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Donor Organizing with the Friends of Boriken

May 2023

Building movement infrastructure for a just transformation in Puerto Rico

In 2019, Grassroots International brought a group of donors and organizers to Puerto Rico for a delegation focused on just transformation and ecological justice. Afterwards, several delegates stayed connected with us to continue building solidarity with Puerto Rican movements. In 2022, three of the delegates – Maria Jobin-Leeds, Elaine Reily, and Marilyn Stern – approached us with the idea of organizing a virtual delegation reunion. They were eager to reconnect; hear updates on the state of movement work in Puerto Rico; and explore possibilities for organizing people in their networks to support Grassroots International and our Puerto Rico program.

From that reunion, held in April 2022, an ad hoc donor organizing group called the Friends of Boriken was born2.. The group has worked to build a community of people who are connected to movements in Puerto Rico and committed to mobilizing resources to support that work. They have organized a number of educational events and have played a key role in supporting long-term movement work in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Fiona in 2022.

The initiators of Friends of Boriken have shared how their experiences while on the 2019 delegation motivated their efforts. Maria was struck by how Grassroots International held space for the delegates to get to know one another as whole people – to eat, drink and laugh together. This led to deep and lasting friendships among those on the trip. Marilyn appreciates how the delegation was focused on understanding the ecosystem in which movement work takes place. The framework of movement ecosystems helped delegates to understand their place in the world in a different way, to realize that they were themselves part of ecosystems: “Puerto Rico stopped feeling so far away.”

Another key element of the delegation was the inclusion of mística, cultural grounding that engages the heart and spirit and deepens political commitment, in the delegation activities. This encouraged delegates to emotionally connect to the movement hosts as well as the whole archipelago. A particularly memorable moment is when the group AgitArte unrolled an intricately detailed art scroll about the history of Puerto Rico. Maria shares that “It touched us and brought us all to tears.”

Also motivating the work of the Friends of Boriken has been ongoing communication with Grassroots International following the delegation. Elaine shares that:

Jovanna (Grassroots International’s Senior Solidarity Program Officer for Latin America) gives us little updates when she travels to Puerto Rico. We found out from her that one of the groups we had met on the delegation was getting booted out of the building it had occupied and needed to buy a building for its work. We thought, we want to help! And just then, Grassroots International was setting up a movement infrastructure fund (for situations like this) and we were like, yes! We want to contribute!

The process continues to be one of ongoing learning and reflection. For Elaine, the connection between the realities facing Puerto Ricans and those facing her home community in Louisiana are palpable: “In both places, the traditional ways of life and cultures have been completely, and purposefully, pushed to the brink – it is not just an accident of climate change. So these are people I feel strongly I need to be in solidarity with, in a reparative kind of relationship.”

Marilyn adds:

My vision for a better world? I would just want that every person who has been alienated by the unfair distribution of resources – either because you got too much and it cut you off from your people, or you got too little and your people can barely survive – that all of us might locate each other and find a way to redistribute and share in the joy of creating new systems… Since my first meeting at Grassroots International, my life has been more sewn together, more repaired.

2. Borikén is the Indigenous Taíno name for Puerto Rico.

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