|English | Español||April 26, 2017 | Issue #67|
Paulina González Uses Story Telling as a Tool of Civil Resistance
The organizer from south Los Angeles believes that you can touch peoples’ hearts with stories
By Ximena Payán
Paulina González during a workshop at the School of Authentic Journalism 2013. DR 2013 Rodrigo Jardón
Paulina González’s story begins in southeast Los Angeles, a city where she was born and raised. Her parents, both from Mexico (her father from Michoacán and her mother from Durango), migrated to the United States to flee the unemployment, poverty and huger that they experienced in their home states.
From her father, Efraín González, she heard stories that filled her mind with images of the crosses that her father saw in the Arizona desert when he was searching for the American dream. Those stories were close to the reality of Mexican migrants in the 70s who came after the cancelation of the Bracero program in 1964. With that program, the migrant phenomenon became very common in rural areas of Mexico because it allowed almost 5 million Mexicans to enter and work in the American agricultural sector.
“My father was someone who usually went to bed after eating beans and tortillas. He only finished second grade, but he knew how to do something: work,” remembers González.
At 10-years-old, she witnessed how her father risked everything as he tried to form a union at the clothing factory. He worked hard at the factory each day to put food on the table at home. The workers asked for respect, dignity and to be treated like humans.
Efraín González formed part of an internal movement at the factory, and every day he returned home and told his family about the victory that he had experienced. However, the factory began an anti-union campaign, and all those involved in organizing lost the election. A few days later, they fired Efraín.
The struggle of Paulina González’s father is an example of the abuse of the working class in the United States, and is not an isolated or unknown issue. González shared her father’s anger at having been fired because she knew that his struggle was legitimate. “I will not allow this to happen to my father or anyone in my family or any of us,” she said to herself.
This story is the reason that she used her energy to fight against the injustices that affect migrants and minority populations.
“What I learned from my father is something very valuable that I didn’t realize until now. Stories are what give me inspiration and motivation to continue fighting,” commented González.
After starting her career in political science, González took a leave from school to join the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA) in Central Valley, California. Hand in hand with the farmers of the union, she found that community organization was a way to achieve social movements through non-violent civil resistance.
In 1995, after two years of experimental learning about the struggle for dignity, she returned to Los Angeles and the university. She did this because her father said he didn’t cross the border into the United States so that she wouldn’t study. Once she graduated in sociology, she continued her community work.
In 2012, the director of the School of Authentic Journalism, Al Giordano, invited her to participate in the school as a professor and share her experiences. It was that experience of 10 days in Mexico that inspired her to write about social resistance from inside with the goal of inspiring the struggle.
Since 2009 Paulina has been the Executive Director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), an organization in Los Angeles that looks after the welfare of African American, Asian and Latino communities in the south of the city. They work with issues such as public health, quality of housing and job training. In addition, one of their priorities is to avoid the massive displacement of populations due to commercial interests.
Since 1960 there have been so many abuses and displacements of communities in favor of the urbanization of Los Angeles. When a business wants to expand into an area where there is a community, they start a campaign to make the area unbearable for inhabitants. But it is possible to counteract the effects of these campaigns and to avoid the dissolution of organizing communities and the inhabitants of those communities.
González confesses that community work is hard, that it is not only a question of knocking on doors, but also of speaking face to face to gain recognition from people who want to organize or recruit for a movement.
According to González, the legitimacy of a cause is not what defines the timeframe in which a cause is won. Protests can last a day, weeks, even months, but a social movement is built through a series of strategies that give the group a long-term vision and promise them success. In addition, the protests can end in loss, but the organized movement continues.
Alex Stephens, a community organizer in Los Angeles, has had the opportunity to work with Paulina González. He has trained people in the organization 99Rise which struggles against corporate economic power, an organization of which he was one of five co-founders. He sees Paulina as a visionary because she has taught him that winning is due to a combination of strategy (thought) and story telling (heart) that allow you to be able to act (hands).
In SAJE, Paulina González implements a strategy that works: recruit and train. For example, the people that support the organization go to homes in the communities to speak to people face to face. As part of their work, they find things in common that people can agree on, and the also discover potential leaders who in the future will be able to do the same work they are doing.
The organization of the new members is maintained through the implementation of three kinds of tactics: strategy, strengthening the organization and the development of individuals.
Civil resistance is no easy task. It is a question of creativity. The revolution won’t be won in a day because it is built on small but significant victories, and, according to Paulina González: “The most important story is the one right now, and what we are going to do with it.”
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism