A group of New Haven-area residents met Saturday afternoon at the Neighborhood Housing Services site for a monthly educational meeting with the city’s chapter of Standing Up for Racial Justice, an organization with the goal of mobilizing white people against racism.
SURJ’s meeting was dedicated to discussing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and its planned discontinuation by the Trump administration. During the event, the roughly 15 locals in attendance wrote postcards to Connecticut’s senators and representatives, urging them to vote for a “clean” Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The conversation touched on local events and protests related to DACA legislation and immigrant rights.
“We work with other organizations that are immigrant-based or are Latinx rights-based. That’s how we support [immigrant rights], because at SURJ, we are white allies to racial justice,” said Jennifer Hernandez, a member of the SURJ leadership team. “We don’t want to take over immigrant movements, we just want to support [the movements] by teaching white people about white supremacy.”
Elias Estabrook ’16 added that the local chapter of SURJ is just one of many groups beneath SURJ’s national umbrella, which is part of coalition of organizations called the Majority.
The meeting was preceded by a “beginners’ meeting” to discuss SURJ’s national mission to jolt white people to act as part of a “multiracial majority” that aims to ensure justice for immigrants. Members of the local leadership team explained at the event how SURJ strives to support and stand in solidarity with local racial justice groups.
Leadership team members said they hoped to provide locals with the tools to support other racial justice groups. Fabian Menges, a member of the local SURJ leadership team, encouraged newcomers to share what had motivated them to attend the meeting and get involved with SURJ. Grouped in small circles, they expressed sentiments of political isolation and disempowerment, saying that, although they believe in SURJ’s mission, they also hope to join groups of greater diversity.
“I get and I don’t get this organizing of white folks,” Menges said. “There needs to be a diverse group following the needs of people of color, but I see it as a good starting point for people to get sensitive in these issues and then move on from there.”
Following the beginners’ meeting, Hernandez and Gina Roussos, SURJ leadership team members and co-facilitators of the meeting, led an educational and interactive discussion about DACA and the Trump administration’s plans to roll back the Obama administration’s executive order. Members in attendance broke into small groups and discussed the questions: Who gets to be a citizen in the US, and how does race impact the citizenship process?
As a larger group, attendees discussed issues such as the economic obstacles on the road to citizenship, language requirements for citizenship testing and the public perception of those impacted by DACA.
Attendees were encouraged to give money to Donate DACA, which would help immigrants whose DACA permits expire before March 5, 2018 to apply for permit renewals before the Oct 5. cutoff.
After writing and illustrating postcards to lawmakers, the larger group of attendees reconvened to share one-word descriptions of how they felt. Locals said they felt energized, motivated and hopeful.
“It’s the little things,” Roussos said. “Writing one postcard isn’t going to ensure that the DREAM Act passes, but maybe a million postcards will, and ours will be one of those.”
Annie Nields | firstname.lastname@example.org