Interview with Davin Cardenas, Lead Organizer, North Bay Organizing Project (NBOP)
By Masha V. Chernyak, Vice President of Programs and Policy, Latino Community Foundation
Photo: Irma Garcia, Immigrant Defense Task Force, NBOP and her daughter Frances.
LCF is supporting a Just Recovery by investing in three frontline Latino nonprofits that make up LCF’s regional cohort— La Luz Center in Sonoma, UpValley Family Centers in Napa and North Bay Organizing Project (NBOP) in Santa Rosa and Sonoma. LCF’s Recovery Funding will support community organizing efforts that use culture, healing, and youth-led strategies to build power, give voice to local leaders, and shape equitable public policies for Latino families.
Meet Davin Cardenas, the lead organizer at NBOP, who sat down with LCF VP of Programs Masha Chernyak to discuss a new vision for the North Bay community.
How did you get involved in organizing?
As a student at Sonoma State, I got involved with MEChA, a Chicano political action group, and began organizing with other students and Day Laborers. For me the questions of identity, a feeling of smallness growing up, began to be challenged. As I learned about the rich history of our people and the revolutionary movements across Latin America and the United States, I learned about small people who made themselves big, and it made me want to be bigger myself, more powerful, and excited to connect to others who felt the same way.
Today, I have the privilege of being an organizer – it means building as many relationships as possible, manifesting our values in a public manner, helping people develop a public life for themselves, co-creating policy solutions, and offering a vision for the future. It’s a special gift.
In a few words, how would you describe the first few days following the Wildfire?
It was disorienting. I felt a lot of restlessness. I was incredibly tired but couldn’t sleep. I had motivation to act and be useful, to find purpose, but finding the right way to act wasn’t always simple, or even helpful. Meeting and organizing with my colleagues was the antidote to the disorientation, it really shifted how we were collectively feeling, and allowed us to act with purpose.
What did you learn about the Latino community during the crisis?
Everything that I already knew. Latinos are extremely resourceful, caring, and we have a determined spirit. It was amazing to see how people, with very little, were able to help others who were suffering. Our social interactions were based on need, not on possession, and spaces of mutual aid became the norm.
How are Latinos doing in the region?
The way of life in our region, driven by the wine and tourism industry, is highly subsidized off the backs of our immigrant communities and low-wage workers. Those who work the land, who produce the wealth, can barely afford to live where they work. The crisis for our people was in effect before the Wildfire spread. It’s the crisis of our economic system built on the exploitation of low-wage labor.
What you’re saying reminds me of Central Valley Latino communities. Do you feel connected to their struggle?
Yes, what we share is the exploitation of our people and our land. The cost on the human body, and the cost of what’s being done to our earth. The human cost of trying to survive low wages and poverty. Cost on the physical environment by use of pesticides. This all amounts to damaged bodies, toxic land, and broken communities. Our working class doesn’t have savings because we transfer most of our wages to landlords. We can’t invest in property or buy the land that we love and work each day. It’s not a productive model for the wellbeing of our people in Sonoma, Napa, the Valley, or anywhere. We are missing the point. It’s not just about profits, it’s about our shared humanity and our common home.
Millions of dollars were raised to support Wildfire recovery. Was it impactful?
The focus of the money that came in was to generally stop the bleeding, to provide some sense of normalcy in chaos. In general, the intention was to get us back on our feet. However, as I mentioned, normalcy wasn’t working to begin with. The problem is that our working-class immigrant community was already living in a state of crisis from decades of exploitation from low wages, high rent, and unequal distribution of power. We need to be even more visionary in how we define a Just Recovery and how we invest our philanthropic resources.
What is a Just Recovery?
A Just Recovery takes into account the voices of those most affected by the disaster and prioritizes justice for people and the planet. A Just Recovery looks at systemic issues and creates avenues for people to push for policies that will further protect our people and our planet- things like higher wages, rent control, environmental protections, and immigrant protections, while at the same time re-imagining how we tend to the land, how we de-commodify housing, and how we might share control over means of production. A Just Recovery uses the disaster as a unique opportunity to organize, bring attention to the issues, and together, reimagine the future.
What advice do you have for folks in philanthropy who want to fund a Just Recovery?
Real change will take a significant investment in grassroots organizing that gives people a sense of their own power and path towards lasting change. Funders need to invest in organizing and long-term civic engagement that develops leaders, engages residents in local efforts and helps to increase voter education and participation. Funders can take bigger risks and invest in new initiatives and people-led solutions.
If we have resources that are flexible, we can make magic happen. We know our own eco-systems. We are the soul and culture workers who are leading with love, energy, and enthusiasm. If we have trust and flexibility, we can win concrete changes for our communities. That’s what we are fighting for.
What does success look like?
Napa and Sonoma county would be a place where housing is abundant, affordable, and dignified. Where our natural resources are protected and prioritized. Where our workforce can raise families and thrive, not just survive. Success is when all of us are taken into account when it comes to the future of our country and the future of our democracy.
We need to keep developing the base of the people that are involved in building community and sharing power in every corner of Sonoma and Napa county. The current leadership is not representative of working class and Latino communities. It’s on us to change that ourselves.
Are you hopeful about the future?
I don’t have a choice but to be hopeful, despair isn’t an option.
We have so much brilliance all around us. We have so many courageous and caring humans who are acting with their values. I have no doubt that we’re going to win, that the future will belong to those who cultivate right relationship amongst people and planet. Join us!