Following are excerpts from a welcoming talk given by Eva Panjwani at the Nov. 17-18 Workers World Party conference in New York City. Panjwani is a member of the Durham WWP branch.
It would be easy to make our assessment of the year 2012 as a major year of fightback against repression. After all, 2012 is the year of Trayvon Martin and Alan Blueford, two innocent young men of color gunned down in the streets.
2012 is the year of the struggle around the arrest of CeCe McDonald, an African-American transwoman harassed, assaulted and imprisoned in Minnesota.
2012 is a year of countless austerity measures and cuts. It is the year the student debt bubble passed $1 trillion.
The U.S. election cycle yet again put reproductive rights on the chopping block. We see in 2012 the drone strikes on Yemen, and the fresh new attacks on Gaza.
It is the year of the superstorm Hurricane Sandy, showing us what happens when a society is structured around profit instead of people’s needs.
On the eve of my 25th birthday, I am reminded again of the words of my late father.
The night of my 18th birthday, my father told me, “Always be proud of who you are and what you have achieved.” Born in Pakistan to a Burmese mother and a Bengali father with Persian and Indian roots, being proud of who I am has always been about remembering where I come from. Many of my fellow first- and second-generation immigrants know the pressures of working so hard to maintain a model minority or immigrant identity.
But there is also an immense pressure to succeed.
I often find myself thinking about the last part of my dad’s words. In a capitalist society, success is so often measured by how much money you make, how many letters are behind your name, how much you can assimilate into the hierarchal society. In my third year of college in North Carolina, I lost the funding for my full merit scholarship and have not been in school since that time.
Growing up in a family that pushed me to be smart, to be educated, to have a degree, this was a very difficult time for me. I felt aimless, without a family, without a community, without a direction for my future.
I felt I had failed my father. I found myself even more drawn to activism and community organizing. Ever since I was in high school, organizing had been an outlet to speak out, to use my voice, to be proud of who I am. All of a sudden it was a source of not just community, but true respect for my experiences, for the work I do, even for my intellect.
I started working with the Raleigh chapter of FIST — Fight Imperialism, Stand Together — and became closer with the folks who are now my comrades. I couldn’t be more proud to be a member of Workers World Party, a truly multinational organization with so many role models for a young woman of color.
Under capitalism, it was considered a success or an achievement for me to survive, to be able to clothe and feed and house myself.
But after studying more seriously alternative models of organizing societies, I now see that we should all be given the tools needed to survive. But also, I see that I have achieved much. I am an organizer, a mentor; I am out and proud of being Muslim and queer; I am in a party that affirms my identity; I have survived homelessness; I have survived nights in domestic violence shelters; I have survived the loss of my father; and I have achieved knowing my purpose, knowing my voice.
So when we look back at the year 2012, I ask you to remember the words of Roshan Panjwani, to always be proud of who you are and what you have achieved. This year, our struggle has achieved the inspiring strikes of the Chicago public school teachers, followed by the freedom fighters doing actions at Walmarts. Our Party has been instrumental in challenging the resegregation of Boston schools. We have been at the forefront of public speakouts against police brutality and repression in Baltimore.
And this September in Charlotte, N.C., we pulled off one of our Party’s major mobilizations — pouring months of organizing and outreach into helping build the Coalition to March on Wall Street South. In building in the seat of the Southeast financial capital, in an anti-union state, we didn’t just pull off a successful march of over 2,000 people, we woke the sleeping giant of community organizing in Charlotte.
Right before the Democratic National Convention, we put on the 1st Annual Marxist School of Theory and Struggle, grounding our work with a revolutionary analysis, while simultaneously building the Party. We have achieved much, and we must be proud of who we are, because who you are is the global movement against capitalism, and who you are is my family.