Creative Social Change and “Uniting the Bottom”

Written by Nicole Mance

Born in the South Bronx to first generation immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Claudia de la Cruz is committed to the struggle in defense of human rights and social justice. In exploring the complexity of her own identity as an Afro-Dominican, Claudia has engaged herself in the activist world to fight for the right to “feel comfortable in your own skin.” Cruz has spent most of her life working in coalition building, community organizing, curriculum development, program design and management.

Cruz is the founder and general coordinator of Da Urban Butterflies Youth Leadership Development Project (DUB) — a membership-based project working towards the leadership development, capacity building, and the personal and collective empowerment of young women in Washington Heights, and New York City as a whole.

Da Urban Butterflies Young Women’s Leadership Project was formed by youth, ages 13-25, in October 2004. DUB is an independent membership-based project created by youth for the youth. D.U.B aims to contribute in leadership development, capacity building, and the personal and collective empowerment of the youth in Washington Heights, and the New York City community as a whole.

DUB since its inception has supported local and international campaigns of people and nations in the struggle everywhere to achieve empowerment, peace with justice and liberation in all its dimensions — personal, social, political, economic and religious. DUB offers a physical space for youth to meet and create long lasting healthy relationships and support networks amongst the youth, as well as intergenerational support.

DUB provides youth in the community, particularly young women of color, with a safe space to explore identities, personal stories, and the histories of people and their struggles for equality and justice. In the process of self-education, DUB also seeks to create a positive impact in its community.

From the people’s histories of struggle in marginalized communities, they learn to strategize and find creative solutions using social media, art expressions, education and organizing skills to address present issues related to immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, youth empowerment and activism, and women’s rights among other struggles towards justice.

Cruz is committed to the creation of a better society — where all human beings have access to all civil and human rights. She believes “through education, organizing, mobilizing and direct action it is possible to eradicate systems of oppression that hinder the positive and full development of humanity.”

Cruz is currently working on the resurgence of the Poor People’s Campaign, launched originally in 1968 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This campaign centers around the motive of economic and social justice for the poor and homeless of the United States — that all people should have what they need to live.

Cruz is working on this project with fellow activist, Willie Baptist. Baptist is formerly homeless and still poor, and says he has been poor all of his life. He has been organizing among poor people in the United States for over 40 years and worked to organize the National Union of the Homeless, served as the Education Director for the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and has worked to build networks of grassroots organizations fighting poverty and connect them with international struggles of the poor.

“All of my life experiences and all my life studies and all of the experiences of this growing national and international network of what I am a part of confirms at least one important and inescapable point,” Baptist said. “That is, that we the poor can think for ourselves, we can speak for ourselves, we can fight for ourselves, and we can lead not only for ourselves but that we can take part in world leadership.”

Cruz and Baptist believe the means to winning their fight is political education and employing those most affected by the problems they are working to resolve.

“The social position of the poor gives them the least stake in the economic status quo,” Baptist said. “Our mission to unite and organize the poor is essentially to raise their consciousness of their social position, shared across borders and lines of difference, thereby giving them greater mass influence and impact.”

The goal of the revival of the Poor People’s Campaign, spearheaded by Cruz and Baptist, is to unite the lower class across lines that have been drawn by separation of race, gender, religion and many other dividing factors. “You don’t unite the bottom, historically, in this nation and across the world, you do NOT untie the bottom, because then, you create a force that is too big for the elitists and the government to stifle and stop,” said Baptist.

Baptist and Cruz believe the lines in society have been drawn with the intention for separation in order to prevent the disadvantaged from uniting. Part of this unity amongst commonality is to help those coming together for the Poor People’s Campaign understand “your issue is not the only issue out there. This issue is connected to another larger issue,” Cruz said.

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