Ep.6: Breaking Through Bubbles with Marisa Franco

Marisa Franco helps Latinx/Chicanx people build political power through Mijente, the national action hub she founded in 2015. Drawing on her work in many diverse communities, she’s here to demystify organizing with simple steps anyone can take. (Hint: Start by pretending you’re throwing a party.) She also explains why everyone should be concerned about tech companies’ increasingly terrifying role in public life—and why regulation is needed to hold them accountable. Plus: The latest election intel from Arizona, finding inspiration in the desert, and joining the “secret club” of parents who’ve unlocked a new level of fearlessness.

Twitter: @ConMijente | IG: @conmijente

Learn

Visit | Marisa Franco is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Mijente, a home for Latinx and Chicanx people who seek racial, economic, gender and climate justice. 

Read | Learn more about Marisa Franco’s history as an organizer and how Mijente came to be.

Watch | For a look into the history of Latinx organizing, watch Cesar Chavez.

Act

Buy | Towards Land, Work & Power: Charting a Path of Resistance to US-led Imperialism, co-authored by Marisa Franco. Buy it from your favorite independent book store!

Subscribe | Listen and subscribe to La Cura, a podcast of Mijente, decolonizing Latinx health and reclaiming traditional healing

Join | Families Belong Together’s #FreeTheFamilies vigils. Find an event near you or host one yourself! 

Vote

Do you have a plan to vote? Whether in person or by mail, NDWA has all the resources you need to make a plan and tell your friends! 

Transcript

Ai-jen Poo:

Welcome to Sunstorm, where we get real about what’s happening in the world and what we are doing about it because we are the light in the storm.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

Hi, I’m Ai-jen Poo.

 

Alicia Garza:

And I’m Alicia Garza. We are super excited today because one of our closest homies is joining us on the show, Marisa Franco.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

Marisa is the co-founder and director of Mijente which is a hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing and movement building. She’s mobilizing voters, she’s stopping deportations, she’s doing all the important work. Hi Marisa.

 

Marisa Franco:

Hey, y’all good morning.

 

Alicia Garza:

All right. Obvi we need to have the dispatch. Give us the real news from Arizona. How are things going there? How are people feeling? How are people getting through 2020? What’s going on with the pandemic? I don’t think Arizona ever closed. Break it all down for us. What’s going on?

 

Marisa Franco:

It was so weird because there was a point where you would see the news and it was like, Phoenix was on fire in the pandemic map. It’s like number one in the world. People were cold kicking it. I like rolling around on my bike. There definitely was death, particularly I think in native communities and a lot of what you saw across the country. But I think it’s not densely populated. It’s so spread out and so I do think it felt differently even with more red state kind of closure, close not close, if you know what I mean. It’s been like everywhere else. It’s been a shit show and it’s been an unnecessary shit show. In terms of, you mean also like election stuff?

 

Alicia Garza:

Yeah. Give it to us.

 

Marisa Franco:

I have a good feeling about Arizona. The demographic change in the state is undeniable and you’ve had sustained efforts organizing and building. So there’s just been an ecosystem of groups that have been built over the years. They’ve had several cycles under their belt and so the pandemic was a huge hit. And that’s the only thing that makes me nervous is that it’ll affect turnout or it’ll affect the actual process of voting. I don’t know that there’s one uniform message that works with people but I think explaining to people what’s at stake, what are the impacts and being able to speak to that from folks’ interest is really important.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

I think just following up on that, the idea that we have to do more, I think the whole spirit of this season of our pod is really about that. And I’ve heard you say in other interviews that we all just got to make a play right now. This is our moment to make a play. And the theme of this season is finding your lane. Basically helping people figure out what it looks like to make a play. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to figure out their lane? What do you say to folks who want to know what it looks like to find a lane and do more?

 

Marisa Franco:

I think that there’s an aspect where everybody is an organizer and everybody is an expert in how to relate to people. So think about it like you’re throwing a party. It’s the Rona. You can’t throw parties. So think about it that way. To me what it is, is like, think of a list of family, friends, folks you went to school with, co-workers, it’s just people who have had an opinion and probably have no idea how to help or what kind of help is needed. Catch up with them and ask them, are you registered to vote? Do you have a vote plan like… And then I guarantee you, we did this on a call the other day. And people generated, in two minutes between a group of people I had like 150 people. Everybody [inaudible 00:03:56] it’s people you know, it’s people you like, you don’t have to be awkward and talk to strangers. It’s just calling people.

 

Because what’s happening is, I think that people don’t always understand what it means to volunteer, what it looks like to help or they think, well, it’s just me. It’s not that big of a deal. But you have to think about it multiplied. And I think that to me is a thing for folks who want to get in is be a multiplier. Multiply yourself. It’s really easy. And it doesn’t have to be strangers, it can literally be your own community. So sister-in-law cuts hair and she has the gift of gab. She’s got all her family, she’ll go to birthday parties and she’s just red. She literally shows up with voter registration forms. So that’s what people can do.

 

Alicia Garza:

So good.

 

Marisa Franco:

Integrate it into your life as it is. People are busy. I know people have all kinds of things but if you integrate it in what you’re already doing, I think that’s the easiest way for people to do it. And voting at the end of the day is the most mass political act that people in this country take. This is why I think it’s the easiest way for people to understand what to do and really kind of making it simple for people. Doing what you already know and just integrating it is the most accessible way to do it.

 

Alicia Garza:

I love that. Speaking of how other people can find their lane, talk to us a little bit about how you see what your lane is in this moment, given all the work that you’ve been doing with Mijente and all of the organizing work you’ve been doing for, I’m not going to age you girl but it’s been a minute. So…

 

Marisa Franco:

It’s aging all of us.

 

Alicia Garza:

Yeah, tell us, what do you see your lane as being right now?

 

Marisa Franco:

There was a point in my organizing time where I started to look around and I’m Chicana. I’m from Arizona originally. I have been able to live in a lot of different parts of the country and work on different, organized on around different issues. Basically Latinos are, I think this 2020 are the largest ethnic minority group. We didn’t have the sufficient infrastructure at the local level and at the national federal level to be able to fight back or for people to even understand what was going on. So with Mijente I think my lane is, actually because I’ve been able to live in different parts of the country and organize in a lot of different communities, there’s to figure out, what is the alchemy for building a political home, building an action hub where people can come, find connection, find purpose, find a lane and roll out.

 

Marisa Franco:

Essentially, we need to build infrastructure. We need to build leadership and we need to have a more robust vision for the purpose of, not just for Latinos but for the purpose of a broader movement that is fighting for all people. For me it was, there’s not a place where you can say, this is kind of the training camp or the place where folks can come together. Because there’s a lot of things to unpack in the Latino community. It is a multi-racial group. There is NASH, there’s all kinds of things. And it felt like, you can’t build a political vehicle without campaigns. That’s why campaigns is at the end of the day something we really focus on. As you can imagine, the major thing we’ve been working on is immigration and deportation work and obviously these elections. But to me, I felt like it was a thing I can contribute, is to offer what I know, what I’ve seen and the best way I can bring people together so that we can collectively do better.

 

Alicia Garza:

I love that.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

One of the things that is so powerful about the way that you organize is that you speak lots of different languages and I don’t mean English and Spanish. I mean, you’re able to interpret across so many different communities. And it’s true, you’ve lived all over the country and you grew up in Arizona and you’ve seen different cultures. And I think you even told me one time that you learned organizing through being a part of a sorority in college. Tell us a little bit about that because I think we all are in a way in our own little bubbles. What have you learned about translating across bubbles in our country?

 

Marisa Franco:

I think it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve had in my life is to be able to be in proximity in relationship and to be exposed to other communities. I think a lot about what feminist leadership is and what does it actually mean to be emotionally intelligent and what does it look like to have an embodied solidarity? And so for me, going to new places, meeting new people, being challenged really has given me, yes, a tough skin but it’s also forced me when I want to be my better self, to put myself in someone else’s shoes and to actually really not feel like I’m experienced in everyone’s experience but to be able to put myself in their shoes and to relate as best I can.

 

And so going to the barrier and really doing organizing probably more in black communities than in anything and I come from a barrier that’s like in general is not a high population of black folks. And so I really… Whether it was public housing, whether it was different parts of the city, I really got to see people. I was working in Skid Row basically and the Tenderloin. And I was learning about the way that our economic system throws people away and throws workers away when they no longer need them. Going to New York and going into Central Park at 10 in the morning, realizing that these are the modern day factories because it’s thousands of women, who take care of children, who get together and who are talking shop and a lot of them Caribbean in particular. Caribbean, Asian, African women, Latin American women, and learning about different cultures. It’s just such a gift.

 

So it’s about etiquette. It’s about learning how to show respect. It’s about being able to kind of open yourself up to learn and you hold your center and you can be a little porous and open but you also know who you are. It’s not a buffet where you get to go experience everybody. You’re also bringing yourself and where you come from and your people and how are you representing that. It’s been one of my most joyful things. I feel like I’m a better human for it. For me that political exposure and that journey is very much, as me shaped me for who I am.

 

Alicia Garza:

That is literally your superpower. I mean, you have many super powers but that’s one of them and you cultivated it. We can cultivate superpowers. That’s awesome. So let me ask this because there’s a lot going on. And if we were ever talking about being in a storm, we’re in the eye of it right now. And it can be overwhelming. And I hear a lot of people, especially after the death of Justice Bader Ginsburg, I hear a lot of people being like, damn, I’m super overwhelmed. Tell us when you feel overwhelmed, what are some things that you do to take care of yourself and recenter yourself.

 

Marisa Franco:

Nature, find a way to get into nature. I think it’s incredibly important for our bodies and our brains and our spirits. So anywhere that’s within reach. Here it’s the desert. And I think there’s something fitting for me when I go to the desert that it’s like, how does anything grow here? But yet there’s a lot of things going on in the desert. I think also being in nature helps us understand what time is. The daily life is like, “Oh, damn, what time is it?” But you go into nature and it tells you, time is a very different thing. And there was a before us and there will be an after us.

 

Alicia Garza:

I like that, getting into nature and remembering that there was a before us and an after us.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

I agree.

 

Alicia Garza:

Let’s switch gears a little bit because I want to talk about Mijente. I want to talk about the work that you all are doing and in particular, I want to talk about tech and immigration. So just to give a little bit of context here, another thing that has been in the headlines most recently is the role that tech is playing in our political systems. Certainly I think most people think about tech when they think about advancements and things that make our lives easier but there’s also a kind of sinister side of tech, especially as it relates to immigrant communities, not just in this country, but around the world. I’m wondering if you can talk to us a little bit. You all have done so much to hold big tech accountable for its role in the current immigration system. What concerns you most about the role that technology is playing in government right now?

 

Marisa Franco:

What concerns me most is that it is moving at breakneck speed with absolutely no accountability or transparency. What concerns me most is that we could end up with a complete new form of state violence and state control that is more vast and more profound than we can even imagine right now. So for example, you remember when Airbnb started?

 

Alicia Garza:

Yep.

 

Marisa Franco:

There was no rules. There was no rules. They’re like, oh, it’s just, the sharing economy or whatever. Years go down and it was like, they were basically operating above any real regulations that existed because local governments hadn’t really encountered that. It grew, it grew, it grew. So then you have the housing stock being depleted in communities because people were like, I’m just going to Airbnb, I don’t want tenants. So they kind of operate in this, above any kind of regulations. That’s what’s happening with respect to surveillance. And so it’s one thing if it’s like, you’re pissed and it’s very bad that housing stock is being depleted, but these folks are literally in laboratories coming up with pretty significant ways to… That would obliterate any vestige of privacy that we have.

 

So with immigration, what’s happening now is that they’re using data and technology to supersize and level up all of their work. So how they find people, where they live, what they’re doing, when you think about when people are doing investigations or searching or going to people’s houses, a lot of that stuff is out the door in this context. And so they’re using technology to supersize rates, you’ve seen the much larger rates. And in many ways the border, the U.S.-Mexico border has been the laboratory, the laboratory for all things around surveillance militarization. So we’re going to talk about our domestic problem with police rolling around our streets looking like military. That has been the case in the U.S.-Mexico border region. The borderlands have suffered that for decades.

 

And so it’s important to know that what people are seeing in our most vulnerable communities and they say, that’s not me, that’s not going to happen to me. Guess what? It eventually comes to you. In particular with immigration, these tools, these practices, this lack of transparency, this impunity, absolutely. And at the end of the day, that’s the Pandora’s box that’s been opened, is that the rules, the regulations, the norms are being eroded and it should be of great concern to all of us.

 

I think sometimes it’s hard for people to get it, but I really think about also the internet, online discourse and how nasty people are. It reminds me, I don’t know if I told you about this, but it makes me think of when the Model T actually went to market. There was no roads. There was no street signs because people don’t know that. They’re riding horses, they’re walking. And then you have cars. Imagine how people drove. There was no rules. Sometimes I think about people on the internet as like, you don’t know how to drive. But it’s because there’s not any rules. There’s not any rules of the road. And so when you have literally new light and technologies changing how we communicate, how we live our lives. Again, the fact that there is, not only the government is weakened, but there is an antagonism for government to play that role of saying, you know what, cool, cool, cool, cool, Henry Ford, you built your Model T, cool. We’re going to have to do… We’re going to have to create some level of rules and infrastructure.

 

And in that moment… Actually car industry should have paid for the roads and freeways and all that. We ended up subsidizing that. It’s just like to be able to compare and contrast, I think it gives you a sense of both, kind of what trouble we’re in and what the threat is and kind of what it means when you have literally a new industry emerge. But you can look at it all kinds of way. We’re talking about surveillance or else it could get into a conversation about automation and what that’s going to do to workers. It’s of huge importance and leaving it to them to be ethical is not going to work.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

That’s right. I love the Model T metaphor. I think it’s actually perfect. I wanted to get at the fact that you’re a mom, that’s a really important part of your experience. We love your little-

 

Alicia Garza:

Our fave!

 

Ai-jen Poo:

He’s our fave. And wondering how becoming a mom has kind of shaped how you’re orienting right now.

 

Marisa Franco:

We’re heading into the fall. This week we had the fall Equinox. I find this time fascinating and I find it fascinating because in indigenous cultures around the world, people understand the particularity of this time. In my culture, we’re coming up on Dia de los Muertos. But whether you’re talking about, the pagan roots of Halloween, of what became Halloween, to the Dia de los Muertos and all these different cultures, this time of year is the time of year where the veil between the living and the dead is most [inaudible 00:18:30]. I believe that as a species, as a planet, we are entering into fall and politically, we are in a time where the veil between the things we most desire and most dream of and the calamities we most fear, the veil between those two things is extremely thin. We are at the razor’s edge right now. What we’re able to seed in this time, will lead to a spring eventually, or a very, very, very, very long winter.

 

As a mother, I thought that I was fearless. Being a mother has kind of made me fearful in a way that I didn’t understand because you are so responsible for another human. It also made me fearless in a way that I didn’t understand, that I couldn’t comprehend. And so when I also think about this time, I think of the work of mothering and how powerful that is. And if there was one feeling, I feel like if those of us that relate to that feeling, there’s one feeling, it’s that ferocious defense. Moms sometimes like mothering and care, these things are kind of seen as fairly soft, oh, happy, fuzzy. It’s like, no, no. When a mother is threatened, when they’re young, their children are threatened, they will move mountains. For me, I feel a kinship. I feel like I’m part of some secret club of those people who mother. And I feel very proud, I feel very called to bring that energy in this time.

 

Alicia Garza:

I want to make sure that we let our listeners know what they can do about the things that are happening around them. I know earlier in the conversation you were giving some very, very practical tips, but I want to just end with an action step. I mean, we’re organizers, so we never end a conversation without making an ask. In the spirit of having an organizing conversation, what’s the number one ask that you would make of people who are listening to this pod right now about what needs to happen within the next, less than 40 days?

 

Marisa Franco:

I would literally imagine… Because if you’re bored and you’re really tired of the pandemic, imagine the most bomb ass party you could throw. And write your invite list. And take that invite list and call those people, connect with them because it’s good for you to connect with them and talk to them about the election. Think about it from… Think about three basic steps you can ask people. Are you registered? Do you have a plan to vote? Can you volunteer? Can you do what I’m doing? Not everybody. Some will be like, yeah, well leave me alone. Fine. But they’re going to be some people who want to do more. So then, think of a party we’ll do after election day, after the coronavirus goes away and you’ll be better prepared for that too. I want to make the roof ceiling sweat. 

 

Alicia Garza:

Baby. I got ins on that and I got a couple of hours on the tables too. You know what I’m saying? I got the soundtrack for that moment.

 

Ai-jen Poo:

I’ll bring my dancing jumpsuit.

 

Alicia Garza:

Excellent. Excellent. All right. So thank you, Marisa Franco. It always warms our hearts to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And people can find you and follow your incredible work @conmijente on all the socials. And if you want to get even more engaged in the work we’re all doing this fall, text SUNSTORM to 97779. We’ll be sending regular updates on how you can take action on all the issues you care about. Don’t forget to check out sunstormpod.com, where we’ll have additional information on Marisa and how you can get involved in all the good things that she’s up to as well. Until next week, ciao!

 

Speaker 1:

Sunstorm is a project of the National Domestic Workers Alliance in collaboration with Participant. Sunstorm is executive produced by Alicia Garza, Ai-jen Poo and Kristina Mevs-Apgar. Sunstorm is produced by Amy S. Choi and Rebecca Lehrer of The Mash-Up Americans. Producers are Shelby Sandlin, Mary Phillips-Sandy and Mia Warren. Original music composed by Jen Kwok and Jody Shelton.

 

Speaker 5:

I had a roast earlier this year, the staff did 10 things they hate about me. One of them was my mixed metaphors.