Commentary: Growing Empowered Together

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Andrea Figueroa, executive director of Martinez Street Women's Center. Photo Courtesy of Arlene Mejorado.

This could be a story about an accomplished woman with a Ph.D. in geology who left a career as a geochemist doing research for institutions such as NASA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take a leap of creative faith in carving the very rocks she used to study. It could be a glimpse into her talents and the confidence that allowed such a leap to occur.

This story could walk us through her multitude of awards and accolades and then show us a slide show of her many curvy creations. These words could explore her easy demeanor, high intellect or her penchant for social activism. They could reaffirm what so many of us already know about Lauren Browning, but they won’t.

This could be a story about a Chicana filmmaker who made her way from El Paso to the University of Texas at Austin to San Antonio and how her combined social activism and art led this vibrant woman to career as a respected, award-winning director and producer. This story could then lead us into her many gifts that include compassion, intelligence, empathy and wonder. This could also explain the difference between a Chicana filmmaker, a Hispanic filmmaker or a Latina filmmaker, but it won’t. This little blurb could review some of the past accomplishments of Laura Varela, but it won’t.

This could be a story about an African American freelance audio video savant who has a biography filled with organizations such as ESPN, Nike International, Comcast, NBC, Discovery Channel, History Channel, Associated Press International and numerous other impressive household names. This could discuss his position as a Master Teacher with the Northeast School of the Arts or explore his media production of Musical Bridges Around the World for almost a decade.

This page could be dedicated to the soft and gentle interface he has with people he instantaneously understands and relates to or his ability to calm someone with just the pitch of his voice. This could study more of the history that makes up James Sanders, but it won’t.

This could be a story about the convergence of this slice of San Antonio talent and how they have formed an alliance called Growing Empowered Together (GET). And that is exactly what this article is about.

This is humor, grace, finesse, mentorship, activism, art, passion, experience, and the ultimate act of civic engagement. Local adults have begun efforts to rebrand the way Millennials feel about voting and civic engagement. GET has a very specific mission statement – Through the use of an entertaining and educational multimedia initiative, broadcast the voices of young community activists and artists so that they can educate other Texas Millennials about why it’s so important to get informed, get involved in their communities, and get out to vote.

GET recently held a special workshop for members and interested individuals. Browning led the event with an introduction, conceptual overview and anticipated trajectory  for the official GET launch in May 2016. Her combination of academics and artistry gave her credibility and poetic license simultaneously, which brought the group to attention and excitement. Once the crowd was behind her on this project, she introduced Varela and Sanders, who were each going to be filming in two different rooms. Both individuals would ask workshop attendees about their opinions and feelings toward voting in short one minute videos.

Browning then introduced Cary Farrow IV and Jeremy Zenor,  a couple of brilliant Millennials who work with Alamo City Improv, and they got everybody out of their chairs, formed a giant circle, and led some interactive improv games. It accomplished exactly what they set out to do – which was to loosen everyone up, get them to laugh, and let them know that they were here to make a video without fear or judgment.

This intergenerational collaboration was a remarkable thing to see unfold. A roomful of young adults– artists and activists–  who have already discovered the power of involvement and particularly the power of voting, tell their stories. And these are legit, straight from the heart or the street stories of why they vote, why they care, why voting matters to them personally, why Texas women matter, why voting myths are created in the first place, and why, most importantly, it is imperative to get this fast growing demographic bound together to raise their collective voice, and Texas and America will have no choice, but to listen.

There were cards already made for them to use as prop and a prompt, such as “I vote because…” and “Texas women can count on me because…” or “I’m a Millennial and I vote.” This was beneficial as it kept everyone on task and allowed the short videos to stay within their time slot. These will ultimately be posted to the official GET website.

The Millennials who chose to participate in the inaugural selfie workshop and filming, are reaching out to their fellow Millennials who are less inclined to get involved, let alone vote. It is one of the many goals of GET, to have this group help others delineate the issues most valuable to them and identify the public policies that impact these issues.

“You are not speaking to me, remember that. You are speaking to you and thousands of others just like you,” Sanders told attendees. He also instructed them to get their swag on, and that generally generated smiles, dancing and realistic statements. He can now add bilingual to his resume, and he definitely spoke their language with authenticity.

A powerful recitation of a provocative poem by local activist poet Viktoria Valenzuela succinctly wrapped up the day. Although this poem was not written for the event, it was emblematic of her deep passion for civil rights, and it was applicable to the spirit of afternoon. Originally inspired by the passage and eventual sanction of Arizona’s SB1070, Valenzuela’s words emphasized that all Americans are affected by such bigoted laws.

“It is because of this, we all must exercise our right to vote,” she said. “Voting is the strongest voice among all Americans, and to deny yourself the expression of that right, is to turn a blind eye to hate fueled laws that impact the very fabric of American society.”

Though the workshop and filming made for a fun filled afternoon, GET is a serious undertaking. Not only do Browning, Varela, and Sanders have a deep driven passion to see this impact the voter turnout in November, they want a new generation of civic minded, involved, compassionate global citizens who can impact Texas locally and statewide.

Varela refers to Millennials and  Latinos as “sleeping giants who need awakening.” She dreams of them using their (super and magic) powers for good. Her history of struggling to find a female mentor or a Chicana one, has furthered her quest to be one. And she is doing it. Sanders wants every person to make a difference through dialogue and honesty, while remaining respectful and working towards a common goal. Sanders manifests this idea with his words and photographs.

And then there is Browning, who creates her masterpieces without a discernible beginning or end, top or bottom. And that is precisely what is evolving here. This is a powerful active voting block that is being chiseled into a working piece of activist art for social justice. Well done GET.

For more information, contact the creators of GET at get-texas@att.net.

 

Viktoria Valenzuela’s Poem

“Caution to the Spies

I’ve seen too much already;

a blueprint,

a nibble,

a drop of the purest native blood

makes every wo man spry

on life

A video box

heavy

with stories of the human predicament;

it’s worth

your weight in gold.

Insects

spray poison

from their asses

like joe shitpile and those Koch snorting brothers

on an imaginary border

They’ll build walls

they’ll burn human bridges

they’ll tell you it’s for the fat of our good nation.

Meanwhile,

I see an

Abandoned

patch of grass

Still yields Bloodroot

in the shade

of a degenerate empire.

I start there.

–I.

Vote. them. out.”

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

Top Image: Andrea Figueroa, executive director of Martinez Street Women’s Center. Photo Courtesy of Arlene Mejorado.  

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