Thursday, July 25, 2013

We are the Power

On July 24, we joined with many family members, friends, other supervisors, colleagues, and allies to celebrate the Commencement of the 19th class of Bill Emerson Hunger Fellows, including our own Fellow, Irene Romulo, who was selected by her peers to deliver one of two commencement addresses. Each fellow received a personal tribute from his or her supervisor from the Congressional Hunger Center.  Irene's supervisor said of her, "I feel better about the world because she is in it."  In the Office of Public Witness, we feel the same way.

But truly, Irene's speech needs no introduction... please listen to this amazing young woman's wisdom.

Commencement Address
by Irene Romulo, Bill Emerson Hunger Fellow, PC(USA) Office of Public Witness
July 24, 2013

Thank you for standing with us and for supporting us along the way.

How can I possibly talk about all that I’ve learned and experienced in one year in five minutes, how do I share all the stories of struggle and hope that people from across the country have shared with us? I’ll try to cram most of it, most of what I believe in, in just these five minutes.

In our discussions we often talk about how important it is to ground ourselves in our communities
In the struggles of our people
And that’s what we’ve done
and now

I know that our lives, my life will forever be connected to each one of you
That it will forever be connected to the many friends and allies that we’ve met along the way
I know that the work we’re doing is tough
And that we’ve got a lot of it to do but
I know that even in all that struggle, there is beauty, there is strength, and there is power

I know that we need to love, to love ourselves and one another, to fully embrace the beauty and power in our histories, in our cultures, our hair, our skin, our languages because
when our lives are devalued, our bodies somehow made less human
when our customs and cultures appropriated, defiled, stolen
that when our peoples are humiliated, that when yet another micro aggression, or another act of violence is made our communities,
it is only through collective action that we’ll find any sort of liberation.

I know that we’ve experienced a lot of anger and hurt.  I know that I personally have a lot of pain that I didn’t know how to recognize, internalized pain that doesn’t just affect me but many of us.
But I also know that we can actively challenge the roots of that pain.
I know it’s possible to stop being afraid to talk, to share, and to confront our traumas collectively
because one person should not have to bear the burden of hundreds of years of struggle alone.

I know that we’re privileged because we’re here and we can and have the language to discuss institutional oppressions but I know we need to move these conversations out
Because for my brother who stands at Home Depot everyday looking for work or the woman, like my new friend Martita, who is being unconstitutionally detained, these conversations alone without action will do nothing to change their situation. I know we need to have these conversations with them because I know that it’s possible to transform an individual from someone that is timid and shy
From someone who has been humiliated for so long that they’ve been shamed into normalizing all the violations and abuses they’ve endured
Into someone who draws strength and power, from all those experiences, and from the people standing with them
Into someone who Stands up at a rally, at a press conference, in front of legislators, in front of their communities
And cries out against our oppressors
And joins the movement of the people
A movement that isn’t just here but that is undeniably tied to the struggles of others
And I know that our work should be tied to the collective liberation of people across the world.

I know it is important to value the stories that our community members are willing to share, to treasure them, because each and every one of their stories is a story of struggle, of hope, and of strength.
And I know we need to make intentional spaces in our work to make sure that these stories are shared and become our guides
I know we need to remember to listen ALWAYS and that we need to reject language that tries to chip away our agency because we are not voiceless
Our people are loud as hell, some just choose not to listen.

I know we can’t trade the rights of some people for those of another
And that compromises that criminalize a sector of us are not compromises but further acts of violence aimed at creating divisions in our pueblo

I know that there should not be anything progressive about wanting dignity, respect, and real justice for all.

I know that there are a lot of things I do not know but that’s okay.

I know that we’re never alone. That everywhere we go we have the power of our ancestors and all our brothers and sisters who work towards the same liberation.

I know that there’s power in humility, power in reaching out for help, power in our voices, power in our hearts, in our lives, in our experiences, our knowledge, and our dances. Power in our eyes, in our hands, our laughter and our cries…we are the power, together. Cuz the power of the people don’t stop!