The First HEAL SoPL: Exploring Possibilities for Real Political Leadership

By Jay Conui, Political Leadership Coordinator

On January 26-28, HEAL launched its first session of the School of Political Leadership (SoPL) where 10 exceptional leaders from across the country gathered together to share, study and sketch out policies and solutions that will transform how our food and farm systems function. This first session comes at a critical time: across the country we are seeing a new wave of political energy as we face an administration that has made very clear who it aims to protect and serve. And now, more than ever, we feel the need for political leadership that’s anchored in communities that have been pushed to the margins, and informed by the people who are most burdened by the disparities of our current system.

The SoPL crew spent our weekend in California’s Central Valley — the “agricultural belly of the beast,” as SoPL leader Angel Garcia described it — where underpaid farmworkers harvest more than 50% of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. In the Central Valley, the exploitive conditions in the fields, exposure to industrial toxins in the air and water, the higher costs of living for farmworkers, and the collusion of corporate governance have been lining the pockets of greedy agricultural CEOs for decades. These CEO’s and their giant corporations profit by compromising the safety and dignity of the hard working people who feed all of us on a daily basis.

This really resonated with the SoPL cohort. While diverse in age, race, gender, sexuality and geography, they identified common threads between the Central Valley region and their respective communities, noting the prevalence of poverty, wage theft, food insecurity and political marginalization. As we took a deeper dive into the structural roots that created these inequalities, we all deeply felt each other’s  aspirations to bring justice, equity and dignity to and for our communities.

This sense of conviction is what makes the SoPL such an inspiring space to be a part of. I saw 10 visionaries grappling with the major challenges of our time, and each person had the genuine desire to show up for one another while showing solidarity for the individual and collective work it takes to change how our system functions. HEAL is very excited about and humbled by all the political leadership possibilities that this cohort will bring forward for the road ahead for all of us.   

Last but not least, we can’t forget big shout outs to Lupe Martinez from The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, Joann Lo from the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Ana Urzua Alcaraz for providing our first SoPL session with insight, guidance and revolutionary spirit!

Stay tuned for updates from our next session in Cleveland coming up in March!

Jay Conui is HEAL’s Political Leadership Coordinator.  Jay comes to HEAL with over 20 years of experience working in social justice movements and national liberation struggles, including training grassroots organizers and movement leaders to embody their leadership commitments and visions for social justice through the use of somatics. Read more about Jay