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What Undocumedia’s Struggle for Accountable Leadership Teaches Us All

By Abigail Marin

A moment of reckoning came for Undocumedia when organizer Karla Estrada shed light upon years of misconduct incited by Ivan Ceja [1], a co-founder of the popular social media platform. Soon after, other organizations and victims also shared their individual stories of working with or being alongside Ceja reinforcing Estrada’s original allegations.

For those unfamiliar with Undocumedia, Ceja and Justino Mora started it in 2012. At that time, they advocated for the DREAMer narrative and undocumented organizations. Now, Undocumedia has one of the strongest presences in undocumented culture.

Ceja having stepped down after being accused of misogyny and anti-blackness holds a lesson for us all; being part of social justice movements and having a position of power in an organization is absolutely no excuse for obstructive behavior towards others in the same path towards liberation and equality.

To many of us who are part of Orange County organizing circles, including myself, this situation resonates deeply and isn’t taken lightly. A heteropatriarchy that elicits gender violence and anti-black sentiments has always been susceptible in these spaces. Former and current organizers have been tainted because of it.

I’m still very new to these organizing spaces and am still learning to maneuver them along with the different personalities I’ve met along the way. It’s very interesting to see how we’re all united yet still very divisive when it comes to addressing gender violence, homophobia, anti-black sentiments and ill-conceived notions we have about each other as people and as organizations. These are treated as secondary issues that will eventually dissipate or be forgotten once the “true” issues of police brutality, white supremacy, prisons and so many others are resolved. I’ve met people that have been profoundly hurt because of this. We are afraid to speak out on topics that are deemed minuscule compared to all other issues we’re all trying to organize against. We refuse to seriously address all other factors we face throughout the process of reaching our organizational goals in fear of degrading the survival of our struggles.

“The process of empowerment cannot be simplistically defined in accordance with our own particular class interests,” Angela Davis once said. “We must learn to lift as we climb.” No matter how much we advocate for social justice and immigrant rights in our communities and activist circles, we’re never immune to racism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-blackness and any other behaviors that contradict our collective values to alleviate those very ills.

So what can OC immigrant justice groups do? Or any OC group for that matter? We can hold each other accountable especially when people actively avoid being transparent. Folks who are accustomed to this behavior and are oblivious to their harmful actions foster toxicity in our circles. Accountability isn’t only a matter of copping to accusations; it also looks like a long-term commitment to strategy. We don’t have to actively seek organizers with perverse attitudes. They reveal themselves each time they deny accusations, refuse to apologize and instigate conflict with their organizational comrades.

When these destructive behaviors are displayed, we hold them accountable. People are allowed to make mistakes but we should expect that they’ll take ownership of their actions and not repeat them.

It’s important to remind ourselves that as members of these advocacy spaces, we own our organizational values but we also have to identify the human aspects of our movements. We all come from different walks of life. Our experiences are not unique to only one border and our stories are all different. We share space and harness a collective power to move forward together and alleviate each other from those distressing experiences instead of viewing one another as threats.

Perhaps now local organizing circles, including Orange County Immigrant Youth United (because we need it), should come together and use our most effective tool–our voices–to clear the air and share our truths in this struggle.