DREAM Act Now!, the UTSA-based activist organization dedicated to opening a pathway to citizenship for students brought to the United States as children, was the product of the effort of many students — but none more so than founder Lucy Martinez. But the undergraduate student of North Texas-based Mexican parents didn’t enter the fray out of nowhere.
More than a year ago, the newcomer to San Antonio walked into the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center to hear radical activist and theorist Angela Davis speak. Until that moment the politically active Martinez, a queer Latina immigrant, had never encountered an organization that so fully reflected all of her identities. She soon started doing volunteer work at the center. Before long, she was helping plan the 2010 International Woman’s Day March. Held nearly every March 5 in San Antonio since 1985, the event is timed to coincide with Women’s Day marches around the world that have occurred for 100 years.
For Martinez, the planning experience was revelatory. “We learned how to be a leader and take things into your own hands.”
From that start came the widely covered arrests at U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s San Antonio office, nation-wide solidarity events and protests, and lobbying trips to Capitol Hill. For Martinez, it began with the march (“Everything that I learned I learned from these women,” she said). She’s not alone in her experience.
Before the San Antonio march, there was no Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. It’s hard to imagine San Antonio without today’s hive of progressive politics and activism. In those dark days, there was likewise no Fuerza Unida organizing on women’s labor issues. There was no P.E.A.C.E Initiative training local law enforcement about domestic violence. There was not even a Women’s History Month to celebrate the escalating pace of professional accomplishments by women in the sciences, sports arenas, and political and corporate landscapes. But a seed from afar settled in the city’s receptive soil when native daughter Susan Guerra returned from Norway, describing to her friend Graciela Sánchez the wonders of Europe, including an annual International Women’s Day March. Within a year, the pair had staged their own march in San Antonio, joined by about 100 women, including iconic labor organizer Emma Tenayuca. Those women had no illusions about woman’s status in the world, summed up by Yoko Ono more than a decade earlier when she suggested, “woman is the nigger of the world.” But it would be many years before Sánchez and others with today’s Free Speech Coalition would sue the city for equal access to the streets. The group walked on the sidewalks to demand an end to domestic violence, an end to institutionalized violence against women, and in support of family planning and abortion rights. They marched as a group because no woman should have to feel afraid to walk alone.
It was only after that first march that the group began talking about how to create a communal space “where we `could` all come together and share resources,” Sánchez said. They recognized their message was not a welcome one in San Antonio, and that together was strength.
While the Esperanza’s pro-choice and outspoken support of LGBT rights has cost them a few organizational relationships through the years, the group has grown, as has the march that preceded it. (“The hard part is getting the women to limit themselves to one to two committees, because they get excited about everything,” Sánchez said.) And as the march has grown, so has the number of women who have taken their leadership training to other efforts across the city.
Rosemary Rogers is working to unionize hotels in San Antonio as an organizer with Unite Here! Given the sensitive nature of her work, she asked that she be identified by an alias only. Her story is similar to that of Martinez: a young politically minded woman with equal parts energy and frustration walks into the Esperanza one day and is immediately tapped to help with the IWDM. “In my `school` classes we talk about all these issues, but for me it made it more real. It brought it more to the surface and taught me about myself, my family, my city,” Rogers said. “I learned I wasn’t the only one who felt things are wrong. Then I learned how to talk about it. And then I learned how to share that.”
Last Saturday, I met several women preparing to march for the first time this year. Dozens of girls and women were spread out across the Esperanza’s upper floor making posters. Jo Flores, a retired Army Ranger who only recently “discovered” the Esperanza after moving from Corpus Christi, was clearly enjoying herself as she helped her compañeras silkscreen T-shirts with this year’s march design. “It’s different for me. I don’t know nothing about all this peace stuff,” she laughed. But she does understand the Republican war on women. “All these Republican issues are women’s issues, and that’s scary,” she said.
Sánchez said for many women the march is an opportunity for catharsis. “With the laws changing and the funding drying up and you’re feeling depressed and alone … the march allows for you to be rejuvenated by a sense of hope because you’re not alone in this desperate moment.”
And, by design, it’s a way to help create the world we wish we lived in.
“We’re gonna continue to see more domestic violence. We’re gonna continue to see more people on the street homeless. We’re gonna continue to see more people going to war and coming back crippled in their heads — again, with no support system.” Sánchez said. “We can get together to figure out alternative ways and really challenge ourselves to rethink how we live our lives.”
For Rogers, an ultimate victory over prejudice and economic exploitation is a hard thing to imagine. “I don’t know what victory would be except being able to live a life that isn’t so hard. And walking the streets without being concerned. It’s all these little things.” •
IWDM Planning Organizations: Fuerza Unida, Martinez Street Women’s Center, Mujeres Unidas Contra el SIDA, PeaceCENTER, Rape Crisis Center, Santuario Sisterfarm, Multi-Campus Labor and Student Syndicate, P.E.A.C.E. Initiative, Students for the Advancement of Gender Equality, Unite Here!, among others.
International Woman’s Day March
10am Sat, Mar 5
300 E Travis