Jolt Aims to Energize the Latino Vote

By Mary Tuma [This piece was originally published on the Austin Chronicle on 9/1/2017]

g Latina women chose an unlikely spot to hold their quinceañera – a significant tradition marking a Latina’s transition to adulthood. For them, the point wasn’t to revel in the festivities, but to send a serious message to lawmakers: Texas is our home, and we’re not going to back down, no matter how hard you try to push us away.

“We are here to take a stand against Senate Bill 4, the most discriminatory and hateful law in recent history,” said 17-year-old Magdalena Juarez, to cheers and applause. “When Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on May 7, he disrespected my community. He put a lot of Texans in danger. SB 4 is not only an attack on immigrant communities, it threatens the lives of all people of color. It makes simply being brown illegal.”

Latinos currently com­prise nearly 50% of Tex­ans under 19 years old.

The law punishing so-called “sanctuary cities” allows police officers to inquire about the citizenship status of anyone they pull over, and forces local law enforcement to comply with (currently voluntary) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. Barring a court injunction in the next two days, the “papers please”-style law will go into effect on Friday, Sept. 1.* (SB 4 was blocked in courts late Wednesday; see update at end of article.) But while SB 4 has instilled fear and anxiety in the local immigrant community (“Into the Shadows,” July 21), it’s also served as a rallying cry to galvanize Latinos and prompt creative acts of resistance. The latest radical act, the quince protest – which drew national attention and attracted millions of online viewers – is the brainchild of Jolt, a scrappy new organization with big ambition.

Working out of a compact office in East Austin, Jolt seeks to mobilize the Latino vote, build community and cultural pride, and drive an issue-based agenda. It wasn’t yet ready for prime time when it launched in November (the group didn’t even have an office until February), but the election of Donald Trump – and his demonization of immigrant Mexicans as criminals and rapists and his calls for a border wall – forced the group into early action. In fact, Jolt planned to slowly roll out with a completely different priority agenda focused first on educational issues, with the assumption their chance for immigration reform would be feasible with a Hillary Clinton presidency. But the surprise election results swung the focal point to racial justice and immigration. Women lead the small staff, comprised of two full-time and three part-time workers, with Cristina Tzintzún at the helm.

Real Organizing

Growing up in Ohio as the daughter of a darker-skinned Mexican immigrant mother and a white “American hippie” father, Tzin­tzún saw the striking differences between how she and her siblings were treated when they’d go out with her mother vs. her father. “The privilege of growing up in the U.S. also came with great responsibility of addressing the inequities we saw,” she said.

Tzintzún moved to Austin when she was 21. Three years later, she co-founded the Workers Defense Project, and grew the immigrant rights organization from a modest operation to a nationally recognized institution within 12 years. It was at WDP that she learned how to take victories in a state deeply hostile to her cause. Among helping pass numerous city ordinances and state laws to better protect immigrant workers, in 2006 Tzintzún spearheaded one of the largest marches in Austin history at the time. “A bunch of people told me I was crazy and was not going to achieve anything,” said Tzintzún. “And now [WDP] has become one of the most pronounced social justice organizations in the state.”

Toward the end of her tenure there, Tzintzún had developed a few important takeaways: that “to really win immigration reform, to win full equality for Latinos, we also need to build and consolidate our power electorally if we want to actually enact change long-term.” She left WDP in 2015 for a brief stint at the Service Employ­ees International Union in D.C. to figure out how to do just that. Missing Texas “desperately” and realizing power comes from the states, she soon after returned to Austin, energized to begin her next venture.

Jolt intentionally began during an off-election year with the intent to grow a base that could mobilize and sustain voters in time for the 2018 election. They’ve set up staff in key metro areas (Jolt is currently expanding into Dallas) and recently launched a digital tool kit; the rollout of high school and college chapters; and a young adult union, allowing participants to aggregate power across the state much more quickly. While finances pose a challenge for the nascent nonprofit, it’s raised $280,000 to date. (Tzintzún is an unpaid volunteer who generates income through consulting work.) Jolt claims more than 200 all-Latino members in Austin and 15,000 statewide, who range from fifth-generation Texans to the undocumented. The organization isn’t just interested in drawing people to politics, but in sharing Latino culture, music, and art – a characteristic that distinguishes it from other groups with similar goals. A Capitol youth rally planned for Sept. 1 will feature “lucha libre” wrestlers who will “fight for justice and equality” while a hairdresser buzzes symbols like a clasped fist of solidarity into folks’ hair, if willing.

Given that Latinos tend to lean Democratic, encouraging party votes is just half of Jolt’s battle. “It’s not enough to say the other side is terrible so come to our side, which is what I think we’ve historically done,” said Tzintzún. “We know Republicans aren’t on our team, but the Democratic Party also needs to do more. They haven’t always been our allies on immigration. So while we do think Texas will change eventually, for us it’s not just a question of which party is in charge; we need to invest in Latino leadership so that they can drive their own issue agenda to address the real inequities we face as a community.”

Jolt is far from the first group to set its sights on turning Texas blue. Most recently, in 2013, the Obama-affiliated Battleground Texas sought to make Texas a competitive swing state by knocking on doors, registering voters, and deputizing volunteers to boost Democratic Party voting among minorities and white women. However, enmeshing itself with Wendy Davis’ 2014 bid for governor, which suffered defeat to Gov. Greg Abbott by 20 points – seven points worse than previous contender Bill White ­– led to high-profile criticism and reports of strained relationships with some of the state’s Democratic candidates. Faulty and exaggerated early voting turnout memos, a late-term investment in training Latino leaders, and the out-of-state team’s initial ignorance in navigating Texas’ voter laws didn’t help either.

Cristina Tzintzún (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Tzintzún believes SB 4 has reinvigorated Latino activism.

Without specifically calling out Battle­ground or any other group, Tzintzún maintains that Jolt’s strategy is unique to previous attempts in that it’s heavily focused on Latino youth, with the belief young citizens are entirely capable of self-organizing throughout the year. Latinos currently comprise nearly 50% of Texans under 19 years old, and one-third of Hispanic eligible voters in Texas are between 18-29 years old: That’s potential for a sizable army. And Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attack on “DREAMers,” or recipients of DACA, the Deferred Action for Child­­hood Arrivals two-year work and study program (of which Tzintzún’s husband counts himself) that protects young undocumented residents, has revved up activism as well. Paxton has taken an even harsher approach to DACA than extremist President Trump – and has threatened to sue the president if he doesn’t rescind the program – a prime example of the state’s harsh anti-immigrant fervor.

Texas demographic trends, generally, are also on their side. Over the next three years, Hispanics are on track to constitute a plurality of the population – at least 43% by 2020 – according to Latino Decisions, a political opinion research firm. In Travis County alone, the Hispanic population jumped 16% from 2010 to 2015, U.S. Census figures show. But it’s not about sheer numbers for Jolt; Tzintzún said demographics alone won’t “determine our destiny. … Real organizing needs to happen. And what better place than Texas, today’s ground zero for the fight for immigrant and Latino rights.”

No Deus Ex Machina

That mobilization starts with voter registration and increasing turnout among the 4.8 million eligible Latino voters, an uphill battle in a state that has sought to block minority voting through redistricting and racist voter ID laws, openly deemed “discriminatory” by a federal judge. (The past few weeks have been busy on that front. See “Voter IDon’t,” Sept. 1.)

Latinos currently make up 38% of the state’s population, but they’ve historically voted at lower rates than non-Latinos and their counterparts in other states. Sylvia Man­zano, a Texas-based consultant with Lati­no Decisions, attributes the struggle to mobilize Latino voters to lopsided and noncompetitive races, as well as the lack of engagement from parties and campaigns. The number of registered Latinos who cast a ballot in Texas increased slightly from 47.2% in the 2012 presidential race to 49.8% in 2016 – still well below the more than 60% of non-Latino voters who went to polls both cycles. “There’s certainly more work to be done, especially just in registering voters, which is a costly endeavor in Texas,” said Manzano. “Since political parties are more focused on winning elections, the job really falls on the shoulders of nonprofits.”

On a hopeful note, Austin political consultant Steven Rivas said he’s heartened by recent local Latino mobilization, and the induction of Latino representation on the 10-1 City Council. “The result of the 2016 election, with its hints of discrimination, has ramped up organizing,” said Rivas. “What I’m seeing in every neighborhood on the Eastside is unprecedented. I think there’s a wave of Latinos that are ready to take action and not expect the status quo to elicit change.”

With hopes that former San Antonio mayor and HUD secretary Julián Castro would shake things up statewide mostly dashed, eyes are on his brother Joaquín, a sitting U.S. representative who is being encouraged to jump into the 2018 gubernatorial race by Dem leadership. However, there’s an overall lack of enthusiasm from Democrats to get on the statewide ticket. Even if there comes a Castro run, Manzano suggests it’s actually more effective to not attach Latino voters to individual candidates, but rather to lasting agendas. “To think some deus ex machina is going to arrive is really wishful thinking that may or may not ever happen,” she said. “It’s more likely that a more enduring electorate would be one that has specific issues that matter to them and affect their everyday life as opposed to a particular candidate.”

Immigration tops the list, according to Latino Decisions’ polling of Hispanic Tex­ans. Staring in the face of SB 4, a threat to not just the undocumented but to all Latinos who can now be racially profiled and discriminated against because of the color of their skin, Tzintzún believes the issue has reinvigorated Latino activism. “For us, SB 4 is really a call to action to defend our community from a hateful, discriminatory agenda,” said Tzintzún.

Back at the Capitol, the quince girls pumped their fists in the air in a choreographed dance to a “mash-up” version of Hamilton playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” and “Somos Mas Americanos” by Los Tigres del Norte. Instead of dancing the night away with friends and family, the young ladies shuffled into the Capitol to convince lawmakers to put an end to SB 4. Alexandra Lopez, decked out in pink sparkles that belied her somber speech, slammed the law for scaring victims of violence into silence: “To all of these Latinas out there, know this: You are not alone. We are standing with you.”

 

Hundreds of Central Texans rally in downtown Austin in defense of DACA

AUSTIN, Texas —  Hundreds of people marched throughout downtown Austin on Saturday in defense of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program ahead of President Donald Trump’s imminent decision.

“It makes me sick to my stomach. Thinking about my friends and family that are sitting in fear waiting whether or not they have this protection continue is really frustrating,” said Leslie Abraham, who participated in the march.

Many at the demonstration that started at the state Capitol were DACA recipients.

“More recently (the president) says he’s going to have a heart and he loves all people. I’m not sure how much I want to be hopeful of his words,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, a DACA recipient.

The 19-year-old is a student at the University of Texas. After an approved application process, DACA allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to legally go to school and work. The program also shields them from deportation.

“Young immigrants do their best to be enough to prove themselves to this country, to prove themselves to this government, to prove themselves to the society, their friends, their family members, their teachers, their classmates that they’re American enough,” Rodriguez said.

“It has given me the opportunity to continue my education past high school and really make my parents’ sacrifices worthwhile,” said Berenice Ramirez, DACA recipient.

Many celebrated a federal judge’s ruling that blocked the state’s sanctuary cities law. Despite the small victory, demonstrators acknowledged that some legislators continue to pressure Trump to dismantle DACA by Tuesday, when he’s expected to announce a decision on the program’s status.

A group of Republicans, including state Attorney General Ken Paxton, have promised to challenge the policy in court.

MORE | Texas attorney general leads 10-state coalition calling for end to ‘Dreamers’ protection

“I want lawmakers to know that young Latinos across Texas are ready to vote and are ready to change the system and to make a stand for what we believe in,” Abraham said.

MORE | US Supreme Court temporarily halts Texas redistricting case

The future remains unclear for the estimated 800,000 young immigrants DACA protects, but some say they have found hope in their activism.

“I also have a strong community ready to fight for my freedom and ready to fight for the dignity and respect that my community deserves,” Ramirez said.

Quinceañera Held at Texas Capitol Building

By Lily Herman [This piece was originally published on Teen Vogue]

 

Over a dozen women in their teens and early twenties gathered outside the Texas Capitol building to protest a new state law they say racially profiles the Latinx community. A big difference between their protest and others? Many of them wore ballgowns.

On July 19, about 15 young women took to the the Texas Capitol building in Austin wearing colorful quinceañera dresses to protest the state’s new law banning sanctuary cities, a designation that means local officials limit their work with immigration enforcement to ensure safety for undocumented immigrants. The law also allows police officers to ask anyone about their immigration status when legally detained, and failure to comply could result in fines upwards of $1,500 for a first offense and then $25,500 for every other infraction. Quinceañeras take place on a woman’s 15th birthday to mark her transition into an adult.

Tania Mejia, the communications director at Jolt, a nonprofit helping Latinx teens that organized the demonstration, said the idea came from a volunteer who saw young women taking photos at the Capitol in their quinceañera dresses. “We thought that this event would be a great way to show people that this is our home, celebrate our culture, and send the message that young Latinas are standing up to the ongoing attacks on our community by our elected officials who work at the Capitol,” she told Remezcla.

The young women protesting believe the law, known as Senate Bill 4 or SB 4, is discriminatory due to the fact that it targets the Latinx community. “SB4 makes simply being brown a crime,” 17-year-old Magdalena Juarez told the San Antonio Express-News. “We will resist by celebrating our families and our culture. We will resist by standing in unity.” Law enforcement officials are also worried about the new ban, saying that it hinders their ability to foster bonds with people in their communities.

But just because the event was billed as a celebration didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of protesting. The group performed a number of ceremonial dances before heading inside to try and meet with representatives as well as Governor Greg Abbott, who supported the law’s passage. “Quinceañeras aren’t just about parties – they are coming-of-age celebrations that strengthen the bonds of family,” Mejia said. “They are also about uniting community in celebration, which is what we need to do to stop hateful and racist policies that hurt Latinos.”

Teen Girls In Quinceañera Dresses Protest Immigration Law

By Vanessa Romo [This piece was originally heard on All Things Considered on 7/19/17]

 

Transcript:

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Many Latinas mark their 15th birthdays with parties called quinceaneras. In Austin, Texas, it’s popular to include a photo shoot on the steps of the state Capitol. Today that rite of passage took on a political bent. NPR’s Vanessa Romo reports.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: There are at least three elements that make a quinceanera a quinceanera – a big, poufy dress, check – some declaration that a young girl is now a woman, check – and a highly choreographed dance…

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROMO: …Check. But what happened on the steps of the Texas Capitol earlier today was something more than a celebratory rite of passage for 15 teens in bedazzled and sherbet-colored princess dresses. And it’s become a social media campaign and an active hashtag – #15contraSB4 – that’s been shared all over Twitter.

CRISTINA TZINTZUN: It’s an event that’s gotten a lot of traction from Latinos, as I said, across the country but also here in Texas.

ROMO: That’s because this quinceanera was also a protest against a new state law that allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of residents and penalizes those who don’t. It was organized by Cristina Tzintzun.

TZINTZUN: Texas has become ground zero for the fight for the rights of immigrants and Latinos.

ROMO: Tzintzun is the founder of Jolt Texas, a nonprofit group working to get young Latinos to vote and run for office. And this demonstration in Austin, she says, was part of a larger national movement.

TZINTZUN: This last election, we saw Mexicans and Latinos demonized and really scapegoated. And so we want legislators to know and Trump to know that we won’t sit idly by while legislation of hate is passed, that our communities are going to organize and mobilize.

ROMO: So why the quinceanera theme – because, Tzintzun says, it’s when…

TZINTZUN: A girl takes on the full duties of becoming a woman. And one of those duties is protecting your family.

ROMO: In a traditional quince, the birthday girl performs a dance, usually a waltz. But these 15 ladies went a different route.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IMMIGRANTS – WE GET THE JOB DONE”)

K’NAAN: (Rapping) I got one job, two job, three when I need them.

ROMO: They choreographed a mash-up dance to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)” and “Somos Mas Americanos” by Los Tigros del Norte, one of Mexico’s most famous bands. The two songs tell the stories of immigration and the search for jobs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “IMMIGRANTS – WE GET THE JOB DONE”)

K’NAAN: (Rapping) Immigrants, we get the job done.

ROMO: Sixteen-year-old Viridiana Sanchez explains why.

VIRIDIANA SANCHEZ: Basically because a lot of the things that the song is saying are true. Like, we are America. Like, we keep this economy moving.

ROMO: Maggie Juarez is 17, about to start her senior year in high school. She says…

MAGGIE JUAREZ: Using these quinceaneras is showing that as an adult and as a Latina, we are responsible in voicing those who cannot speak for themselves in the moment.

ROMO: For Juarez, turning 15 was a really big deal. Turning 18 and being able to vote – that’ll be monumental. Vanessa Romo, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULS OF MISCHIEF’S “93 ‘TIL INFINITY”)

 

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.

The Latinas Behind ‘Jolt’ Use Culture to Build Latinx Political Power in Texas

By Raquel Reichard [This piece was originally published in Latina Magazine on 5/15/17]

More than 10.4 million Latinxs call Texas home. Accounting for 39 percent of the population, the group has influenced the Lone Star State’s culture, food, music and slang, but it hasn’t made nearly the same impact on politics.

In 2012, just 38.8 percent of eligible Texas Latinx voters cast their vote in the presidential election. That number grew to 40.5 percent in the 2016 election, but it was still well below that of non-Latinx voters in the state.

With the demographic not tapping into its political power, the Republican state has been able to pass some of the harshest, anti-immigrant legislation in the country, including SB4, a recently passed law that bars sanctuary cities and allows law enforcement to racially profile, intimidate and detain undocumented immigrants.

Hoping to prevent similar legislation from passing in the future, Jolt is cultivating a new generation of civically engaged Latinxs. The Austin-based nonprofit, which launched just after Donald Trump’s election win, is organizing the community through entertaining cultural activities, education, voter registration and mobilization.

Already the group, founded by part-mexicana Cristina Tzintzun, has trained hundreds of volunteers, started a chapter at the University of Texas at Austin and hosted several community events for young people and their families.

“No moment is more ripe for change than the one we are in now,” 34-year-old Tzintzun, an organizer who founded the labor rights nonprofit Workers Defense Project, told us.

She is hoping SB4 will mobilize Texas Latinxs much in the way Prop 187, which aimed to curtail access to state services for undocumented immigrants, stimulated the demographic in California 20-plus years ago.

We chatted with Tzintzun, Jolt’s executive director, along with peruana Tania Mejia, the group’s communications director, about Texas’ low voter turnout, how the Latina-led organization is hoping to solve this problem, creating community leaders and using culture to spark political change.

What prompted you to create Jolt?

I organized undocumented workers in Texas over the last decade, and I saw that we achieved a lot when we came together. Still, after fighting and expecting immigration reform to happen, it did not. It was clear we needed to build our political power. Now is our time to prove to legislators that we have the power to vote them out of office and transform the state and country.

Jolt is a civic engagement organization with the mission to increase Latinx voter turnout in Texas. Why is this issue particularly necessary in your state?

A lot of people think that Texas is a Republican state, but the reality is that it’s a non-voting state. One of three voters is Latinx, but we have really low voter turnout. A little under a third of Latinxs who can vote are actually exercising that right. We believe that if Latinxs get out to the polls, and become more civically engaged, we would be represented better.

Why do you think voter turnout is so low?

I think some of it is institutionalized. Federal courts have held that Texas voter ID laws keep brown and Black folks from the polls. There was also a lawsuit at the federal level that addresses redistricting that makes it harder for Latinxs to see their votes matter. But there’s also a cultural problem. There isn’t a culture of Latinxs being engaged in politics and holding politicians accountable. We want to help create that culture in Texas, and move people to take action.

How is Jolt trying to solve this problem?

We start by partnering with artists of all kinds – painters, visual artists, musicians, etc. – to hold cultural events. We want that to inspire people to be engaged, to use these things to attract them and then sign them up for trainings that can help them become grassroots organizers. We’re trying to build the next generation of Latinx leaders.

Tell us about some of the cultural events you organize.

There have been a few. In April, we partnered with the Chulita Vinyl Club, a collective of Latina DJs, and others to put together Resistencia Fest, a concert for young people that celebrated their protests against ICE raids. It was free and targeted millennial Latinxs, particularly high school students. It was us celebrating them through a community event. But we also used the moment to call people to take action and register them to vote. We did the same later that month at Bidi Bidi Banda, a birthday celebration and tribute for Selena Quintanilla. While we didn’t plan that festival, we know how much our community loves Selena and knew it would be a great place to engage with people. More recently, in celebration of Mother’s Day, we held a live mural painting event, where immigrant moms and children painted in front of the Texas State Capitol. The mural, titled Poderosa, was created by queer Latina artist Claudia Aparicio Gamundiand calls for an end to deportations while celebrating the strength and resilience of immigrant mothers.

That sounds amazing. You previously alluded to the Jolt Organizing Institute. What are some of the tools participants leave with?

We train them on grassroots and digital organizing, so they learn about voter registration, how to have one-on-one conversations with people on the issues that matter to them, how to hold civil disobedience actions, how to recruit people and more.

Why is it important to Jolt to help create community leaders?

We believe that change should happen bottom-up, so the people directly affected by SB4, for instance, should drive the change in the community. We want to empower young people to obtain the skills they need to build a movement on issues they care about. Movements are more successful, and mean more, when they come from those directly impacted.

I understand that 40 percent of your training is for young people (ages 16 to 30) and half of all leadership training is reserved for women. Why?

Well, women are disproportionately impacted by many of these issues. They are heads of the family, they work, they are more likely to live in poverty and they lack access to health care. We want to empower women because they are the cornerstones of our society. When women are empowered, families are empowered.

Jolt itself is an all-women-operated organization. Can you talk about the significance of that?

It actually wasn’t on purpose. Cristina wanted an organization that represented the people who wanted to organize, and it kind of happened that we are all women. But it is important for us to inspire and move people, and women are affected at disproportionate rates, so we wanted them to be decision-makers. While we didn’t set out to be all–female run, we think it’s good. We all really support each other.

How can people who aren’t in Texas help support Jolt’s work?

They can, of course, follow us on social media, sign our petitions and organize online; however, they can also organize with us in person. We will soon be hosting Freedom Summer, where we will call on Latinxs from across the country to come to Texas this summer to dig in deeper against SB4 and register voters.

Austin’s “Poderosas” Mural is an Homage to the Sacrifices and Strength of Immigrant Mothers

By Christine Bolaños [This piece was originally published in Remezcla on 5/12/17]

When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a controversial “sanctuary cities” ban that critics call draconian and unconstitutional, it sent shockwaves through the Latino community across the country. In Austin, immigrants and their supporters quickly rallied in protest, feeling the undocumented community under attack.

Efre is based on Rosa, a real-life undocumented mother in Austin, and her children Alejandro and Karla. The mural tells Rosa’s story and that of many immigrant mothers in Austin and beyond. It is a symbol and a reminder of the sacrifices these mothers make to give their children a better future, and of their vital role as centers of their communities.

Rosa is a single mother who crossed the Rio Grande into Texas via the border city of Piedras Negras 16 years ago. Her son was only two at the time, and they were briefly separated during the dangerous journey. Alejandro is now a high school graduate, and her daughter Karla is preparing to start junior high in the fall.

Rosa, an immigrant mother from Austin, is the subject of Jolt’s Poderosa Mural. Photo by Jeanette Nevarez for Remezcla

“I’ve tried to make school a focus for them,” Rosa told me. “Whatever happens they must continue both studying.”

Rosa is known among her friends and community as a resilient yet humble woman who does whatever it takes to previse her children the keys to promising lives. So when Jolt – a progressive nonprofit focused on Latino issues that aims to turn Texas blue–  approached artist Claudia Gizell Aparicio-Gamundi about drawing a mural honoring immigrant mothers, Rosa immediately came to mind. It was Rosa, after all, who took Claudia under her wing when she first arrived in Austin bc didn’t know anyone yet.

The artist wanted to convey Rosa’s bravery in the mural.

Artist Claudia Gizell Aparicio-Gamundi created the illustrated art for Jolt’s Poderosa mural. Photo by Jeanette Nevarez for Remezcla

Artist Claudia Gizell Aparicio-Gamundi created the illustrated art for Jolt’s Poderosa mural. Photo by Jeanette Nevarez for Remezcla

“She’s not going anywhere. She’s not afraid,” Aparicio-Gamundi said. “Her children also aren’t afraid. That’s how I see my mom and a lot of families.”

The message resonates with others.

Ruth, 36, has called Austin home for 22 years and doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon -despite her undocumented status. She said she hopes the mural provides healing and reminds her four children to fight for what is right.

Chia Berry painted the mural alongside her mother and daughter. She believes most immigrants are hard workers who truly invest in the community, not the “bad hombres” depicted by President Donald Trump.

“We can’t be passive about what’s happening, and at the same time this mural can help us heal,” Berry said.

Chia Berry painting the mural with her daughter. Photo by Jeanette Nevarez for Remezcla

Activism and therapy is what Cristina Tzintzun had in mind when she approached Aparicio-Gamundi about the mural. “We’re standing up and fighting back and this image tells that story in a single painting.”

Jolt plans to tour the mural in grocery stores, community centers and other places across Austin.

“Maybe if enough people see the mural it will inspire them to start similar initiatives across the country,” said Rosa’s friend and fellow undocumented mother Liliam.

Photo by Jeanette Nevarez for Remezcla

 

Meet Jolt, the Latino Organization Aiming to Shake up Texas Politics

By Gus Bova [This piece was originally published in the Texas Observer on 4/13/17]

“Change requires real organizing and investment in the community. You have to be committed long-term to Texas.”

On a sunny April afternoon, Maggie Juarez, 17, took the stage in an East Austin park in front of a large mural depicting historical figures of Mexican resistance, including Emiliano Zapata and César Chávez. She told a crowd of around 50 about the day she walked out of class to protest Trump’s immigration raids in Austin.

“I walked out because my community was being attacked,” said Juarez, who took part in an immigrant strike and march in February — her first protest. “We marched; now it’s time to organize and register our community to vote.”

As she spoke, vendors sold paletas and cups of fruta con chamoy while volunteers ran a voter registration table as part of what organizers billed as a “resistencia fest.”

Organizing the event was a new group called Jolt Texas. The fledgling nonprofit is chasing a familiar progressive dream: turning Texas’ rapidly growing Latino population into a force capable of painting the Lone Star State blue.

Jolt is the brainchild of Cristina Tzintzun, a longtime organizer and founder of the Workers Defense Project, a nonprofit that energized the moribund labor movement in Texas by finding creative ways to organize immigrants. Tzintzun left Workers Defense Project in 2015 and worked briefly in Washington, D.C., before moving back to Texas in November.

“Jolt is the organization that’s building the movement of Latinos that will change Texas politics forever,” Tzintzun told me in the group’s tiny office in East Austin. Eventually, she said she hopes to see the nonprofit “in all five metro areas, registering tens of thousands of voters and mobilizing hundreds of thousands during the election cycle.”

Since Tzintzun launched the group just after Trump’s election, it’s trained 200 volunteers, founded a University of Texas at Austin student chapter, built a contact list of 15,000 people and is planning an organizing institute for “the next generation of community leaders.” The group’s first-year budget is $430,000.

The idea, Tzintzun said, is to build a long-term strategy centered on empowering Latino youth like Juarez. More than a third of the state’s nearly 11 million Latinos are under the age of 18.

“Some people look at Texas’ Latino population and say Texas will quickly turn blue, but I don’t believe demographics are destiny,” she said. “It requires real organizing and investment in the community. You have to be committed long-term to Texas.”

Such talk might sound familiar to close observers of Texas politics. In 2013, Battleground Texas blew into the state promising to use grassroots organizing and voter turnout methods to make Texas competitive for Democrats again. The group, headed by Obama campaign veteran Jeremy Bird, said it would capitalize on demographic change in Texas and help mobilize an Obama-style electorate of young people, African Americans, Latinos, women and other groups who often have low turnout in Texas.

But Battleground Texas disappointed many when it became the de facto campaign vehicle for Wendy Davis, who lost the governor’s race to Greg Abbott in 2014 by a stunning 20 percentage points. Many criticized Battleground for relying on out-of-state organizers, poorly trained volunteers and ham-handed attempts at outreach to Latinos.

Tzintzun didn’t mention Battleground Texas by name, but she draws a contrast between Jolt and other groups.

“There’s been different attempts from folks that had the best intentions but weren’t committed long-term to Texas,” she said. “And [they] also didn’t come from the Latino community and understand its culture, its opportunities and its challenges.”

Tzintzun said she chose to launch in a non-election year for a reason: to build trust and support around issues long before asking Latino voters to turn out for a specific candidate. All three of Jolt’s staff are Latinas.

Tzintzun isn’t pegging her efforts to the 2018 midterms either, but thinking further ahead. “In Texas, we can’t think about just one electoral cycle,” she said.

Over her 12 years, Tzintzun grew the Workers’ Defense Project, a group that organizes undocumented workers, from a small, volunteer affair to a $2 million organization with a national profile.

“I built Workers’ Defense Project when I was 24 years old and didn’t know what I was doing from a paid staff of one to a staff of 25,” said Tzintzun. “So I know we can do this.”

At April’s “resistencia fest,” I sat with Juarez at a picnic table as she told me about her entry into activism.

The day she walked out of school, Juarez said she caught a ride with a friend to the march downtown. When the group reached the Capitol, she felt inspired and asked Tzintzun, whom she’d never met, for her megaphone so she could give a speech. It was time for the march to return downtown, so Tzintzun suggested she lead them back instead. Juarez took the megaphone, and the crowd followed.