For the first time since its inception, IWR was able to invest staff time and organizational resources into the New Mexico legislative session this year. We knew we’d be in for a ride, to say the least. Two months later, two of our staff reflect on their time during the legislative session.
What was your background with the legislative session? Did you have any?
SH: Prior to my time with IWR, I had only really heard of the legislative session through my previous job, but in a different capacity (behavioral health funding, specifically) - so really no experience being involved, other than tabling at the Roundhouse for a couple of hours once.
JL: I have organized with a group of Asian femmes since 2018, and we were involved in advocating for Senate Bill 10 in 2021, the Respect NM Women and Families Act, along with a collaborative of other repro orgs in NM. Due to capacity around our full-time jobs, and my own general interest in *not* being involved in leg session, I intentionally stayed in the background with this initiative.
What did you think it would be like?
SH: My first thought was people in fancy suits running around everywhere like it was complete chaos. I also thought it would be more of a diligent process with all those involved - turns out I was wrong. Many folks are not professional and are not there for their constituents, like they claim, and they make their decisions based on their individual and personal morals and values.
JL: A bit superficial, to be honest, and frustrating, but I wanted to go into it as open-minded as possible. It has been a few years since I was even loosely involved, and I knew there’d be opportunity and time to learn something new and engage differently.
What was your biggest takeaway? Your favorite part, lessons learned, etc.
SH: My biggest takeaway was that it’s very emotionally and mentally draining on every person who steps into the Roundhouse. Some pieces of legislation are a waste of time, while some are really important to youth and the community.
I learned more about how IWR works and how certain legislation impacts us all, and I’ve come to a deeper understanding on how to move forward and continue to learn, always working to be a better advocate.
What I also recognized is how tribal leaders show up to support one another or testify on behalf of educational programming/financial support. I believe that culturally-based education programs are important, but there are also many other issues that they could also be supporting – not once did I see tribal leaders supporting legislation that impact our communities beyond education, like Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) and its impact on Indigenous families, health and wellness, or environmental issues.
JL: Despite the hurdles of this system, there are so many ways in which community shows up to continue to fight for themselves, their people, and their futures. Seeing young people, especially, hold their own against legislators and work the system is incredibly badass, powerful and inspiring - and humbling.
I know the existing systems and structures we have aren’t everything, and it’s the people who always matter the most - if most legislators and legislation were focused on communities, it would look very different, but this is politics, and it’s a designed to play out a certain way. It’s complicated and difficult to have to work within the confines of whatever we have now knowing, and personally believing, it cannot be reformed, but it doesn’t mean we give up.
Like Sandy said, it takes an immense emotional toll on you, and it’s important to ask, what does it mean to be in community, to show up for one another? Because it doesn’t look like the legislative session, and it’s key to our collective survival and liberation to know that.
What do you hope to get out of it next year, if anything?
SH: Gratification that we did our best to advocate for our communities, to support the passage of helpful bills and stand against those that harm our people. This year was a first for me, and I hope in the coming year, I will be more organized, more prepared, and have enough mental and emotional capacity to continue to thrive in the work that we do.
JL: Better strategy on how we want to remain involved as an organization and share the information out with our communities, but also folks who have yet to learn about IWR or even how to navigate this system. It’s complicated and inaccessible to most people, so we have a lot of opportunities to educate ourselves and each other.
Last, but not least, how do you think we can use what we have learned during the session to bring back to our communities? Can we?
SH: We can have more discussions around policies that impact our communities. I’m hoping it can lead to our communities learning how to better advocate for ourselves, each other, the land, our sovereignty, etc. Sharing our experiences at the legislative session matter because not everyone knows about how it works, what happens there, what it’s about, the interactions we have with elected officials, the pros/cons, etc. We can bring what we have learned when we are tabling or just being in community with one another.
JL: Despite all my ick feelings about legislative session, I actually think I learned a lot and believe it will shape how I see our work moving forward. Similar to what Sandy shared– it will lead to more discussions with our communities; just talking about it in a real way to each other will have an impact. We are taught that we have individual control over so much of this, and we don’t, but we are powerful together.