Today, the fight for racial justice has never been more crucial – with the anti-immigrant rhetoric prevalently spreading around the world, the UK government’s policy to create a hostile environment for immigrants, the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act, the strengthening of Fortress Europe and the rising right-wing nationalism, Trump’s dangerous Islamophobic policies and the increase in reported racist attacks after the Brexit referendum. The battle for anti-racism seems to be under more intense threats.In Scotland the erosion of refugee and migrant rights has, in part, been fought by different sectors of society. Successful campaigns and grassroots organising by community groups have led to the planned closure of Dungavel, a significant reduction in dawn raids, and the rejection by the planning committee of Renfrewshire Council of the Home Office’s application for a new ‘short-term holding facility’ for people awaiting deportation. Moreover, the Scottish Government (SG), itself, is pushing for more powers on immigration to be devolved to Scotland to reflect its unique demographic challenges of population decline. Current Westminster policy stands in opposition to more pro-migration sentiments on the ground in Scotland. SG is seeking a reintroduction of the post study work visa making it easier for immigrants’ family members to join them in Scotland and the creation of a Scotland-specific visa.
But it is not all rosy picture in Scotland. In a recent interview with the BBC Scotland (18/03/1018), Transport Minister Humza Yousaf and Labour MSP Anas Sarwar said that “racism and Islamophobia are getting worse” in this nation. They shared how they have been targetted by ‘vile abuse’, Islamophobic remarks and racist threats on a regular basis. It appears that even people in power from minority background are not spared from racist attacks.
Clearly there is a need to grow public support and empathy and advocate for the rights of refugees, migrants and people from black, minority and ethnic communities. We feel that this is a unique opportune time to ensure the sustained protection for rights of these racialised communities and build a strong movement against xenophobia and racism for we know that when communities come together and get organised we all succeed.
A growing number of grassroots communities has been supporting and in solidarity with the fight for this cause. One can imagine that working with and participating in grassroots anti-racism and refugees’ and migrants’ rights campaigns is far from being a walk in the park. Through the work Tripod has been doing with grassroots groups in this movement through the years we have come to know too well the challenges that these groups face:
• High turnover of organisers due to precarious personal circumstances e.g. housing, immigration status, unsustainable crisis-response working practices.
• A lack of resource-sharing and alliance-building.
• Limited impact due to one-off actions which are not framed as moments in wider campaigns.
• A lack of longer-term campaign strategy, planning and evaluation.
In an effort to address these issues and with requests for our support rapidly increasing from this growing movement, Tripod was fortunate enough to get funding to develop a programme that focuses on organizers that seek to tackle the root causes of racism and xenophobia and fight for refugees’ and migrants’ rights in Scotland. And thus, Organising for Power (O4P) was born.
O4P is a comprehensive programme which will enable campaigners to develop strategic campaigns which effectively tackle the root causes of xenophobia and racism and advocate for the rights and dignity of refugees and other migrants in Scotland. Through this programme we would want to support groups to work through some of their challenges, to share what works well and to learn together. We would want to support organizations to develop their skills as organisers, to support their groups to grow, to increase participation and share responsibilities. Through this programme we hope we would be able to support them to strategise and plan campaigns which have an impact, shift power relations and dismantle oppressive systems. This will be done through high quality training, in-person and online coaching in essential campaign organising skills, mentoring with experienced campaigners, peer-to-peer learning and consistent and sustained follow-up. We also envision to create a community of practice among organizers working in this particular area where they will be able to share experiences and skills and potentially collaborate with one another in future endeavours.
With Monette and Etzali on board, who will both be co-coordinating this programme, Organising for Power has hit the ground running. Both Etzali and Monette together bring complementing skills and experiences needed to get the ball rolling. Etzali has been organising in Scotland around migration, specially around refugees and asylum seekers through their involvement with Unity Centre and the peer support groups like LGBT Unity and Unity Sisters, and the closure of immigration detention centres in the UK for the last 4 years. They have hoped that through their involvement with O4P, they would be able to intensify and upscale their efforts by reaching out to other grassroots groups and sharing the lessons they have gained, as well as, uplifting the voices of those with lived experience of the immigration system. At the moment, they’re co-founding a night shelter for women without recourse to public funds in Glasgow.
Monette, on the other hand, brings her 20 years of experience in delivering training programmes for social justice causes. She had been involved among other things in organising child labourers in the Philippines and campaigning against tobacco companies. She is very interested in understanding how to reform structural barriers to rights and justice for immigrants and refugees, and on how to build, from the roots up, a just, multicultural society, where diversity is embraced as a strength. As an immigrant herself she has first hand experience of the complexities of integration and strong ideas on what can practically be done on the part of immigrants, governance systems and society at large to help build just, respectful and vibrant cultural pluralism.
Together with the support of the rest of the Tripod team – Lucy, Shannon and Danielo who have immense experience in organising and campaigning in different social justice movements and are skilful trainers and facilitators – Monette and Etzali are very enthusiastic to go full speed ahead in delivering Organising for Power.
Since the start of the Programme in October 2017, the team has been busy mapping out the relevant grassroots groups around Scotland, finding allies, building relationships with them and finding out about their aspirations, needs and challenges to help shape and make this programme as relevant as possible to them.
We will be documenting and sharing with you in this blog the whole process of our journey in trying to build the power of organisers tackling the root causes of xenophobia and racism and promoting the rights of refugees and other migrants. We hope to tell the stories of how leaders with exceptional community organising and campaigning skills can be developed, how alliances amongst individuals and groups organising marginalised communities can be built and how effective campaigns can be increased. We hope that this will also be a space for our participants to share their own journey with you. We hope to share the lessons we will be learning of how grassroots movements can be strengthened to effectively tackle the root causes of xenophobia and racism, and advocate for the rights and dignity of refugees and other migrants in Scotland.
So watch this space!