Monday, January 30, 2006

Growing Hope: Building a Movement of Change

by Colin Rajah reporting from Caracas, Venezuela

Have I mentioned that this is NNIRR's 4th direct participation in the WSF? One would assume that we would be "World Social Forumed-out" by now. But there is something different this time, a growing energy, a building strength, a burning hope that change CAN and WILL come about.

Maybe its the growing recognition (finally!) that immigrants face some of the worse oppressions in this dominant economic paradigm, and that this only develops the inner strenght in our communities as we fight back and continue to build healthy, sustainable and just economies.

The numerous workshops and panels NNIRR and our members were invited to speak at, is an indicator of this. Whether it was Luckner Millien (from the FL Farmworkers Association) giving testimony about being in a detention camp and being deported to Haiti to hundreds at the US Oppression workshop, or Susan Alva (NNIRR board member) presenting analysis on migration policies at a panel on Overcoming the Neoliberal Economy, or Joycelyn Campbell (from Domestic Workers United) describing how they are abused by their employers and how they've fought back, these are living testimonies the struggles faced by immigrant communities not just oppress but empower us.

At NNIRR's own workshop, not only Luckner's and Joyce's testimonies, but also that of Chayya Chhoum (CAAAV), Chris Punongbayan (FAA), Greg Simons (CHIRLA), Mari Rose Taruc (APEN), Genaro Lopez-Rendon (SWU) and other diverse immigrant communities in the US, alongside those from Peruvian refugees in Argentina, indigenous migrants from Colombia, and Ecudorian migrants from Central America, speak courageous words to the worlwide oppression imposed by an economic and militaristic force. And yet, we're not victims, not mere survivors, but we are organizing growing movements of change that are converging here.

Venezuela itself creates cause for hope. The new National ID might seem an imposition on civil liberties to those of us in the US, it is in actuality a broad amnesty program to provide documentation to undocumented migrants here, and along with that, the rights and privileges equal to any other Venezuelan citizen. With immigration accounting for about 80% of the new population growth, and about 90% of the numerous street vendors here being migrants from Colombia and other neighboring regions, it is no doubt that this will enable migrant to go beyond the underground economy and into more sustainable livelihoods, while having recognized and enforced rights.

And if thats not enough to create some hope, then consider this latest development that has just emerged out of a series of meetings and exchanges in here the past couple of days. A mass northward mobilization of indigenous and other peoples from around Latin America, converging with a mobilization of immigrant and other communities from North America (led by GGJ and its members organizations including NNIRR), at the US-Mexico border this May, with popular actions at the border wall, and a border social forum, all involving tens of thousands of people! At the press conference to annouce this, Susan and Ruben Solis (from NNIRR's ally organization, Southwest Workers Union) described how while immigration policies have been increasingly repressive, for many years there have been growing mobilizations to reclaim and tear down the inhumane borders. And this is the opportunity we've been waiting for! Keep posted here and at for more developments on this soon...

Meanwhile, we leave here with this hope. While things just seem to get worse and worse on the surface, there is a powerful undercurrent as we build monumental movements across the Americas and the world that will bring about significant social change. The time seems to be coming and immigrant communities are poised to be at the forefront of these.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Logistical Nightmares at the 6th WSF

by Colin Rajah reporting from Caracas, Venezuela

The logistics were a nightmare. The main highway from the airport runs across a bridge that collapsed significantly a week ago. Timing could not be worse (and rumors of sabotage are rampant), as over 100,000 people from around the Americas converge into Caracas for the World Social Forum this week.

Most of our Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) delegation made it in safe and sound however, in spite of 6-hour waits at the airport, 3-hour bus rides through windy mountain roads, and navigating massive traffic jams in the city to get to our hotel and orientation. And when we did, it was a coming home of sorts - connections and relationships among a vastly immigrant, people-of-color, grassroots delegation tug at not just the political, but our emotional bonds.

As other logistical "challenges" faced our orientation and meeting with a local host organization, we endured that with patience and tenacity. We formed out workgroups to embark on our mission this week - to make international/hemispheric grassroots connections with other communities in the Global South, and to challenge the stereotypes about U.S. society and communities.

Most importantly for us, presenting a broader, more diverse representation of immigrant communities in the U.S. who have to endure forced displacements in their home countries, and then oppressive political and economic forces in the U.S., is vital.

But we confidently forged ahead, especially in the opening march. NNIRR board member Susan Alva, alongside NNIRR members from CAAAV, CHIRLA and the Florida Farmworkers Association, carried the NNIRR banner high as we joined in our larger delegation´s chant "...Justice for the Whole World!...Que Viva!"

So the 6th WSF week has begun, in spite of the challenges. And as we look forward to this week, we know we´ll face even more challenges, logistical and otherwise. In the wake of a Congressional bill that proposes to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and seeks to essentially separate the U.S. from all of Latin America, the concept of a united Americas seems remote and distant. But for people who build communities across these borders, we have something to say about it, and we will.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

NNIRR at the WSF in Caracas

by Colin Rajah

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) and a number of its members (CAAAV - Organizing Asian Communities, Committee for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angels - CHIRLA, Domestic Workers United - DWU, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Filipinos for Affirmative Action - FAA, Mujeres Unidas y Activas - MUA etc.) will be among the 120+ person grassroots US delegation of Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) at the polycentric World Social Forum (WSF) in Caracas, Venezuela from January 24th through the 30th.

Among various activities, NNIRR will be organizing a workshop on "Globalization & Migrant Rights: Migrant Testimonies Challenging Neoliberal Economic Policies". The workshop details are as follows:

Date: Friday, Jan 27th
Time: 8:30-11:30am
Place: Sala 01 (Teatro), CELARG Altamira, Ave. Luis Roche

We invite all NNIRR allies and partners who will be Caracas for the WSF, to join us in our many activities, especially this critical workshop which seeks to expose the impact globalization has had on migration and migrant rights, and find ways to build a migrant rights movement around it.

Colin Rajah (NNIRR's International Program Coordinator) and Susan Alva (NNIRR's board member) will be coordinating NNIRR's caucus and presence at the WSF. They can be reached at:

Hotel Conde, Esquina el Conde, Caracas

Please watch this space for updates directly from Caracas in the next few days...