Building Power with Hope and Organization

People, especially women of color, cultivated us, gave us opportunities and told us we matter, our voice matters, and our stories are not only important, they are central to social change. Side by side with our beautiful immigrant community, we finally found a place where we could embrace the complexities of our identities, not flatten them. We found a home, we found mentors, we found open doors and strength we never knew we had. OneAmerica invested in us because we - grassroots leaders - we are what builds movements.
— Roxana Norouzi, Deputy Director OneAmerica, Sanaya Set Brand Ambassador

The last week has been among the most difficult I've experienced during my decade working in the immigrant rights movement. Within the last seven days, the supreme court made a partisan ruling in favor of the Muslim ban leaving another stain of religious intolerance and racial discrimination on our country. The president has ordered the systematic separation of asylum seekers at the border, violating basic human rights and leaving 2,300 children without their parents. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ramped up cruel immigration raids evoking deep fear and trauma in families all over the country. Our communities are devastated to say the least and as the crisis worsens, it continues to land heavier with each blow. 

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And yet, even with this constant war on our communities, I remain hopeful. I'm hopeful because the day the Muslim ban was announced, over 200 people including people from multiple faiths and religions showed up within hours to affirm this is not who we are as a country and won't allow history to repeat itself. I'm hopeful because last week when there were immigration raids in Franklin County, Washington our communities mobilized immediately to support all the families impacted and stand up to those who collaborated with ICE. I'm hopeful because this last Saturday, immigrant rights groups like OneAmerica organized rallies all over the state and within a week, raised $13,000 to support these efforts. In Seatac alone, outside the federal prison where 200 asylum seekers were transferred from the southern border,10,000 people turned out, not to mention the hundreds of thousands who turned out to rallies across the country.

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OneAmerica's mission is centered on building power in immigrant communities. We build this power in three concrete ways: organized people, organized money and organized ideas. From the events of the past week, I'm more certain than ever before that we have all of those ingredients- people, money, ideas- right at our fingertips. And that's why I keep fighting and working to build OneAmerica to be a force to not only stand up in the hardest of times but to change the narrative of immigrants and people of color to one of power, strength and resilience.

My belief in our movement starts with my own journey. Ten years ago, I chased the founder of OneAmerica, now Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, down the hallway when she spoke to my graduate school class and begged her for an internship. Lucky for me, after some convincing she obliged.  My first assignment was to  organize a bus ride down the West Coast to demand family unity and a fix to our broken immigration system. I remember being so excited to work on something I believed in. That I connected to. As the daughter of immigrants from Iran who escaped during the revolution of the late 1970's, my dream was always to work in the immigrant rights movement. To transfer my own family's story of pain and hardship into one of power and justice. So I spent each day trying to get my foot in the door, energized to work on anything that reflected my story and experiences. 

A lot has changed in a decade. I'm now the Deputy Director of OneAmerica and responsible for how to build that immigrant power to fuel our movement. But my journey to where I am now didn’t happen by accident.  

It happened because OneAmerica gave me a platform to grow and emerge as a leader in a movement that reflected my experiences. It happened because of the institutional, and political power that OneAmerica has built in the last decade.

People, especially women of color, cultivated me, gave me opportunities and told me I matter, my voice matters, and that as immigrants our stories are not only important- they are central to social change. I finally found a place where I could embrace the complexities of my identities, not flatten them. OneAmerica has not only invested in me but so many others because we - grassroots leaders - we are what builds movements. 

Reclaiming my own immigrant experience, and witnessing others do the same, is what makes me believe in OneAmerica’s work and commitment to developing leaders. Watching people find their voices and step into their power is the most incredible - and most important part of my work at OneAmerica. Every day I have the opportunity to support our staff, interns, and grassroots leaders to shed everything that society has placed on them, and realize that the answers to our most complex social issues lie inside of them.  But they don’t just have answers; with the right cultivation, they have the power to realize the vision.

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Our ideas, our vision and our lived experiences are what is going to build and drive our movement and the innovative bold solutions for a different path forward. Together, we are fundamentally changing the balance of power through building leaders from within our communities to come together and fight for justice around a core set of ideas and values. We're even training our leaders to run for office on a platform of social justice and equity and building our sister organization, OneAmerica Votes to get them elected. 

I am deeply proud to have had the opportunity to utilize my own path to power to build an institution that develops immigrant leaders and supports them to step into their unique power as their full selves. That transformation IS our movement and ultimately what keeps me hopeful about our future. To join the movement sign up for OneAmerica's immigrant justice team and join our week of action to fight against unjust immigration policies and practices.

About Roxana Norouzi

Roxana Norouzi has over 15 years of experience in advocacy and social justice work with immigrant and refugee populations. Currently, she is the Deputy Director for  OneAmerica, Washington State's largest immigrant rights organization, where she oversees efforts around grassroots organizing and policy change to build the political power of immigrants and refugees. In addition to her role at OneAmerica she is also a clinical instructor at the University of Washington for the Community Oriented Public Health Practice Master’s Program. Roxana is on the board of the Seattle Globalist, a global to local news media platform, and serves on the board of the Children’s Alliance Board of Directors. In 2010, after earning her Masters in Social Work at the University of Washington, Roxana was awarded the Bonderman Fellowship which allowed her to travel to twenty countries exploring and reporting on post-conflict regions, migration trends, and identity. Roxana is fluent in Farsi and her experience as a first generation American informs her passion and commitment to racial equity and immigrant justice.

Tarul Tripathi