This Latina Activist Travels from Corpus Christi to Austin Every Week to Learn How to Organize Her Community

By  [This piece was originally published in REMEZCLA on 6/08/17]

Raised by a former county commissioner and a retired district judge, Analicia Bañales is no stranger to politics. But when President Donald Trump was elected to office last November, it struck a chord. She realized even the best progressive candidates would find it nearly impossible to get elected and effect change without support from voters. With internships, study abroad experiences, campaigning, and rallies under her belt, Analicia was ready to take the next step. She enrolled in the Jolt Organizing Institute – held by Jolt, a progressive nonprofit focused on mobilizing Latinos – to learn how to become an effective community organizer.

For six weeks, she drove from Corpus Christi to Austin – a three-hour commute on a good day – to attend trainings. Held from 6:30 to 9 p.m, this meant she usually didn’t get back home until around midnight. But the inconvenience is a small price to pay if it helps make her vision a reality.

“Empowering people to vote gives them agency over their future, over their lives. And maybe the way they vote doesn’t go as planned, but they still participated and they still have a voice,” Bañales said.

The 27-year-old says Corpus Christi’s Latino population is more politically active than before, but that it often abstains from expressing its voice on key issues, such as reproductive rights and women’s healthcare – two issues she is extremely passionate about.

“I would like to see –  if there is that community that needs those services, why aren’t we speaking more about that?” she said.

Though she is in her last semester at University of Texas at El Paso, where she majors in political science and minors in criminal justice and national security studies, she finds time to participate in rallies and helps coordinate campaigns.

She volunteered with the March for Science, held in Corpus Christi, and is also helped with a recent Pride event in her hometown.

In May of 2016, Bañales block-walked for signatures to protect Castner Range from development and make it a national monument. She also helped with the Castner Range public meeting held last November to collect signatures.

Environmental justice and immigration reform drive her political work.

She actively volunteers with the Beto O’Rourke campaign, helping with meet-and-greets in Corpus Christi, McAllen and San Antonio.

But it was the anti-Latino bills of Texas’ recent 85th legislative session that pushed Bañales to become an agent for change.

The so-called anti-sanctuary cities bill and a near fistfight on the last day of the session convinced her Texas can and needs to do better.

“That plainly illustrates how easy it is to profile someone based on the color of their skin and make assumptions about them,” Bañales said. “The fact that a legislator called ICE on protestors who are exercising their First Amendment rights astounds me. He sees them as so different from him. Is it really just the color of their skin? Why is he so afraid?”

She believes lack of exposure to different cultures and ideas has no place in a progressive society.

The third generation Texan and youngest of five children has traveled extensively around the world and those experiences have opened her eyes to the issues and aspirations that bond humanity.

She dreams of joining AmeriCorps or working to mobilize Latino communities in Corpus Christi, El Paso and San Antonio, depending on where life takes her after school.

Bañales is well on her way to achieving her goals after graduating from Jolt’s program on a recent Thursday, the same day she met with me.

“Analicia is one of the most committed young women I’ve met. She cares deeply about our community and has taken it upon herself to learn the skills necessary to begin organizing Latinx in Texas,” said Cristina Tzintzun, executive director and founder of Jolt. Tzintzon believes young, smart, and talented people like Bañales are the key to sparking change in Texas politics and ensuring Latinos get the power, respect, and dignity they deserve.

“I am excited to work with Analicia to launch a new Jolt chapter in Corpus Christi to empower other Latinx like her,” she said.

Trump’s Climate Decision Will Hurt People of Color and Latinos the Most

Photo by: Fibonacci Blue (Flickr)

In December of 2015, representatives from 196 nations made history with the Paris climate accord, the first united global effort to fight the threat of climate change. Thanks to this pact, worldwide progress on environmental protection wasn’t theoretical anymore: the agreement committed nations to holding temperatures “well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” and called for each country to make an individualized pledge to reduce its carbon footprint. For the United States, this pledge included a promise to reduce greenhouse gases 26 to 28 percent by 2025. Although the Paris accord had important concrete implications for reducing carbon emissions, its symbolic impact was even more groundbreaking. It sent a strong message that the world’s nations were serious about fighting against climate change, and it created powerful momentum for building a cleaner future.

This past Thursday, President Trump jeopardized this momentum when he officially withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Any way you look at it, this was an incredibly harmful move. It’s bad for employment: clean energy jobs are growing 12 times faster than the overall economy. It’s harmful to the U.S.’ foreign relations: it communicates to the world that our country refuses to collaborate on environmental progress. It’s dangerous for our people’s health and safety and will threaten the cleanliness of our air and water.

Although this action will have enormous negative repercussions across the country and the globe, we must recognize that not all communities will bear this burden equally. Trump’s move to exit the Paris accord will disproportionately affect people of color and poor people, and thus will be a major roadblock in the fight for the safety and justice of the Latino community.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s 56 million Latinos are “Ground Zero for climate impacts.” Nearly 25 million Latinos live in the 15 most dangerous areas for ground-level ozone pollution, and the majority live in states that are most affected by extreme heat, air pollution and flooding. Latinos are over represented in construction and agricultural work, industries in which workers are at high risk from extreme heat. Latinos generally have lower health insurance coverage rates than non-Latinos, so they are much more vulnerable to climate-related health problems. The 11 million Latinos who are undocumented in the US are most at risk: they are not eligible for disaster aid in the case of extreme weather damages to property, and they have very restricted access to healthcare and insurance. These dangerous repercussions of exiting the agreement are daunting in this Trump era in which the rights and safety of Latino people are always under attack.

Although the Latino community bears a disproportionate burden of climate change, it also possesses incredible strength in the fight for environmental justice. Latinos have the most to gain from a clean future: nine in ten Latinos want climate action and 86 percent support carbon pollution limits on power plants. Members of the Latino community — from our representatives in Congress to grassroots organizers — have already played a crucial role in the climate justice movement. Our environment’s health is deeply tied to justice for Latino people, and the potential future strength of our community in organizing around climate justice is enormous.

Trump’s move to exit the Paris climate accord marks another way in which his administration endangers the lives of Latinos; it must serve as momentum to continue harnessing the power of our community in the fight for a cleaner and safer future.

The Latino Comedy Project is…Gentrif*cked

The Latino Comedy Project (LCP), a local comedy troupe, earned praise after their 20th anniversary reunion performance this past fall at the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. The group debuted their current show, “Gentrif*cked,” at home in Austin before heading out to the West Coast, where they were met with applause at the San Francisco Sketchfest. Building on this momentum, the LCP took “Gentrif*cked” to the San Francisco Mission District, putting on four sold-out shows in the notoriously gentrified neighborhood.

Adrian Villegas, founding member of the Latino Comedy Project, had this to say on the success of the group’s new show: “People were responding to what the show was about…We got stories from people who live there in the Mission District, saying ‘you’re telling our story.’ Although everything in the show was written based on what we’re observing in Austin…it connected with these people on the West Coast, and in an emotional way.”

Born at the University of Texas in the late 90’s, the LCP has witnessed the explosion of Austin, as well as the unfortunate social issues that tend to come with immense population growth, such as gentrification. But Austin is not unfamiliar with gentrification, as developers have slowly been expanding East for years and in doing so, eradicate years of Latino heritage. The “[development] is concerning because it’s ramping up,” says Villegas, as the city is “welcoming the top bracket” and systematically forcing minorities out of their land. East Austin, while one of the most heavily gentrified areas in the city, is still Austin’s main artistic hub, and resistance art such as the mural below by Raul Valdez will continue to be created in the face of developers. “Gentrif*cked” is a new addition to this long tradition of artistic resistance.

“I don’t know how you can look at [gentrification] and say it’s good for a city…to me that’s like the antithesis of human.”

The LCP has regularly strived to stay ahead of the curve with regard to their content, from early joke that questioned the Iraq invasion in 2003 to their newest show on gentrification. “That’s always what we’ve done…[tried] to be the other voice,” according to Villegas — a voice that undoubtedly needs to be heard, as a response and alternative, despite the fact that popular media consistently tries to drown it out.

After taking a break from performing, the LCP had to decide what they wanted the focus of their reunion show to be — a series of the group’s “greatest hits” or an entirely different direction with new content. The group ultimately wanted to seize the opportunity to make the reunion “more than just another sketch show,” and decided to use their art as a platform to discuss the serious problems facing their own neighborhoods. Choosing to focus on the widespread and visible problems of gentrification in Austin, the LCP is making a statement that citizens will not allow years of culture and history to be forcibly turned over for profit.

The end result: “It’s just as funny as any of the other shows we’ve done, the laughs just come from different places…not [only] the big, bold, over-the-top comedy, but it also comes from moments of human recognition and discomfort…there are really a lot of layers to the show.”

A huge part of “Gentrif*cked” that Villegas emphasized was that it is a show that not only highlights some big problems with gentrification in an innovative way, but also tries “to motivate people to actually get involved in what’s happening to our community.” Villegas noted that he “is starting to envision the show as an organizing tool” as well, adding that “the intersection between art and activism is key.” He is confident that “the art is kind of empty if you’re not enacting some change out of it,” so at each show, the LCP plans to include a call to action in which, after highlighting key issues throughout the performance, the group can then point the audience members in the direction of organizations that are facilitating meaningful change. By partnering with activist organizations such as Jolt, the LCP is hoping to send a powerful message to the entire state of Texas, against not only gentrification, but all racist policies or laws that are unfairly put into place.

By using “Gentrif*cked” as a means to mobilize people, the LCP is taking important steps to get viewers involved. After watching the absurdity of the real situations that people face everyday, audience members will hopefully take it upon themselves to join with Jolt and other organizations in an effort to make lasting and meaningful adjustments in their own communities — from educating the public on the unconstitutional and hateful SB4 to registering neighbors to vote.

“Gentrif*cked” will be live June 9–10 at the Spiderhouse Ballroom, and representatives from Jolt are excited to be present at the June 10 showings to get the audience involved in the fight. We are looking forward to a great show that elaborates on “Gentrification Explained,” an LCP sketch video that Adrian has referred to as the “thesis of Gentrif*cked.” Check it out below: