by AmyBeth Willis
Even though Thursday was planned as a day of rest, a portion of our group decided to participate in another march against Governor Roselló. When I committed to this delegation in May, I never could have predicted that I would get to witness the fierce activism of Puerto Ricans in this critical moment of political change. On Monday, we joined 1.25 million Puerto Ricans in taking over every lane of San Juan’s major highway to demand that Governor Ricardo Roselló, or “Ricky” resign. Thursday morning, we woke up to the news that he had finally announced his resignation. So, we wanted to rejoice alongside the Puerto Rican people.
The march was planned for la Avenida de Oro “Golden Avenue” in the Financial District of San Juan, where the Fiscal Control Board is located and where financial companies that have contributed to the island’s debt crisis continue to operate and profit. The Puerto Rican people were never only demanding that one politician step down, but were decrying the continued colonization of the United States through the PROMESA Act in 2016 and to the island government’s deliberate cover-up of the deaths of 4,645 people in Hurricane Maria. So, the people forcing Roselló’s resignation was just the beginning of a larger movement to stop the corruption wholesale and take back the government for the people.
I joined the Fossil Free PC(USA) delegation from Tucson, AZ where I work as the organizer of the Southern Arizona Sanctuary Coalition. As an organizer, I was inspired as I watched the Puerto Rican people mobilize so rapidly and so effectively to demand change. But more than anything, what struck me was the joy of the people. As it started to rain, the march began, replete with large trucks blasting salsa and reggaetón and umbrellas covering the crowd. The people’s pride in their homeland was palpable. Puerto Rican flags were everywhere; some were even attached to adorable dogs! A Puerto Rican farmer rolled up to the march in her tractor, smiling widely. Protestors danced to the reggaeton. Bolstered by the confidence that they had won this fight, the people knew that they can continue to win. In jubilation, they shouted “Somos más, y no tenemos miedo (We are more, and we are not afraid)” and “Lucha sí, Entrega no! (Yes to the struggle and No to surrender!).
Witnessing this level of joy convinced me that we need to cultivate more joy inside movements for social and environmental justice. Movement spaces can become so intense and serious that all the talk is focused on the weight of the injustice at hand. I’ve noticed this as particularly a problem in white-led movement spaces. But this seriousness often gets in the way of the reason we’re fighting: a world where everyone can thrive and shout and dance. Even us organizers! This reminds me of the value of an educational tool called the ‘Hermeneutical Circle, adapted by Latin American liberation theologians. In the practice of acting for social justice, we must first observe, then reflect and pray, and then we act. After acting, we must evaluate our action and then celebrate our wins. But we often forget to celebrate. So, I am grateful for the Puerto Rican people for their display of joy, alongside their continued demands for justice. I see clearly how their joy makes their perseverance possible. They won; and they will continue winning, as they celebrate along the way.
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