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Building for the long fight: Two of New Sanctuary Movement’s promotoras

July 1, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPeople


This is a guest post by Peter Pedemonti, co-director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.
Two up and coming leaders in Philadelphia are part of New Sanctuary Movement’s Promotoras program: Gloria and Bertha are part of a team of 10 people going through the year-long program.

Started in 2019 to create a more rigorous organizer training, we believe this moment calls not just for defense against Trump, but laying the groundwork for a stronger and more organized community.

The Promotoras program is the slow work to do that by developing organizers. Each person works eight to 10 hours a week building a broader base in congregations and NSM’s Accompaniment program; meets every other week for training; and gets personal coaching. The group includes people from Venezuela, Jamaica, Honduras, Indonesia, the US, and the Dominican Republic.

Gloria is a devout Catholic at Holy Innocents Parish in North Philadelphia, a grandmother and a very talented organizer. From Venezuela, she has been a member of NSM for years.

Gloria at a New Sanctuary Movement vigil. (Courtesy photo)

As a Promotora, she works with two others to organize in the Latinx member congregations in North Philadelphia. Gloria is grounded in her community and understands what people need. For example, when the city launched its municipal IDs, she organized a mobile site in Holy Innocents. As people waited for their IDs, Gloria and a few other Promotoras talked with people, built relationships, and shared about NSM. Now some of those people are coming to NSM events.

Gloria has a joyous spirit that welcomes people right in, creating immediate trust. This warm welcome and inclusion is an important lesson to our movements.

Promotoras call her the mother of the group. In that role, Gloria displays a rare transparency and readiness to learn from her mistakes with the group. At our last training, we were doing an intense activity on nonviolent action. In the debrief, she opened up that the way she reacted was not in line with her values. As she processed this and worked to realign with her values, her vulnerability offered a different take on failure — one that shows growth as cyclical, not linear.  It is how we learn and grow.

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It was a powerful moment that invited others to do the same, and invites all of us to think about how we come to our own spaces.

Bertha. (Courtesy photo)

Bertha has organizing in her blood. She grew up going to organizing meetings in Honduras with her father, who has been an organizer for decades. Her family has always called her the rebel.

She began with NSM coming to events and general member meetings, but it wasn’t until she was invited to be part of the committee that built the Community Fund for Bond and Legal Support that she really got activated. She was part of a group of 25 people who launched this project based on a listening campaign of over 80 people in Accompaniment.

Now she sits on the organizing committee that raised over $60,000 in the past year, helping 34 families free their loved ones from detention or pay for lawyers.

She is busy raising three children, but finds time to work eight hours a week working, with Gloria to organize her community. I was recently in a meeting with her and a priest. So many people are at first intimidated by the status of clergy, but Bertha is fearless. I learned a lot from her as she spoke directly to the priest about moving to action, and negotiating what that could look like.

Bertha has a strong belief in the power of communities and is ready to ask for what she needs to build that. She works so that more people understand their rights and are ready to fight for them so that they can live freely. She has big hopes and strong expectations for people in the community, and is fearless as she works toward that vision.

NSM believes leadership development is a mutual process. We build on the wisdom members bring from their lives and their home countries, combining that with the unique model of NSM’s faith-rooted organizing.But NSM also evolves its organizing from their wisdom. This mutual learning needs time to germinate and grow.

Our faith traditions offer an important lesson here. They remind us that we are part of a long line of communities struggling for a better world. In the era of Trump and constant crisis, this reminds us to take a breath. It reminds us of the long view, and the importance to plant and cultivate now to build a stronger movement that will outlive Trump.

Gloria, Bertha and all the Promotoras live into this.


Immigrant Leaders Month 2019

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