Building Political Power in Communities: Nurturing Equity Movements

Building Political Power in Communities: Nurturing Equity Movements

Suguey’s (Su-hey) Hernandez’ mother, Irene emigrated from Mexico in 1985. Irene who was six-months pregnant with Suguey and traveling with her 5-year-old daughter, made the treacherous journey in pursuit of a better life. She had little schooling and wanted her daughters to have kinds of the opportunities she was never afforded.

Growing up, life was hard, and often dangerous, Suguey says. When her mother first came to this country, she worked on farms, following the seasons up and down the coast from California to Washington, and back. Irene couldn’t afford childcare, so Suguey and her sister would often have to sit in the family’s old Oldsmobile while their mother worked in the fields. One morning, Suguey remembers her mother, relatives and other farmworkers running out of a thick fog vomiting and their eyes watering. They raced to the nearest hospital, only to be turned away because many of them were undocumented. Eventually they found a community clinic, where they were given minimal care. Irene and the other farmworkers soon found out that a plane had sprayed pesticides on them while they were in the fields.

The farmworker community organized to address the many ways they had been mistreated. A young Suguey and her sister marched alongside their mother and community, but in the end the farmer declared bankruptcy and most of the money won went to attorneys’ fees.

This experience inspired Suguey to pursue a career in community organizing. She worked hard at school and was accepted to UC Berkeley (her sister attended Stanford). Suguey was so committed to social justice that she missed her own graduation because she chose instead to speak at a press conference calling attention to the low wages of the university’s custodians.

Today, Suguey works on expanding political opportunity for people who have long sought to be heard. She is not just getting people to vote, but she is helping them shape their own destinies. To her, voting is just part of a larger vision. “For a lot of the people we work with the system doesn’t work for them, so it would be false of me to say you just need to vote,” she says. “I invite them to dream. This is the world we have, what is the world that you want, and what do we need to do together to get there?”

At The San Francisco Foundation, we are working to build movements that can achieve racial and economic equity for all. Suguey is a senior field organizer at Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, one of the organizations that The San Francisco Foundation is investing in as a part of its new grantmaking pathway known as “Power Pathway.” Our support allows Mobilize the Immigrant Vote to hire organizers like Suguey who are from the community and who are committed to helping low-income immigrant and refugee communities of color find their voice and increase their political power.

Helping people use their political voice is a fundamental component of our strategy, and it is a prerequisite to advancing toward a more equitable region.

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