The self-determination of ACRJ

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

By Amanda Wake, Youth Organizer

SAFIRE youth Judy Wu facilitating a workshop
When I think of self-determination, the image I get in my mind is Malcolm X and his call for Black self-determination “by any means necessary.” I think of the people of Egypt who are determining their own destiny at this very moment. I think of the farmers in Haiti who recently burned all the genetically modified and pesticide treated seeds “donated” by Monsanto in protest to keep the country’s biodiversity intact. And I think of what I tell the SAFIRE youth all the time, “Reproductive justice will happen when everyone has self-determination over their bodies, gender, sexuality and health for themselves, their family and their community.”

It is not accurate to compare the magnitude of self-determination I teach in SAFIRE to the other historical and incredibly courageous examples I gave previously. But I do so to show the power that comes when we strive for self-determination and especially when it is achieved. I teach self-determination to the SAFIRE youth because when I see them realize that they do not have to walk down the path that has been laid out, that they can determine for themselves the direction of their lives, their whole being begins to shift.

One clear way I read this shift is in how they carry their bodies. Are their shoulders slumped over? Are they looking down at the ground, taking small steps trying to not to take up space? Are they being small? This is how a lot of young Asian women are taught to be.

I ask them how they want to be in the world. They say powerful, strong, confident, and successful. I tell them to embody that, to hold those things in their bodies. They stand up taller, eyes are looking up, feet are right under them and shoulders are open. The energy of the room shifts, they are ready. This is the beginning of their Forward Stance. Forward Stance is about choosing to hold our bodies the way we want to be in the world. Forward Stance is about self-determination.

This spring, SAFIRE along with The Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD), are defending the self-determination of young mothers. Young mothers deserve to raise their children with full dignity and respect. They have a right to the resources they need to reach their goals like access to healthcare, child care, economic stability, higher education and support from friends. SAFIRE is collecting stories from young mothers and allies for the Strong Families Story Bank. They are also spreading awareness about the rights of young mothers at CYWD's massive Mothers Day event on May 7th. They believe that babies need love and moms do too. We stand alongside young moms!

Out of the almost 3 years that I have worked at ACRJ, last year was the year with the most growth and transformation for the organization. Our mind body approach to organizing and movement building, Forward Stance, has gone from being a practice to becoming part of the culture of ACRJ and how we do our work. Our SAFIRE youth use Forward Stance in their every day lives. Now they are working on projects and campaigns that fight for the self-determination of themselves, their families and young mothers. As an organization, we have aligned all of our work behind the Strong Families Initiative that challenges the right wing’s stranglehold on how family is defined culturally and politically. What runs concretely through all three of these growth areas is the strong thread of self-determination.