer be ignored because of our age.

We are going to make a change in our community and this change starts with us, the youth. Thank you.

Student Vision for School Safety March Demands

Student Vision for School Safety March Demands

On February 14th, the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School forever changed the Parkland, Florida community, after a gunman claimed the lives of 14 students, and 3 school faculty members.

This unfortunate and pervasive symptom of national neglect for school safety reform has galvanized the nation, igniting students across the country to step into activism that challenges calls for armed police and teachers, and promote solutions that actually improve the environment in schools.

Students at Stoneman Douglas, and other youth groups who had previously committed themselves to organizing for safer schools have called for gun control and implementing programs like restorative justice and other mental and emotional health programs. Yet lawmakers across the country are still choosing to disregard student voices and pass reactive legislation to strengthen police presence and curb opportunities to end gun violence.

At Philadelphia Student Union and Juntos, our members have recognized that this is yet another example of why young people and their allies need to shift the conversation around school safety.

Our youth leaders seek to share in solidarity with the Parkland student mobilization by bringing the conversation home to Philadelphia, taking leadership from our youth to set a vision for making sure our schools, communities, and hearts are centered in restorative relationships. On March 14th, at 11:30am, we will be leading the March for School Safety and inviting all students and allies participating in walkouts to march collectively with us to lift up the following demands:

  • Divestment from School Police Officers:- An improvement in mental health resources throughout Philadelphia cannot happen without an intentional and accountable effort to divest funding and shift budgeting from School Police officers to other necessary programs that actually promote a nurturing school environment. The expansion of police presence and security personnel/equipment in schools must end, as it only promotes a culture of fear rather than reinforcing the creativity and voice of students.

  • Comprehensive mental and emotional health services: We want all schools in Philadelphia to provide a comprehensive program for mental health services so students can be proactively and consistently supported when dealing with emotional, mental, and social concerns.

  • More guidance counselors and social workers: In order to address the violence affecting our schools, there needs to be a prioritization around hiring more guidance counselors and social workers, who have the training background specifically to support the emotional and mental state of students and to encourage the development of youth.

  • Expansion of restorative justice practices: Restorative justice is key in building relationships between students, parents, teachers, school staff and community. It is an alternative to the presence of police and armed teachers that promotes emotional intelligence and communication which are essential skills to be honed for use after graduation. Our schools require an intentional, and systematic effort for restorative justice programs for peer-to-peer and peer-to-teacher/administrator mediation.

  • Protection for students and families from ICE arrests around schools: Over-policing in our schools only serves to further criminalize young people of color at the expense of learning. Immigration raids across the city have occurred in and around our schools and in homes which instills a constant feeling of fear that impacts young people’s ability to participate in their education. That is why we know ICE and police are two sides of the same coin for our families.Both are detrimental to our dignity and our survival, and we need to end their reach into our lives now.

  • Gun Control that does not result in targeted policing of black and brown bodies: Enact legislation that restricts the access of assault rifles, or weaponry used in mass killings without thorough screenings and processes for mental and/or emotional, criminal, or social concerns.

DACA Recipients Speak Out. “Local Activism Is Our Most Powerful Tool”

Marisa Piña Rodriguez of Juntos. Photo by Harvey Finkle

DACA Recipients Speak Out.
Local Activism Is Our Most Powerful Tool

March 5th, 2018 stood as the deadline for Congress to take action on the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] program. On that Monday morning, DACA recipients, immigrant community, and allies gathered in Center City Philadelphia to speak up against the use of DACA recipients as a bargaining chip when it comes to national immigration reform, vehemently opposed any further enforcement or criminalizing of immigrant communities and called on local municipalities to strengthen and expand current Sanctuary policies to protect a wider array of community. Below you can find the speech given on that day by Juntos member, Marisa Piña Rodriguez.

“Good morning everybody. My name is Marisa Piña Rodriguez and I am a 28 year old DACA recipient with the Latino immigrant rights organization, Juntos.

I am here standing before you all because while March 5th loomed as the end date for the temporary protections granted under DACA, for the vast majority of our undocumented immigrant community, there is no date to warn them of their increasingly precarious situation  because every day under the Trump administration has witnessed increased aggressive and inhumane enforcement, detention, and deportations.

Last Monday’s Supreme Court decision to not take up the contentious DACA question and uphold the reinstatement of DACA renewals, was a short-lived but much coveted victory. Less discussed was that in less than 24 hours, that same court ruled that immigrants, including legal permanent residents and asylees, did not have a right to a bond hearing, leaving them to be detained indefinitely. This was a devastating blow to immigrant rights, to human rights, that illustrated how quickly previous victories are being reversed under Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant administration.

Our immigrant communities are under attack. As immigrants, refugees, advocates, and allies we will move toward a more humane future, a more compassionate and inclusive future, ONLY if we addressed the divisions plaguing our immigrant community–divisions both externally imposed by the media as well as those internally created by difference and fear. If we are not vigilant, the futures of DACA recipients will be taken hostage in order to pass white supremacist legislation aimed to further terrorize and criminalize our immigrant communities. This administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it sees DACA recipients as bargaining chips, that it seeks to pass opportunistic immigration reform to further divide our communities by granting benefits to a few while increasing enforcement and deportations for the majority.

The immigrant rights movement currently finds itself at a critical crossroads: Congress has failed us, the media seeks to divide us–what is to be done? We must not get discouraged, instead, we need to organize and unite more than ever. At the local level, there is much we can do to fight against this racist and anti-immigrant administration. Local activism is our most powerful tool to set an example for what we expect to be carried out at the federal level.

One such campaign would be to demand the termination of the Preliminary Arraignment Report System, better known as PARS. PARS is the real-time arrest database used by the Philadelphia Police Department, the District Attorney’s office, and Philly courts. This database is also shared with ICE. For over 20 years, this PARS-ICE collaboration has denied undocumented immigrants due process and instead served as a pipeline to detention. If the city of Philadelphia is truly committed to living up to its status as Sanctuary City, it must expand it’s definition of ‘Sanctuary’ and it must not renew its PARS contract with ICE this year.

So as we stand together let us remember that migrant justice is not just a Latinx issue. This white supremacist administration is a direct threat to immigrants of all races and creeds, of immigrants both present and those yet to come. We will continue to demand family reunification, not family separation. We will not accept more militarization in exchange for selective citizenship. We will fight for legislation and policies at both the national and local level that respect the humanity of all immigrants and our right to a safe and dignified life.

Thank You

 

Juntos Community Leader Speaks at the 2018 Women’s March in Philadelphia

Juntos Community Leader Speaks at the 2018 Women’s March in Philadelphia

One year after Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of women and allies packed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for the 2nd annual Women’s March. Among them was our own community leader, Olivia Ponce, who addressed the crowd and urged us to remember the warriors we are descendants from and to embrace the “chingona” that resides within us as we fight back against sexism, xenophobia, and racism. You can read her moving speech in full below.

“Good afternoon everyone, my name is Olivia Ponce.

Several years ago I joined a local community organization by the name of Juntos, which exists to build the leadership of Latino immigrants in Philadelphia and to fight for our rights. I am proud of being a leader in my community in Juntos, and I am proud to be standing here today, with you, even though I know my existence is everything Trump and the rest of his sexist and racist administration hates. I am a person of color. I am an immigrant and I am a woman.

I was a 25-year-old mother when I made the difficult decision to leave Mexico and come to the U.S. Yes, it was difficult. It was difficult to leave everyone that I knew and loved, including my daughter and my parents who were getting older, not knowing when I would ever see her or them again.

Many immigrant stories are the same as mine; we leave the place and people we love because U.S. interventions and U.S.-led wars make it impossible for many of us to survive back home. Borders do not exist when you are thinking about the future of your child.  And I need everyone here to know: it takes immense courage to make that journey, especially as women. Many women who cross are vulnerable to assaults, to rape and even to death. But courage, strength, and determination are the basic ingredients that make up every woman here. Yes, we all have to deal with sexism. Yet, women of color, Black and Latina women in particular, have to deal with racism too and as immigrant women, our mere existence is criminalized every day in this country.  But, we are not victims! We are the descendants of grand warriors and their blood runs through our veins and it is that history that makes us strong.

I am blessed to say that my daughter is with me now in the U.S. She joined me several years after I came and she is such a source of inspiration for me. It is from her fearlessness in fighting for our community that I learned to not be afraid, to speak up and to raise my voice.

So, to all the beautiful women out here today, I want you to know that when I fight, I fight for ALL OF YOU! That is why I ask that when you fight, you be sure that you fight for all of us too. Find your inner warrior, cross your own borders and let’s fight together because the only way we will win is if we work together.

Thank you”