David Ramirez is a member of St. Rose Catholic Church. He serves as the Treasurer of the ACT Board.
How did you get involved in ACT?
About seven years ago, I was waiting for my wife Rita after Mass. Our friend Ida Martinez asked Rita to work with a group Bishop Soto was starting to help immigrants. I encouraged my wife to join and she said she would if I would go with her. That is how we found ourselves part of the Diocesan Immigration Support Network (DISN). Over time I learned that the DISN was a joint project of the Diocese of Sacramento and Sacramento ACT.
What is organizing?
Organizing is empowering people to improve living conditions in their communities by teaching them simple concepts that enable them to join with others effectively to move people in authority to make changes.
There is something about the ACT approach, the PICO model that guides us, something about the collective experience and talents and faith of all the ACT volunteers from so many congregations and denominations, most definitely something about the talent, energy, and wisdom, and commitment of the Sacramento ACT staff that, I believe, brings about miracles!
How has your understanding of organizing changed?
Initially I joined the DISN to do work for the bishop and my church to help immigrants understand the immigration system and learn how to better themselves. I didn’t know anything about organizing except that people would come to our meetings with funny ideas of how we could get some things accomplished. We learned new ways of doing things from these ACT and PICO organizers that led to a string of successes.
Later on Austin Aslan (former ACT organizer) invited me to some Ceasefire meetings and meetings with the sheriff. I was a little uneasy to see that we were not talking about immigrants there and we weren’t doing our Catholic DISN agenda. The Ceasefire clergy, though, were passionate and inspiring in their dedication to ending gang violence. I saw that gang violence was also a major concern of the immigrant community. DISN and Ceasefire were on parallel tracks. We should support each other.
I see that happening now throughout all our campaigns.
What issues have you worked on?
When I initially became involved with DISN, I saw myself in a supporting role because of my limited Spanish. I thought I could help by passing out papers and setting up chairs at meetings. I actually helped with planning, surveying immigrant needs, conducting forums and speaking at community actions. I participated in quite a few research meetings, one of those “funny ideas” that are so powerful.
I have worked on immigration issues including DUI Checkpoints, the TRUST ACT, and DACA enrollments. I have worked on Ceasefire and Prop 47. After I shared some of my background in real estate and health manpower development, Annie Fox, ACT Lead Organizer, put me to work on the Healthcare LOC where we took on ACA enrollment and Health4All, especially at the Sacramento County level.
What was a moment when you realized the power of organizing?
I learned to appreciate the power of research at my first research meeting with Doris Matsui’s office. We were all newbies fumbling around but still gathered a lot of useful information, including the fact that no one else, on either side of our issue, was talking to her office. In fact they were very grateful for our input, since they had no other source of ground level information about it.
But my eyes were really opened when we were working on the issue of DUI checkpoints. At that time, when immigrants were stopped at police checkpoints, even though they were generally sober, they were afraid to show their identification for fear of revealing their immigration status. This resulted in their frequent arrest, families left on the roadside, and their cars being impounded for at least 30 days, and the fees were so high that this amounted to confiscation of cars.
At my first Sacramento ACT action, I presented an extensive research report, and then watched as Sacramento Police Captain Sam Somers, now Chief of Police, stood up before 300 people at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and told them that Sacramento police would not ask them or be concerned in any way with their immigration status. He explained that arrests mainly resulted from failure to present ID, but that they would be very satisfied with passport ID or Matricula Consular from their consulate. He said that they would be extended reasonable time to get a licensed driver to come to take their car home instead of having it impounded, and that any impoundments would be just one day for first time citations under new rules.
This was a life changing moment for many, myself included, as I realized the power of organizing to bring about change.
What role does your faith play in your work with ACT?
I remember conversations with a childhood friend about faith and works. I think that Christian faith requires me to make myself useful. Although I have had periods of doubt, I think that maybe I am being called to do this.
Pope Francis seems to support what we are doing at ACT. In a recent speech he encouraged lay people to work together, to go out and work to help the poor and vulnerable, and to work with people from other faiths to build community. I thought, this is a description of ACT!
How has your congregation’s involvement with ACT impacted your congregation?
Many parishioners have participated in forums and actions regarding their legal rights and responsibilities, relations with police, DACA enrollments, and Affordable Care ACT enrollments.
What would you say to someone who says that ACT is just a political organization?
ACT is what a political organization should be: one that helps the affected people address their issues through the political process! We are not partisan. We do not endorse candidates. We do not make donations to influence politicians.
Having said that, some geniuses created this model where we build an army of volunteers united by faith in our Creator who work together to fulfill our calling, to carry out our responsibilities, to express our love, to find our joy. I believe that the changes we seek are ordained to happen, but they require human participation for their fulfillment.
What is your vision of a healthy, thriving community?
A healthy community is one in which everyone is free to participate in the process without having to work 2 or 3 jobs all their lives – a level playing field. People should have access to equal education, housing, work, and the means to restore and maintain sound mental and physical health .
What is the role of ACT in Sacramento?
The role of ACT is to teach people to address their own issues effectively. We teach them how. We help them do it. We do it with them.
How do you want people to reflect on ACT 10 years from now?
I wish I could think that our work would be all done, but I can’t imagine that. I would just like them to say that we are helping people affectively address the issues of the day. I would love if our efforts were being led by someone who reads this today and thinks they would like help out and grow with us.