Andrea Sosa's Blog Posts
Today thousands of folks around the world are participating in May Day demonstrations to call for greater protections for workers. In the U.S specifically, “A Day Without Immigrants” has taken front stage to highlight the contributions and power of immigrants. Today, folks across the country have taken to the streets and engaged in a nationwide strike, powered by the communities that have been fiercely attacked by the current administration: people of color, immigrants, and low wage workers.
Here at YP4, days like these ground us in the work that we do. As a network actively engaging in resisting against the attacks to our individual communities, this day reminds us that when faced with injustice, we must band together in unity. Today will be the largest workers’ strike in decades and it sends a clear message – we will continue to fight for the rights of our communities. We will continue to fight to protect immigrant workers, and we will show up as a united front.
For many of us who legally can’t participate in this year’s election, our inability to vote for our preferred candidate isn’t stopping us from engaging in the political process and building the long-term political infrastructure we need to elevate our voices.
Day to day, I run a national youth civic engagement program with a presence in 24 states, but unlike many of the organizers I work with, I won’t be able to cast a ballot on November 8th due to my immigration status.
That I won’t vote isn’t a consequence of my supposed apathy as a millennial, then, but instead the direct result of policies which block folks like me from casting a ballot. Aside from a small handful of civic engagement opportunities I’ve come across, organizations aren’t outreaching to me as a political operative; they aren’t seeing worth in my ability to mobilize my community within and outside of the voting booth — and that’s dangerous. Indeed, the fact that young people participate at low rates has much less to do with apathy than it does with a rigged system that makes it hard, and even impossible, for young people to vote – particularly young people of color. Condescending claims about disengagement are not only incorrect, they are plain disrespectful.
For one, many states have implemented new restrictions on young voters, emboldened by the Shelby Country v. Holder Supreme Court ruling that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, and allowed many states with histories of discriminatory voting practices to pass laws without approval of the federal government. The organizers I work with have encountered stringent voter ID laws. In North Carolina for instance, these restrictions have put significant barriers on out-of-state students. Folks who have registered more than 90 days before Election Day are required to have a North Carolina ID, which many out-of-state students do not possess. In other states, local board of elections attempt to disenfranchise students by claiming that dorms do not qualify as a legal residence, barring many from registering.
Others will be barred from the ballot box as a result of their immigration status. Undocumented folks, who arguably have some of the highest stakes in this election, will be kept from voting in the federal elections. There are currently as many as 5 million DREAMers – undocumented young people brought to the U.S by their parents as children – who will be unable to cast a ballot in November. What’s more, is that Permanent U.S Residents, meaning folks who have obtained legal resident status and in many cases are awaiting citizenship, will be also ineligible to vote.
While it’s convenient to blame young people for simply not wanting to engage, there is substantial evidence that we in fact are engaging and many of us who can are voting. Young people are involved in an overwhelming variety of civic engagement efforts. We are organizing in our communities and on our college campuses, and are involved in a multitude of social justice efforts that fall within and beyond the electoral process. Given the multitude of barriers placed in our way — from Voter ID bills to immigration laws, the act of vote is simply not a comprehensive marker of how much my peers and I care about politics and what we’re willing to do to build towards the socially just future we envision.
I work with young people organizing in states across this country with young organizers who’ve challenged themselves to think beyond traditional GOTV strategies and incorporate organizing tactics which push back on efforts to dilute and repress the vote. I see folks hosting voter education campaigns on the importance of voting; I see them working with their local sheriff’s department to register those held on pretrial detention and those incarcerated on misdemeanor offenses; and I see others working with different identity groups to explore their collective history of disenfranchisement. The point is that they are implementing innovative models for civic engagement, and are effecting trailblazing social change. Civic engagement extends far beyond voting, and the young people I work with certainly understand that.
To be sure, young folks with the ability and means to vote definitely need to, and the data shows that they understand that. Expanding our understanding of civic engagement isn’t to disparage voting, but rather to place it on a spectrum of actions one can take to achieve a more equitable, just society. By working together — across immigration statuses and levels of access, we can pry open the doors of American democracy to welcome new constituents, perspectives, and innovations. So instead of scolding and shaming us, it’s time we recognize the barriers that exist to keep us from voting and take meaningful steps to break them down.
In the meantime, I will continue to organize with young people across the country. We will implement creative solutions to roadblocks strategically placed in our way, and I will commit to mobilizing people to the polls, even if I can’t cast a ballot when we get there.
Photo Credit: TNI
Remember TransCanada? You may know them as the corporation that championed the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which never came to be as a result of the work of thousands of grassroots organizers and environmentalists. These folks put their bodies on the line to block the construction of a 1,179 mile crude oil pipeline that would have crossed the continental U.S from North to South. Those efforts were a major win for the progressive movement – it was a significant step in ensuring a clean environment for hundreds of communities and protecting tribal homelands.
Recently, TransCanada filed a lawsuit against the U.S government, claiming that failure to approve the Keystone XL pipeline violates the corporation’s rights to market access and non-discrimination as a foreign investor, making them lose a ton of money. Now, they are demanding $15 billion dollars in compensation from U.S taxpayers in redress.
How is this possible? Well, TransCanada is invoking something called the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which allows foreign investors to sue host governments for putting policies in place that could potentially harm corporate profits. This essentially means that the work of thousands of organizers and environmentalists could potentially be rolled back in the name of corporate greed. What’s more — there’s very little we can do to stop it.
ISDS became a hot topic of discussion as a result of its inclusion in the proposed TransPacific Partnership (TPP), a global trade deal between twelve countries championed by the Obama administration. Yet, ISDS has been undermining democracy, government transparency, and progressive regulation policy for decades; it’s been included in over 3,000 international treaties since 1959, in fact.
Here’s the scary part. The lawsuits under this provision are handled through international arbitration, meaning that they aren’t handled in open courtrooms.
Instead, these cases are decided by special ‘corporate courts’ convened anywhere in the world. Instead of judges, a small panel of international experts is selected to rule on the issues at stake. The members of these panels are often high-ranking lawyers at major international firms, exactly the same folks who try cases before these panels. In practice, then, international arbitration constitutes an insular, corporate-driven decision-making process outside of the control of individual nation-states. So, in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, the use of international arbitration has real, tangible effects; there is now no courtroom that environmentalists can protest outside of and no way for their voices to be heard in the process.
As you can imagine, then, ISDS has been used to undermine the health of communities across the globe and favor corporate interests over the voices of organizers and activists everywhere. Let’s walk through several examples. For instance, Egypt has been sued by a French transportation company after raising the minimum wage; Uruguay and Australia were sued by a cigarette corporation for implementing plain packaging that would highlight the health risks associated with smoking; Germany was sued by a Swedish corporation over its decision to phase out nuclear power; and the list goes on.
Yet, the most problematic part of ISDS is that it makes communities affected by structural violence around the world increasingly vulnerable — silencing them and privileging the voices, opinions, and needs of the ultra-rich. These communities build power by organizing around issues that directly affect them, taking to the streets and speaking their truth to power. ISDS, meanwhile, creates a system where the public good — and really public opinion — is written completely out of the equation.
As young people engaged in efforts to create positive change, we must be aware of the affront that ISDS presents to the wellbeing of our communities, both in the U.S. and around the world. Long-lasting change cannot happen when institutions like ISDS exist to roll back our efforts. In the face of ever more powerful corporations emboldened by ISDS, we must think creatively about solutions to ensure that the change we want to see in our communities is both sustainable and permanent.
As Young People For, we have taken on this responsibility by further exploring how young people can become involved in conversations about what justice for our communities should look like. As part of our Courts Matter Initiative, we are engaging young people from around the country to analyze and critique the judicial system. We want to explore how we can approach the courts as a site of organizing and a tool for creating systemic change. Through this work, we seek to unleash the power of diverse voices through courts activism. We are learning about where our voices are most effective and are exploring what justice should look like in this country; as we continue this work, we know one thing for sure, it does not look like ISDS.
What’s your story?
My story is comprised of different cultures, people, and experiences. I have lived in Tampico, Mexico; Dallas, Texas; and Baltimore, Maryland at different points in my life and with each place gained new identities and experiences that greatly contribute to my current personal and professional ambitions. My motivation to pursue social justice work was prompted by my experience as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Texas, as resident of a city in Mexico fraught with drug cartel violence, and as a college student in Baltimore seeking a pathway to become an agent of change.
What personal and professional experiences do you bring with you into the YP4 space?
I bring with me a variety of experiences in student networks, social justice advocacy and public policy. I have worked extensively with the Roosevelt Network, the nation’s largest student think-tank, in a variety of capacities including organizing and curriculum development, and in various issue areas including community economic development and private prison reform. Other professional experiences of mine include work with the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC, where I contributed to the union’s trade and globalization policy and advocacy efforts. In terms of personal experiences, I would like to highlight that I am bringing into this space the experience of being a college student seeking out tools to become an agent of change. Being a recent graduate, the idea of organizing on college campuses and engaging in social justice work as a student is very present to me.
What are you looking forward to on the team and within the Network?
I am looking forward to working with and learning from a group of bright, motivated, and diverse individuals dedicated to social justice work. I am excited to meet and connect with current Fellows and Alumni, work alongside the YP4 staff to support their work, and continue to organize for social, political, and economic justice. I am thrilled to be joining such an amazing team, and look forward to learning as much as I can from them!
If you could have dinner with any organizer past or present, who would it be?
I would probably have dinner with Rigoberta Menchu, a woman that has dedicated her life to fighting for indigenous rights in Guatemala. Her story is incredibly admirable in that she has become a symbol for the fight against indigenous oppression. It would not only be an honor to meet her, but also to learn from her wisdom and experience.