Janaira Ramirez: “Organizing to Change Narratives is Power”

After an exhaustive nationwide search, OPAL is proud to introduce Janaira Ramirez, our new Oregon Just Transition Alliance Organizer!

Janaira was born and raised in New York City, the oldest of three daughters born to Dominican parents. She relocated to Portland this week, but began remotely onboarding with OPAL at the beginning of September. Growing up between New York City and the Dominican Republic exposed Janaira to the politics of transnational migration at an early age. “I witnessed unjust governmental as well as day-to-day interactions between migrant populations in the United States as well as in the Dominican Republic.,” Janaira says. “It really made me aware of how drastic the power dynamic shifts from setting to setting.” She was stuck at a very early age that an oppressed group in the one setting may perpetuate oppression onto another group in another setting. Having one foot in the US where she was born and raised, but the other foot in her parents’ home country made relationships of power a point of interest for Janaira, “even before I was able to critically think about the dynamics I was witnessing and experiencing,” she says.  

Janaira began organizing around public education reforms and food justice/food security as a youth organizer of The Brotherhood-SisterSol in Harlem, NY. “As a youth organizer I was not only able to deepen my passion social justice, but I was overjoyed by the democratization processes we took as a team to ensure that our common needs and values and those of the different communities we were part of were represented in each of our campaigns,” she says. During her undergraduate studies at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, Janaira obtained a Bachelor of Arts in political science. “I focused a lot of political theory and the notions of power, public policy, and conducted data driven research on food security in the United States,” she says. During her time at Wheaton, Janaira had the opportunity to travel overseas and learn from and share with communities in Ahmedabad in India, São Paulo in Brazil, and Dakar in Senegal, as experience she describes as “amazing.”

“My studies and research in each of the three countries focused on how marginalized communities changed the narrative, from focusing on the ways in which they experience oppression to instead focus on how they organized, built resistance, and launched initiatives.,” Janaira says of communities who organized to combat displacement, food injustice, and environmental degradation. She focused on the specific initiatives local community groups organized and implemented to become self-determinant and to alleviate the varying needs of their communities.

“It was motivational and uplifting to learn from groups working to dignify labor and dignify the informal economy which was so prevalent and the main source of employment in many communities,” she says. Janaira worked alongside groups organizing against slum relocation programs that often isolated slum dwellers too far from accessible means of transportation and too far from their places of employment. She studied groups advocating for clean waterways and clean air, a major concern in many of the places she lived these studies overseas. She learned the stories of groups who started and cultivated urban gardens to combat food insecurity and provide their community with sources of employment. She saw groups re-imagine cities to become better connected to the nearby villages, as migrant workers do not want to leave their homes and families but more employment opportunities often exist in cities and therefore rural-urban daily migration was necessary. This wealth of experience give Janaira the unique qualifications to organize the statewide movement for a Just Transition, build power in communities living at the intersection of many oppressions, and build solidarity across communities with interests sometimes understood to compete.

“Having the amazing opportunity to learn from and share with these groups really pushed me further into social justice organizing work,” Janaira says. “I am stoked to continue doing this work with OPAL and continuing to learn.”

Posted in Against Enclosure of Wealth and Power, Against Exploitation, Air Quality, Celebrations, Climate Justice, Coalition Building, Green Justice, Just Transitions, Transit Justice.