June 20, 2018

FFJ Advisor Discussion Series: Stephanie Guilloud

Our discussion series with FFJ’s Field Advisors continues with Stephanie Guilloud, Co-Director of Project South. Read our interview below to learn more about how the Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial can be “a tool and weapon of truth in our long-term struggle to defeat white supremacy and win freedom and justice for us all.”

If you could stop a lynching today, would you? 

“Thank you for taking our case,” Anna Deavere Smith told the 2,000 person crowd at the Grand Opening of the Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama on April 26, 2018. Bryan Stevenson, the visionary lawyer and leader of Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), had just told a heart-wrenching story about a phone call from an intellectually disabled client who had found out he would be executed that day. The man told Bryan, who had taken the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, “Thank you for trying to save my life. Thank you for taking my case.”

Anna Deavere Smith, the incredible artist and playwright, referenced the story Bryan told to reflect the power and intimacy of what was happening. Bryan Stevenson and EJI’s intervention in a corrupted and manipulative history is an act to save our lives. They built a museum and memorial that is not trapped in a faded chronicle of past events but is alive with the injustices and racial terror that Black people face every day in prisons, jails, and in public life. The sites assert that none of us can move forward without reckoning with the truth.

We all need to be part of it. Because we already are a part of this reality, this U.S. history, this present-time racist violence. In our streets, at our borders, in the courts, and in our daily lives. We are a part of it, and if we can strengthen our collective body by truly understanding the past terrors and current horrors of white supremacy, we may be able to save ourselves.

What is it? 

On the foundation of a slave warehouse in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, Equal Justice Initiative created a legacy museum that tracks the trans-Atlantic slave trade to today’s incarceration epidemic. In a harrowing parallel, digital holograms of enslaved people speak and sing from behind bars in one part of the center and in other parts, digital holograms of incarcerated people speak from behind glass. You lift the receiver to hear them speak as if you were visiting them in prison. The space is a beautiful and devastating design. The memorial is an outside space where you feel the anguish of enslavement, read the names of people lynched, and experience something heavy and freeing at the same time. These are not static museums dedicated to exposing past injustices, these are dynamic spaces dedicated to engaging truth.

The Lynching Memorial and Legacy Museum are proving the argument without any apology or justification that slavery did not end in 1865.

How did they do it? 

Slow, steady, methodical research. They coordinated multiple projects of painfully vivid histories of over 4,000 lynchings from 1877-1950. They released reports, they produced documentaries and videos, and they built these spaces. All while they continued to practice law and take on clients facing the death penalty and extreme punishment in Alabama and other parts of the South.

They got big investments. Google partnered to make this thing happen and to make it stunning.  An interactive touchscreen map is an innovation in design, data, and emotional delivery. You can stand in one place and see the exact number of known lynchings in any given county in the U.S. with their names listed on the side of the screen. It is an incredible demonstration of the breadth and depth of the decades of terror. It cannot be dismissed and does not need to be justified.

What does it mean? 

One thing it means is that Montgomery will be changed forever. The Montgomery Advertiser, the only newspaper in town, printed an editorial the week of the opening that states in one simple opening line, “We were wrong.” This long-time white institution, my grandfather’s newspaper, claimed responsibility for the press’s complicity in racist violence. For a Southern capital’s newspaper to claim institutional culpability in how violence and racism led to brutal deaths is significant in today’s hostile political climate.

These spaces assert “we will not be erased” – not from history and not from today – without making any inch of the truth more palatable. Montgomery is the perfect site to hold this transformative process. I hope that this will be a site of pilgrimage, not to understand the Civil Rights Movement as a moment in the past but as a way to become more human and more dedicated to our collective fight for freedom.

James Baldwin was quoted throughout the opening week’s events, “History is not the past. It is the present.”

I traveled to my mother’s hometown with eight folks from Project South, some who were born after I graduated from high school and one who had lived through both the racist violence in 1960s Atlanta and had been incarcerated for a year and a half for writing a bad check. We experienced a Montgomery that is growing, that is still a heady mix of poor and rich, that is still pointing people to the tours of the Jefferson Davis’ White House, the former seat of the Confederacy. We also experienced the power of a movement moment when hundreds of local volunteers, Black and white, signed up to support this historic opening. Montgomery natives pointed us to good local restaurants and kept a massive event from feeling like a conference and more like a shared experience, rooted in the same city that launched the Bus Boycott and received the marchers from Selma. We were all proud to be part of a new historical moment in this city.

Rev. William Barber’s eloquent history lesson reminded us that lynchings happened in the U.S. South to reverse the gains of Reconstruction after the Civil War and to prevent Black political participation. In the U.S. South today, we are experiencing a significant attack that has all the markings of a legal lynching in the 21st century.

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow is facing capital murder charges in Dothan, Alabama based on an Alabama law that allows the state to charge anyone near a crime to be fully responsible for that crime. He is innocent. The states attorney is not even making a case that he killed the woman who lost her life in the incident that happened on March 26, 2018. (Read more about the case in an excellent article published in The Root)

Project South has worked with Pastor Glasgow and The Ordinary People Society (TOPS) for over 15 years. Pastor Glasgow is one of the many Alabama Black leaders who built the infrastructure and the momentum for the victory in the Special Elections for U.S. Senate in December by registering formerly and currently incarcerated people to vote. In 2017, Pastor Glasgow stood in a picture with the Governor of Alabama while the governor signed a piece of legislation that is more progressive than 47 states in the U.S., a piece of legislation that was the result of 15 years of organizing. The law expands access to the vote by over 200,000 people by allowing incarcerated people, with convictions that fall outside of certain felonies, in the state of Alabama to register and vote absentee (Maine and Vermont are the only other states that allow currently convicted and incarcerated people to vote). In 2018, not even four months from the victory that proved the power of Black political participation, Pastor Glasgow is facing charges that carry the death penalty or at best, a life sentence.

If we could stop a lynching today, would we? 

Movement leaders, his family, pastors all over the state, and local families who have been impacted by the work of TOPS have come together to protect and defend Pastor Glasgow. He is out on bond (which was a victory, as most capital charges do not get bonded out) and waiting for a Grand Jury trial which will indict, dismiss, or lessen the charges. If indicted, we go on to a trial jury. We’re in for a long haul.

And meanwhile the Alabama primaries happened on June 5. Pastor Glasgow does not rest. He worked with coordinators and captains inside the jail where they kept him for two weeks, and they have registered over 800 people. He is continuing the #Free2Vote work across the state, and organizers and pastors are making sure that everyone who can vote in Alabama is registered and ready.

What Project South and the Southern Movement Assembly knows is that an attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us. We are proud of our movements that have not flinched in the face of this intimidation and attempt to isolate Pastor Glasgow. We are stronger together, and we will stop this legal lynching. We are bolstered by our ancestors’ courage and the work of the Equal Justice Initiative to build something so powerful and affirming.

I was proud to be with a delegation from Project South and the Georgia Citizens’ Coalition on Hunger to the EJI Lynching Memorial and National Museum for Peace & Justice. We were not passive observers but actors in the present moment. We did a public action to engage people about Pastor Glasgow’s case, and we will be bringing the youth members of Project South’s annual Septima Clark Community Power Institute back to Montgomery to continue engaging the Lynching Memorial and Legacy Museum as a tool and weapon of truth in our long-term struggle to defeat white supremacy and win freedom and justice for us all.


Stephanie Guilloud is the Co-Director at Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Stephanie Guilloud is originally from Houston, Texas with roots in Alabama. Stephanie is an organizer with 17 years of experience and leadership in global justice work and community organizing. At Project South, Stephanie works closely with Southeast regional organizing projects, the Southern Movement Assembly, and membership programs. Stephanie worked as the National Co-Chair of the Peoples Movement Assembly Working Group of the US Social Forum from 2008-2013. She served on the board of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), a multiracial queer organization, from 2005-2014. Stephanie is the editor of two anthologies: Through the Eyes of the Judged; Autobiographical Sketches from Incarcerated Young Men and Voices from the WTO; First-person Narratives from the People who Shut Down the World Trade Organization.


In the spring of 2017, Funders for Justice (FFJ) launched its inaugural cohort of Advisors – nine field leaders recognized for their leadership in community power-building, racial and gender justice, police accountability campaigns, and anti-criminalization movements. We asked them to share their insights on the current political climate, how we can build a vision for the world we want, and what funders can do in this moment. 

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September 4, 2020

Strike Watch, Labor Day: Vonda McDaniel on Workers Redefining “Nash-Vegas” and Taking on Power in Tennessee

Earlier this summer, we had the fortune to sit down with Central Labor Council (CLC) of Nashville & Middle Tennessee President Vonda McDaniel. McDaniel gave us key insights – shared in this Strike Watch interview -  into the critical organizing led by food processing workers hard-hit in unsafe meatpacking plants in the region and throughout the US as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.  But meatpacking is not the only place workers are rising up in the Nashville area – where organizations are redefining Black and migrant-led labor organizing in new and important ways.

As we honor the many essential workers on the front lines of our economy this Labor Day, FJE presents our continued conversation with Council President McDaniel. She shares below about important new organizing across retail, urban development, healthcare and more to ensure the growing “Nash-Vegas” actually works for local communities, especailly as Tennessee sped to re-opening. In partnership with NFG’s Amplify Fund, we will be dialoguing more deeply about groundbreaking work in Nashville in our upcoming Virtual Learning to Nashville September 21-23, 2020. We encourage funders to register here and join us as we meet with Stand Up Nashville and The Equity Alliance, and of course, McDaniel and the CLC – and engage with film, music, and more to get a sense of the critical work in this changing Southern economic hub and its implications for worker power across the US.

There’s been a lot of attention to the South in regards to re-opening and the effects of COVID-19. We’ve talked a bit about the important crisis in meatpacking in central Tennessee. How have workers been responding and organizing in Nashville more broadly?

Nashville has become an East Coast entertainment hub - they call it “Nash-vegas” right?  And so hospitality is really the growth industry in the city, alongside health care.  The hospitality workers, mostly in restaurants and some in hotels, have been organizing. In fact some have started to reached out to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) and have started a Nashville (Music City) chapter.  As we were reopening the economy, the press wanted to know what restaurant workers were feeling about it. What the workers saw were the dangers, and we've been working with them. [ROC Music City – a Stand Up Nashville partner - has also recently brought to light individual businesses that were hiding COVID-19 exposure, and won protections for workers in these small businesses.] It's really exciting to see the growth opportunity there in terms of organizing.

In health care, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center they didn't have enough staff when COVID hit so the company brought in temporary workers. The workers – the nurses - demanded that they get hazard pay because they saw that the temps were getting paid more. So we've seen collective action there.

In the dollar stores - both Family Dollar and Dollar General - because they cram so much cheap merchandise in the stores, there’s not a lot of room for social distancing. In many cases they're not providing the Personal Protective Equipment. When they bring their own mask we had reports that workers are told not to wear them – even when they're the homemade mask that they bring. Those workers have created a Facebook group and are really beginning to organize here and in other places. They have even reached out to those workers that have unionized In New Orleans to talk about what the differences in are in those stores and what they need to do to get a union in here, in Tennessee. [Dollar General staff in conversation with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and speaking out about hazard pay were also targeted for firing by the company.]

One of the big issues in the South (and the Midwest) is the way conservative state governments have sought to stop everything from minimum wages to abortion through their power of pre-emption. How is this playing out in Nashville in this time?

Especially in this moment COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges for our local government. Because of that there are things that they cannot do like paid sick leave, like property tax freezes. We're in a moment where our economy was based on sales tax which has gone to nothing, and so the revenue streams are just not what they need to be. In order to keep essential services running they have to raise property taxes, but all of the tools that local governments have to try to help in this moment have been stripped by state preemption. We've been preempted over and over again. We tried to pass living wage ordinance. We passed it; it was preempted. We passed on a ballot measure - local hire - so that we could hire local workers on public projects. That was passed by the voters of the county; it was preempted.

Those in state power have been using preemption to prevent cities from being able to do the things that they consider important to help their citizens. So we have a coalition across the state that has come together, that has been trying to run a campaign to put pressure on the governor to use his emergency powers to take action and make sure that at least in this moment that preemption is not an issue. The campaign gives us an opportunity to talk about what preemption is and how it's impacted our ability to help the residents of Nashville. I know it will continue beyond this pandemic and will only become more important to confront.

How do workers fit in the bigger picture of a changing Nashville, and the unprecedented development the city has been experiencing?

Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. [In a telling incident this June, a 16 year old Latinx worker died falling off a scaffolding, building a new development in Nashville, with no safety harness and questionable safety practices by the company.]

"Every time you turn on the TV, they say Nashville is a city on the rise. But those in charge have been building it on the cheap. "

We have been able to work with our building trades affiliates to create an apprenticeship readiness program to recruit folks out of what they call the “promise zones” and give them the skills necessary to be successful in the federally registered apprenticeship programs and the union apprenticeship programs.  Our Central Labor Council has been a partner with that, and it's been interesting because in building that work, we've created a table that has faith partners working with us. The ecosystem is really coming together, and most of the recruits for our last class came from our faith partners. We've been able to develop relationships with the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship which is the African-American ministers fellowship at Vanderbilt Divinity School. They recruited them out of the churches: the ministers knew they had returning citizens in their congregation that really needed a path to a different life. In reaching the immigrant community we had the Catholic Labor Network which was also really instrumental in helping us to really build a very diverse class also in our Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3) program.

Stand Up Nashville, with the CLC is part of, along with a few of our unions and Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), have been able to really move on the policy side to increase their presence and power for working families.

How have you resourced this significant growth in labor and community organizing?

You know, it's constant.  We are really trying to organize and build, and we really feel like that in Nashville we have set the table for growth for workers. We're excited about it - we have been trying to build infrastructure here for at least the last six to eight years.

But we find ourselves trying to having to chase funding in order to continue to do the work. The folks that oppose us, they don't have those barriers.  They have sustained funding for long periods of time - it really doesn't even matter whether they're successful and accomplish the benchmarks. We really have not had that kind of investment on our side, so we have to spend a great deal of your capacity right now on that.  Our CLC is in fundraising cycle; the reason is we have staffed up a level. We went from an all-volunteer organization to one with three staff. I mean, that's not a lot, but in order to be able to do and work with the community partners, keep up with what's happening in our local government, cultivate partnerships and organize you know that takes resources – the kind that it is very difficult to find funding for. We continue to look for ways to get investment in the work because we feel like that that, over time, there is definitely a return on that investment. You can see the growth in terms of all of the varied projects that people are working on that are part of our network, particularly in this moment.

Why is it important for those interested in economic justice to pay attention to Nashville at this moment?

You know there's a saying that however the South goes so goes the nation. Whatever is really bad in the South - if we cannot improve it here then eventually, it's going to trickle to the rest of the country. History has shown us that. Folks really should understand that what we do in the South, in terms of organizing, in terms of politics, in terms of all the things that we need to change in the economy - if we can't make change on the issues that matter in the South, then how will me make national change? This is a test ground for what happens across the country. But we are movinig to make that change.

*Photo Credit: Nashville CLC.

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

August 4, 2020

A Letter from IRSG Members in Honor of Isabel Arrollo

Dear Friends,

Isabel smiling and reaching up to a fruit tree in an orchard.On May 16, 2020, we lost a fierce, beloved leader in California’s Central Valley, Isabel Arrollo. Isabel was the Executive Director of El Quinto Sol de America, an organization founded by her mother, Irma Medellin, based in Lindsay, California. Isabel’s passion and strong strategic lens helped grow El Quinto Sol into a driving force for change in the Central Valley. From her early teenage years, Isabel worked at her mother’s side, lifting up community voices in local and state decision-making, and supporting residents across Tulare County’s unincorporated communities by connecting youth to arts and cultural work, and uplifting the tools to build civic participation and political power in the community. In recent years, her passion and vision to create an Agroecology Center in the Central Valley has lit a flame — one that we need to keep aglow.

In addition to the collective deep grief and sadness at this time, we are also angry and frustrated by the accumulated conditions of environmental, economic, and racial injustices that facilitated the process of her passing. We understand that extractive systems like industrial agriculture, subsidies that perpetuate land tenureship rooted in the forced migration of peoples and Beings, the exploitation of workers, and the polluting of the water she bathed in and the air she gasped onto holding onto the hope of survival and thriving of her people and their knowledge, are responsible for her illness of Valley fever, her death, and for the displacement of life of her future lineages. This racially targeting phenomenon is a form of prolonged violence, and as allies and co-conspirators in the struggle for justice, we need to show up to defend our neighbors and human relations.

We honor the life labor Isabel held as an organizer and community member, which went far beyond her role as Director at El Quinto Sol. She supported her community every day, and also invited folks outside of the community to witness and learn about the issues that are often invisibilized via the dust of pesticides and toxins, and the shadows of the fields. This included hosting funder tours for our philanthropic community during which she generously extended her energy to educate visitors and allies on the intersection of issue areas, and with great skill found multiple ways to illuminate the work for a wider audience, and moved us toward a tangible transition of wealth and power. She did this even while her health was failing; she did it for the livelihood and wellness of her people and her community.

Losing Isabel is heartbreaking, and our hearts are with her family, her co-workers at EQS, her wide and diverse network of friends and co-conspirators, and the many folks she mentored and stood beside every day, including youth and mixed documentation status farmworker communities. She dedicated her life to protecting the health of our air, water, soil, and peoples. Isabel was a brilliant visionary who helped lead the Community Alliance for Agroecology, and held such beautiful, powerful dreams for transforming the Central Valley’s food and farming systems from the ground up. Isabel will be forever remembered as a fierce advocate and as our caring and thoughtful friend who always made time to listen and offer words of encouragement, joy, and laughter. In this global moment of so much pain, loss and fear, we are called to action to uplift the voice and vision of leaders like Isabel, and carry them forward.

We ask that you seriously and thoughtfully consider these two requests:

  1. Isabel speaking to a group in front of a neighborhood bus stop.Make a contribution at this moment, at whatever level, to the environmental health and justice — and agroecological — organization, El Quinto Sol. The contact there is Olga Marquez, olga@elquintosoldeamerica.org.
  2. Become a funder accomplice in achieving Isabel’s and others’ dreams in the San Joaquin Valley — join us in support of the creation of an Agroecology Training Center, by and for a collective of Latinx and Indigenous farmworking families, Indigenous people from the region, and other family farmers. El Quinto Sol, as well as other groups like the Community Alliance for Agroecology, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Foodlink Tulare County, Quaker Oaks Farm, and Central Valley Partnership are moving forward in their visioning and planning, and seek collaboration with funding partners, especially in this moment.

If you would like to learn more about El Quinto Sol and the Agroecology Training Center, or if you are interested in collaborating with us as we move forward, please reach out to one of us (contacts below).

In the meantime, read inspiring coverage of the work of El Quinto Sol here: https://civileats.com/2019/08/12/this-mother-daughter-team-is-building-new-leaders-in-californias-farm-country/
 

Thank you, and be well,

Paola Diaz (paola@11thhourproject.org)

Marni Rosen (marni@colibrigiving.com)

Sarah Bell (sarah@11thhourproject.org)

Kat Gilje (gilje@cerestrust.org)

Kassandra Hishida (kassandrahishida@allianceforagroecology.org)