By Marlene Manzo, Political Leadership Coordinator, HEAL Food Alliance
Twelve people joined us for the School of Political Leadership this year. In January, I was filled with anticipation and excitement of what this cohort would be like. Unsurprisingly, we had the pleasure of working with twelve loving and passionate food and farming leaders. Twelve people that reminded me, once again, how important we all are in transforming our food system.
Every person in SoPL has a unique context that brought them to the program. We determined early on that even with our individual stories, we all had a similar vision. We wanted healthy, affordable, and accessible food for our families, friends, and neighbors. And we also wanted ethical labor conditions for working people throughout the food supply chain. This is urgent, we needed resolution yesterday, especially amidst a pandemic, we all are circling around the throbbing wound of our food system.
This group was a glimmer of hope and a source of joy, which I desperately needed. I grew excited with every new connection, our laughter, our dance breaks, and the ah-ha moments folks experienced. We heard from past SoPL participants and learned from their campaign strategies – both the challenges and the victories. Their wisdom reverberated through the Zoom space. Each connection and each lesson served as a refresher that our work is about progress, not perfection. We’re working together for long term, sustainable solutions.
SoPL reminds me that we need each other – urgently. We need our collective energy to shift our current food and farming system. Many of us struggle with the size of our social problems, each year they seem to be escalating and shrouding us with grief. SoPL is my reminder that there are people all across the country committed to their communities that want to put an end to our extractive food and farming system. I am grateful to work with those visionaries that love the soil, cherish their communities, and want healthy nourishing foods for all, especially those that have been strategically denied that human right.
I look forward to meeting more amazing community leaders. I am ready to learn from them, be transformed by them, and work alongside them to create the ripple effects we are yearning for. I hope this experience was as meaningful for them, as it was for me.
Marlene has 11 years of experience supporting community-based initiatives through the non-profit sector and in academia. Born and raised in Sunnyside, a rural agricultural town in Washington state, they spent summers picking cherries with their mother and sisters. As the child of Mexican farmworkers they have witnessed firsthand the challenges many land workers face. They hold a deep respect and connection to the land thanks to their family’s passion for farming, fishing, bee keeping, and gardening. Their commitment to community resiliency and environmental protection is their guiding force for ongoing work with HEAL. Marlene earned their B.A. in Society, Ethics, and Human Behavior from the University of Washington. They are based out of Washington, D.C., occupied Piscataway territory.