When asked if I wanted to attend the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements, an initiative of Pope Francis and international grassroots organizations, I did not hesitate to say yes. Being an active youth voice from Fresno, I was excited for the opportunity to learn from some of the best organizers and leaders in the world.
The purpose of the annual conference is to deepen dialogue between the church and the most marginalized communities about how to address institutional racism and economic insecurity by working together to find ways to take the exclusion in our communities in terms of ‘terra, labor et domus’ (land, work and housing) and turn them into fundamental human rights.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and for it to be held in Modesto made it more special for me for two reasons:
▪ The Central Valley is my home. To be the host of something so monumental (it the first WMPM to be held in the United States) makes me proud to be from the Valley.
▪ By hosting it in the Central Valley, it tells me that Pope Francis is aware of its problems in terra, in labor and in domus. We are seen; we are visible. This gives me a sense of security and hope.
As I reflect back on my weekend, the phrase “our issues are one fight” comes to mind. With hundreds of faith and community leaders from all corners of the world in attendance, each with stories to share about exclusions their communities face, our issues became the key message of the conference.
The message stressed that while we learn to combat injustices that plague our communities across the country, we must also stand in solidarity with each other in our own respective fights.
As an advocate in my community, I came to Popular Movements hoping to learn from leaders whose communities are experiencing the same issues Fresno faces, such as the need for affordable housing and the need for sanctuaries in our city. I wanted to find new ways to amplify my voice.
I met people from large cities like Nashville, Tenn., and Chicago, but also from smaller cities and other countries, such as El Salvador. I heard stories of how their communities chose to combat injustices, and also learned of their successes and failures.
Bishop Robert McElroy from the diocese of San Diego said that we must do two things: disrupt and rebuild. To create change, we must be disrupters for equality, and we must rebuild this nation.
I was a bit taken aback by word “disrupt.” When he defined the word, “We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need,” I found myself on my feet, cheering with the rest of the crowd.
I came to Popular Movements to find better ways to use my voice, but left realizing that being vocal does not necessarily bring the change you want to see.
While forums and protests are a great call to action and a great way to bring the community together, not much can be accomplished by having them. We must look at our issues; find the root cause of the problem and attack from there.
We need to stay loud and find new and effective ways to challenge those who oppress marginalized communities and demand to see the change we need.
Big city or small, each person, young or old, needs to become a disrupter in the community to create the change that our families deserve. It’s not enough to just talk about making a change; it is our responsibility to turn our words into real actions – now more than ever. We are all in this together – our issues are one fight.
Johnsen Del Rosario is a youth reporter with The kNOw Youth Media in Fresno.