I meet with Maria De Los Angeles Solis in her natural element — in flow with the community. It’s a Sunday, and she’s hosting a pop up art show/garage sale/agua fresca and elote bar in her Beacon Hill apartment.
Despite the rain, there’s a good turnout and she’s engaging with the room in a way that can only be described as magnetically magical. She’s listening in a way that few people can, with an open heart and an intelligent ear.
As an organizer in Seattle, her superpowers include the ability to authentically connect to people’s problems and respond to their needs. A graduate of Whitworth University in Spokane who worked with SEIU on the Fight for $15, the 23-year-old is a trailblazing her way through Seattle’s activist scene.
I sat down with her to learn how she got involved with championing worker’s rights.
How did you get involved with organizing?
My father’s been a Hanford [construction] laborer since I was in middle school, so probably 13 or 14 years old. He started coming home and telling me stories about stuff that was happening at work. My mom, who would sometimes be working night shifts, wasn’t always home. He would have me dictate the stories about abuses on the job and translate them as well. So at a really young age I was translating and writing documents of worker abuses in Hanford that my father would take to the union.
She looks down at her agua fresca, sighs and murmurs “Ooh thinking about my dad…” She trails off in thought and I see her features soften.
Intrigued by how personal this work is for Angeles, I continue our conversation.
What’s been the most challenging organizing effort you’ve led or helped with?
It was a moment that happened within the campaign, and it came out of a relationship that I had built. So I was a pod leader organizer in Seattle, and we were organizing around Fight for $15. And one of my organizers that I was — I don’t like the word teaching — but I was skill building with her around organizing, you know.
She was an undocumented mama of four. And her husband was a hunger striker at the Tacoma Detention Center, and had been placed in solitary confinement and was getting retaliation from the center. They were cutting him off from calling his family, verbal harassment, intimidation… just all sorts of stuff. It was in November, and it was his trial, to decide whether he would be deported or not. And I went to go support my friend.
I’ll never forget the woman who was the legal representative of the court that, last minute, had replaced the state prosecutor. This lawyer is describing my friend’s husband in really terrible ways, but she sounds incredibly articulate, incredibly convincing. And I could just see her using this skill for evil. To describe this really good man, whose babies were in the front row, trying not to cry; as someone that deserved to be deported. I’ve never felt so confused about how you can demonstrate such intelligence, and yet such a lack of kindness, like basic humanity.
Do you think there was a difference between you and her…would you define her as an organizer as well?
I would not define her as an organizer. She was an agitator. She could agitate. But here’s the thing, I want that skill — to be able to flawlessly persuade someone to be on my side, and to use legal jargon and just the clear-cut confidence of how things are and how things should be. I want that skill, but for the other purpose, for the other objective, for the right thing, not the wrong thing. So the only thing I saw in that woman was a skill I that wanted to take from her…that she should no longer have, that she shouldn’t have a right to.
Is there a difference between an organizer and an activist?
Yes, very much so. One example, activists show up to the rallies and the protests and the marches, which we need that. But the organizer is the person organizing those marches and those rallies, the person building those relationships, rooting the movement, doing the analysis. There’s probably a much better definition of organizing, but it’s movement building, it’s really intentional movement building. And activists don’t participate in that sort of depth. I think they benefit, and I think we benefit, but organizers are movement builders.
This post was produced as part of the Globalist Youth Apprenticeship program. The program is funded in part by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the Community Technology Fund.