A grassroots, environmental justice organization based in San Francisco’s Mission District

Farewell from Marilyn

Leaving a job in the time of COVID can be confusing for many reasons. Questions such as, “Why would you leave now of all times? Do you have a back-up job? Will you be okay?” arise at any mention of job insecurity. There is no one answer I can give as I become unemployed in this time of COVID and Shelter in Place.

Low-wage workers are acutely aware that this pandemic has left us with no stability to hold on to, and highlights a city with the lack of political will to ensure that we protect all of our most vulnerable during this time, especially our houseless neighbors.

We’ve seen an outpour of grief, anger, strength, and solidarity in marches, caravans, and protests for Black Lives that have walked up against aggressive police presence and a curfew that should never have been implemented in the first place.  It has shown us more than ever that we need to #DefundPolice, but will the city take the necessary steps to support those struggling or give into the  Police Officers Association (POA) once again?

As I left to figure out my new future, I am worried about the obstacles facing my favorite organization. If you know me, and you know PODER, you know that my commitment to environmental and economic justice started when I was a teenager via the Common Roots youth program led by PODER and the Chinese Progressive Association. My first step into organizing was doorknocking to ask about environmental issues in the Excelsior. From there, I was stuck to PODER and social justice like chicle in the sun.

PODER has been my family all these years, and contributed so much to my political awareness and personal growth.  It has moved me to create change. Even when I worked at CTWO, interned at ACCE, and worked on electoral or political campaigns, PODER kept me humble, standing with them on the frontlines, organizing with my community. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, as well, where I was always met with support and reminders of how to learn from them. 

I’ve spent half of my life dedicating myself to an organization that really is grassroots, from the bottom up.  Community members who’ve known me for countless years led the way to our solidarity economy campaigns, like Bicis Del Pueblo, and Hummingbird Farm. They laid the groundwork for all the affordable housing projects that PODER has spearheaded such as, 2060 Folsom (then 17th and Folsom) and the Balboa Upper Yard.  They began to put the building blocks in place to build a radical alternative to how we invest our public funds, away from Wall Street, and into a public bank. They diligently spent 17 years making sure that In Chan Kaajal reflected the vision the community is still holding onto for our city, a place that feels like home.  And through it all, it has been youth alongside the community leading the way.

Who would I be without the organizers in my community? Definitely not this version of myself that owes everything to people power!  This version of myself reminds me of this version of my community.  The beautiful leadership, cultura, ganas, and collective determination to roll up our sleeves, work together, share our vision, ideas, and hard work to build a better future.

Which is why it hurts so deeply to know that my community’s environmental and economic justice organization will be unable to hire a new community organizer after I am gone.  Our Mayor’s Office of Housing & Community Development, for the last number of years, has been investing our precious public resources to help sustain the community based planning and organizing led by PODER.  This work is what it takes to develop the future leaders in our communities, in particular among Latinx youth and immigrant families.  That funding has been cut.  It’s a sad day in San Pancho when our Mayor feels the need to defund trusted community programs just because the community’s voices are ones she disagrees with.

Our City is letting the community down again. As PODER, we fight for a safe, healthy and just place to live, work, play, go to school, and pray. It’s what I’ve stood by for over 15 years. As we continue to stand by these principles in our housing fights, promoting more affordable housing while the market tries to gobble up all the land they can find, gentrifying neighborhood after neighborhood, developers try to dip their hands into the Mission and Excelsior, and our City and our Mayor stand by.

I have faith that our community will find a way forward.  I have been part of that incredible brilliance and community self determination all these years. We will not be broken, and will return to the tireless work of putting the building blocks in place and developing the leaders who will guide us forward to creating that radical alternative we so desperately need at this time.