Closing Reflections

Summary Themes of URBAN Research, Action, and Activism Conference

José Zapata Calderón

First of all, I want to thank Celina Su and organizers of the URBAN Research, Action, and Activism conference. We have come a long way at a time when we are in a critical time period in this country. Thank you for including the elders (of which I am one) alongside the voice of the community-based organizations at this conference that are carrying out exemplary work – and leading the way in making the “road by walking.”

One of the overall themes that I take with me, from this conference, and that the speakers and participants consistently mentioned throughout the conference, is the need to develop and advance liberatory spaces – where we cross borders of self-determination and solidarity – where the resources that we produce are used, not to create a patriarchal greedy society that defines achievement on the basis of profit for a few – but that unites our communities in using what we produce to build a more just and equitable society. We have the power to do this! We have the power to build such spaces of equality! And we have the power to turn this country around!

We have the power to decolonize our educational system so that our Black and Brown children, our children of color, are no longer seen as criminals but are allowed to develop to the fullest of their capacities and to be treated like the geniuses that they are. It is true that every child is born a genius but this system destroys that capacity very early on. We have the capacity, as all of you have reiterated in the break-out sessions, to stop the school to prison pipeline by creating “safe spaces” where students are exposed to a curriculum that looks at the systemic and structural aspects of inequity, that brings to center stage the contributions of our diverse communities – who – because of poverty, racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, immigrant status, and physical/mental challenges have been historically excluded without a voice. Without this, our students will be taught to blame themselves and to take their frustrations our on themselves, on their families, on their neighborhoods – instead of taking out on the structure that is creating those conditions. As all of you have spoken – to get there – we need to love the children, our parents, our grandparents, our families – and organize our communities in solidarity – to advance a democratic movement that includes teachers, professors, and students to use research and data to advance new model of open spaces, collective spaces – where our children, our young people, are allowed to develop the highest levels of their potentiality.

We have the capacity to create new models of development – new models of research, teaching, and organizing that stops gentrification, stops the creation of homelessness, and stops charity-driven top-down pedagogies (that keep our communities without the needed information and new technologies to raise their voices). Yes, new technologies such as we have experienced at this conference in the application of Pluto data to expose gentrification and the ills of corporate capital where the sole measure of development is based on profit — the use of new “public space” research and engagement technologies that advance the historical beauty, culture, art, music, knowledge, and contributions of our diverse communities.

We have the power to make immigrant rights a human rights issue. We have the power to unite our diverse communities, our people of color communities – to defend the rights of our LGBTQ, Muslim, women, children, immigrant brothers and sisters – to stop the criminalization – the mass deportation – and support DACA/DAPA and full citizenship rights – while realizing that citizenship in itself is not an end all in ensuring long-term full equality rights. We know, as pointed out by the immigrant rights panelists today, that without the labor of our immigrant brothers and sisters, many industries in this country would be in economic distress – and that these industries are literally demanding the need for these workers – but want them, as in the past to continue as a cheap labor force. Our undocumented brothers and sisters have earned the right to full legalization, to keep their families together, and to receive back the benefits that they have already contributed to this economy and to economies abroad.

We have the power to create new examples of sustaining ourselves, sustaining our organizations, sustaining our communities, and building alliances through creating quality of life models such as URBAN, where we not only hug each other in acts of unity but support each other through our bold and non-compromising research and pedagogy. This was the character of Marilyn Jacobs Gitell, why we have celebrated her life at this conference, and why we have brought to center stage the stories of others who, like Marilyn, used their research, teaching, and organizing to advance spaces in our communities that are liberatory, restorative, and transformative.

We have the power to create new spaces and new models of the future. We have the power to combat those forces that, rather than promoting policies to invest in quality of health, jobs, housing, education, and enrichment — advance the blaming of immigrants, the poor, people of color, women, the physically and mentally challenged, working people, and our LGBTQ communities – to divide us – to keep us fighting with each other over diminishing resources – and to keep our communities from coalescing around the issues that our people confront every day in their communities.

This conference, as Dee Dee Williams pointed out – has “lit a fire” in all of us – to keep us going – to not stop here – to leave this conference with the passion and vision to build new “spaces of equity” – true democracy – and where our research, teaching, and organizing serve the overcoming of systemic and historical injustices to build the kind of just and equal society that we all want to live in.