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Sandra Morán: “Be the Voice”

  • JASS

Excerpts from a conversation with Sandra Morán, Former Deputy in the Guatemalan Congress, feminist, lesbian, drummer, movement builder

I think the best place to be is in the movement, and I stayed in the movement. But then came the mobilizations of 2015 in Guatemala, convened by five young people who said ‘we’re fed up, we have to do something’. They called for the first demonstrations against corruption on April 25, 2015. In response to the call on social media 25,000 people came to the main plaza!

We, the social movements, didn’t know who had convened the demonstration, so we showed up distrustful of what was going down. Our first surprise was not knowing anyone who was at the plaza. That was fantastic! Our experience at demonstrations was that we all knew each other and there were never new people. There we were, in a plaza with 25,000 people, saying “Wow, can this be real? These are citizens who have said ‘Enough is enough’ and have gathered the strength to go to the plaza.” That’s how the story began, the one I’m still living today. People were looking for new faces, new energy, seeking common ground with others and new leadership, and in that context, there was a political party that put forward the idea of a strategy that would convene social movements to form an alliance, and they invited me.

I’m a co-founder of the Women’s Sector since 1994. I was at a meeting of this sector’s coordinating body when I received a call from a friend in an organization we’ve worked a lot with throughout Central America. He says, “Sandra, I’m calling on behalf of the Convergence Party [Partido de Convergencia] to invite you to top the list of candidates for the Department of Guatemala.” The first thing I said was “No thanks”. I hung up the phone and told my friends I’d said no, and they said, “Are you crazy?”, and I responded, “Are you being serious?”.

I called him back and said I´d think about it. I had five days. I called my compañeras from the La Puya Resistance (a community organization opposing mining projects) and I told them what I had been offered, and they told me to accept. I called several compañeras from San Juan Sacatepéquez, an organization in the Sector. I asked my partner, my family, I made the rounds asking people, and the answer was always yes, so I accepted and entered the race.

I accepted the candidacy and the people elected me in my first run for office. I entered Congress in 2016 and the first thing I did was to declare publicly that I was a lesbian. I was elected Sept. 9, and on Sept. 10 the press published, “The first lesbian deputy in the Congress of the Republic”. That was the first significant, far-reaching political action in this absolutely sexist, homophobic, and racist country.

I did it because one thing I’ve always done in my life is not to give power to anyone. I hold the power. By going public, I took away their power of using that information against me. I did it because I made the commitment to myself and to the community not to negate who I am and to open the way. Because being the first in history means a lot, it means opening paths, but inroads are not easy to make; they’re opened with a sharp machete, cutting away everything that gets in the way to move forward. I took on the consequences of my statement–positive consequences because it gave power to those who are afraid to show who they are, and negative consequences, because it mobilized people who to this day oppose our very existence.

What does it mean to enter Congress with that identity? It means a daily challenge, but it also means having the ability to walk with pride and dignity. It means having the ability to face everything, 24/7, not just with my congressional colleagues, also with the people. I told my team, ‘My top goal is to leave Congress with dignity. That’s the first challenge, no matter what’s done, or not done, if I introduce bills, if laws are passed–it’s leaving with dignity.’

What do we think about politics? That politics is dirty? I say it’s not dirty–it’s downright disgusting! Developing the ability to walk through the muck and leave with dignity is perhaps the biggest challenge of my life. It has been a huge challenge to be who I am, and to follow through for the communities that come to our offices to ask for support, for laws, to solve problems with the Executive Branch, and to feel like someone has their backs.

You can’t believe how important my election as deputy has been for many communities.  I thought: How is it possible that communities have been working for 10, 15 or 20 years to get a school built?” How is it possible that this Department, or this community is represented in Congress and yet there hasn’t been a deputy in history who has come to sit down and talk with the people? The only answer is that they don’t care, and their racism is terrible, and the system is built for this.

How are we going to change this situation? First, by putting human relations at the center of our work, regaining our sense of humanity. Above all, we are human beings. We are our diverse identities, resources, knowledge, but bearing in mind that we have something in common: We are all part of humanity so let’s work and fight so that life continues to exist, because this system is killing us. We are facing a system of death. There are more than 60 million displaced people in the world, an equal number or more are seen as ‘disposable’ people in this world. The war industry is a higher priority than people’s lives, the price of food is more important than responding to hunger, extracting gold from the earth is more important than preserving life and territory, providing water for large African Palm plantations is more important than people having water in their rivers and that the rivers are alive for people.

The experience of being in Congress is a permanent challenge. I ‘ve always been in struggle, in social movements, but now I think it’s necessary to be in the positions where decisions are discussed and made. Because movements bring political pressure and have influence, but those who are inside are the ones who make the decisions. As one deputy said, “We realized that with 105 votes we can turn the country around,” unfortunately, referring to ways that undermine people’s wellbeing. That’s the challenge–to have 105 votes in favor of the people. So many of us who haven’t wanted to get involved in dirty politics, have to do so, because we’ve left them that space vacant for them. In politics, there is no free empty space.

You are the voice of those who challenge the system, of the people challenging the system, the voice of those who cry out. If you aren’t inside, who is going to speak for those who are outside? You have to be on the inside, you have to cry out, you have to speak up–and that’s what I have done. Be the voice.

In the women’s sector, in 2005, we concluded that we have five disputed territories: body, land, nature, memory and history. In a 2014 meeting with indigenous peoples, the compañeras added another: worldview. Today I say that there is another disputed territory – the state. If we do not contend for it, they’ll continue to make decisions against the common good. I hold that the struggle, the confrontation is our power against theirs, collective power against individual power, power that seeks to build against power that seeks to destroy—that’s the dispute. So I assert that there are actually seven territories in dispute: body, land, nature, memory, history, worldview and the state. We have a lot to do!


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