The Narco News Bulletin
September 21, 2017 | Issue #67
narconews.com - Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America
As a young girl growing up in South East Los Angeles, while attending overcrowded and underfunded schools, I cared little about my poorly developing grammar skills and dreamt of writing a novel based on my family's Mexican roots. As I tried to hone my craft, I wrote about everything that caught my eye, a flower I passed in a garden, the freedom seeking but ill-fated hippopotamus that escaped the LA zoo, my cold war inspired fear of nuclear war, poverty, my life. In my early teen years, when my father heartbreakingly tried and failed to organize a union in the garment factory he worked in, later losing his job, my writing turned to the world of injustice. Writing became an outlet for my anger at an unfair and unjust world. I still have a book of my badly written poems hidden away in my bedroom. I like to dig it out every now and then to allow the words to transport me to those long ago days of a 16-year-old me suffering teenage social justice inspired angst.
Paulina Gonzalez with Mexican poet and peace movement founder Javier Sicilia at the 2012 School of Authentic Journalism.
In the grape fields of California, I stowed away my writing pen and old word processor, traded them in for a picket sign, and soon forgot about my love of writing. I embarked on a 17 year journey in which I found my true self in organizing and movement building. In organizing, I found a home for my anger and passion and found fuel by facing injustice head on with the authenticity of people power. Over the years, I forgot my love of writing until the moment I stepped off a plane in the Spring of 2012 in Mexico City to attend The School of Authentic Journalism.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect as I rode a taxi to the campus. Sure, I had a taste of the School of Authentic Journalism at a three day workshop in NYC a few months before, but something told me its affects would be multiplied in this Mexico experience. The NYC Narco News workshop took place just as Occupy Wall Street was growing and before it began its long and painful decline. Steps from Occupy and Wall Street, over three days, three dozen organizers and journalists shared the art and commitment behind authentic journalism while deepening their knowledge of movement building and organizing so that they could provide an alternative to the American inspired corporatized entertainment news. Little by little it started to come back to me. The writer in me began to peek out from behind years of organizing. I was inspired throughout the three-day class by story of struggle, movement, and its intersection with journalism. Especially inspiring was one of the panels organized as an unscripted conversation from the front of the room between civil rights leader and organizer Rev. James Lawson and Mexican anti-drug war organizer Julian Lebaron. It was a one-on-one, all organizers know what this is. But it was not a one-on-one roleplaying teaching moment, I had seen plenty of those in my years as an organizer; it was what I would call an authentic 1:1, a real conversation based in story and experience taking place in a "fishbowl" for all of us to see. All I could think was, it was brilliant and I wanted more.
Inspired by the three-day workshop in New York, I made my way to Occupy Los Angeles. I felt the familiar anger boiling up in me after one night of the General Assembly. Yes, I had and have anger at the "Wall Street" that had fired my father many years before, but now there was also anger at a movement that threatened to exclude people like my father. I put pen to paper, and wrote. My anger, frustration, hope, and 17 years of organizing training spilled onto the page. It felt good. As I read the words I had written, I realized that I had something to teach, and it wasn't what I had learned behind ivy covered academic walls. It was what I had learned while being sprayed with pesticides while 4 months pregnant and organizing in farm fields. It is what I had learned on the picket line beside by father in the hotel worker organizing and contract fights in Los Angeles. It is what I had learned in South Central Los Angeles fighting along sides families against displacement and for their right to stay in their community. It was what I had learned in 3 days at the New York workshop. As I withstood some of the Occupy inspired backlash to my critique, and as I received emails of people sharing similar experiences and frustration, a realization hit me. I am an authentic journalist, because I could write based on authentic experience without filters and that it could reach far beyond who I could reach with organizing alone. I learned that the combination, organizing and journalism, is a powerful nonviolent weapon.
When I was invited to attend the School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico as a professor, I didn't hesitate. This school is a place where journalism, movement-building and organizing came together. It is the place where people power, the story of a people, and the power of authentic journalism intersect and where those who want to use these tools to change the world are challenged, nurtured, encouraged, and replicated to the farthest reaches of the world. In the ten days I spent at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, I shared my story and experience but I also listened intently and learned from the stories and experiences of organizers and authentic journalists from Egypt, Kenya, Serbia, Tanzania, Mexico, the US and across the globe.
When I arrived back home after the school, I had changed and grown. Like I had experienced after the New York workshop, I was inspired and thirsty for more. My pen was dusted off and my writer's mind and heart were suddenly free again, as if that part of me had suddenly been released from hibernation. Since SAJ 2012, I have written more than I had since I was 16 years old and I have sought out every possible opportunity to grow as an organizer. The School of Authentic Journalism challenged me to be more, to do more, and to express myself more. Isn't that what a true education is supposed to do, after all?
In a few weeks, I will board a plane to the 2013 School of Authentic Journalism. Forty scholars, chosen from among hundreds of applications, will be joining me and 39 other professors. But we need your help to make it possible. The school and scholarships are only possible because of donations from people like you, people who believe that authentic journalism and people power go hand in hand, people who believe that only through authenticity can we truly change the world.
Please help us change the world by making a donation today, by clicking this link:
Or you can send a check to:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
PO Box 1446
Easthampton, MA 01027
Professor, School of Authentic Journalism