"We must love each other and protect each other"

February 24, 2015

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and protect each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

-          Assata Shakur

Maybe Leila’s connection to Wellstone started seven years ago when she helped bring Campus Camp Wellstone (CCW) to her community college, De Anza, in California’s Bay Area. Or maybe the roots of that connection began to grow a great many years earlier.

After all, Leila’s professor and mentor is Nicky Gonzalez Yuen. A student of Paul Wellstone’s in the 1970s, Nicky eventually became an organizer, professor, and local leader in his own right.

Nicky was working to build organizing power amongst community college students and he wanted to bring Wellstone to town for a Campus Camp. He tapped Leila to help organize that camp. “Paul Wellstone changed Nicky’s life. And Nicky changed mine,” explains Leila.

Leila was responsible for everything at that first CCW in 2008– from working with the caterers, recruiting over 100 students to sign up, collecting money and paying bills, and making sure all the rooms were set and the materials were printed. That weekend was a whirlwind she barely remembers today. But it was so successful that De Anza College has been hosting CCWs annually ever since.

The next year, she dug deep into experiencing CCW. “The most important thing I learned that weekend was power mapping, hands down,” says Leila, “I loved the organizing and mobilizing sessions. I’m a natural at it, but putting it all together to build power - that was critical for me.”

Leila transferred to San Jose State University where she, and three other students, began to lead a campaign to raise the minimum wage in the city. And she did it, the Wellstone Way.

"The power mapping I learned at CCW clicked during the campaign. It was vital to what we did. I can still picture the map we made in my head, how elected officials were positioned on the issue, where organizations, especially students and labor fit in.”

Over the course of two years, Leila and her team built coalitions, researched public opinion on the issue, wrote the legal language for the proposed ballot measure, developed messaging, won critical endorsements, collected signatures, got the initiative put on the ballot, and campaigned their tails off. On November 6, 2012, Measure D passed with 59% of the vote. The wage of San Jose’s minimum-wage workers was raised from $8/hour to $10/hour. That’s over $4,000 more per year for rent and food, health care, and transportation. That’s a politics that improves people’s lives.

That year, Leila returned to the De Anza CCW to talk about the minimum-wage campaign and offer it as a critical example for current campers to better understand our curriculum.

This year, Wellstone invited Leila to become part of our national adjunct training team. And this summer, she came to Minnesota to attend our Train the Trainer, an annual event where we bring together experienced and more novice trainers for an intensive few days of trainer development.

“I loved Train the Trainer, I loved it. I loved it. Because of Nicky, I feel deeply connected to the work, and the legacy of Wellstone.  It was powerful to see how far Paul Wellstone’s legacy reached.” So Leila got to work, practicing sessions, learning curriculum, and working with other trainers “With Wellstone, we are part of a huge, empowering, family.”

And then Leila returned to De Anza’s Campus Camp, this time as a trainer. At this point, the camp had expanded to include community college students from across the Bay.

Leila helped the students work through two tough, fun, important days of message development and community organizing skills as they begin to organize around reforming a tax system that’s diverting funds from higher education.

“More than anything, I hope the students know this isn’t theoretical. What they learned can be used in every part of their life.” That’s certainly true for Leila, who’s made community organizing her career as she works for a San Jose based organization dedicated to alleviating poverty.  “Wellstone is in every part of my life. It influences everything I do. From what I learned from Nicky, to the facilitation skills I gained at Train the Trainer, I reference Wellstone daily.”

Leila helped close the De Anza CCW the same way we end many of our CCWs, by reciting a famous quote from Assata Shakur. “’We must love each other and protect each other.’ - The people at that CCW are like family to me, I had to do right by them. I was excited and nervous. But working with Wellstone I felt empowered to take risks, to make choices and know the other trainers would have my back. Getting to end the CCW with that quote was powerful for me. It felt like returning home.”

Campus Camp organizer. Campus Camper. Community organizer. Campaigner. Campus Camp Trainer. In many ways, Leila's come full circle with Wellstone. But make no mistake: the work is far from over. Paul Wellstone changed Nicky’s life. And Nicky changed Leila’s life. Now, as one of our trainers, Leila’s part of the team training thousands of progressives to organize, to mobilize, to run, to win. It’s her turn to change lives, and win progress, the Wellstone Way