Mothers on the Move (MOM)
This case is based on an interview with Wanda Salaman, Executive Director, on May 27, 2020, as well as the documents she has suggested, including their website.
Located in the Northwest Bronx, Bronx Community District 6 (CD6) has a long history of immigration, racial segregation, disinvestment, and redevelopment, which is reflected in the urban fabric. CD 6 is separated from neighboring districts by the Bronx zoo to the northeast, Metro-North railways to the west, and Cross Bronx Expressway to the south, which particularly has had negative social and environmental effects on the neighborhood. The majority of residents in this culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhood are Hispanic and African American, and about a third are foreign born. Rising rent levels pose an additional challenge to the residents who experience high unemployment, high poverty and low educational attainment levels.
CD 6 is a mixed-use district characterized by mid-to high-density housing, two main commercial strips and an industrial business zone in the south. While the numerous community gardens in the district are social and environmental assets, there is not sufficient amount of outdoor recreation space and parks. This makes the area vulnerable to heat waves and to flooding near the Bronx River.
Mothers on the Move (MOM)
Mothers on the Move (MOM) is a community-based organization, founded in 1992, that works primarily with the Latinx from Puerto Rico, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic; African-American, and West African immigrants in Longwood, Mott Haven, Hunts Point and Pt Morris neighborhoods. “Our doors are open to anyone, but we create space that is safe and empowering for women, youth, immigrants, LGBTQ, low-income and the unemployed. As the South Bronx has always been home to recently immigrated populations, we have long been known as a hub for immigrant rights and resources.” (https://mothersonthemove.org/wp/who-we-are/) “MOM envisions a society where resources and benefits are equally shared, and where people play a role in community decision-making in proportion to the degree they are affected. We are fighting for a South Bronx where future generations have clean air, well-resourced & community-controlled schools, safe streets, green space, good jobs and more control over the wealth that their labor creates” (https://mothersonthemove.org/wp/).
Membership and Governance
MOM organizes low-income people of color to take strategic leadership in campaigns to transform ourselves and our communities (https://mothersonthemove.org/wp/about-us/).
MOM rents its current space from Banana Kelly (https://www.bkcianyc.org/), and often allows other local groups to use the space, as discussed below.
Coalitions and partner organizations
“MOM has been long recognized as a leader in the South Bronx, taking the lead in groups including the the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance (http://www.sbrwa.org/), the Sheridan Alliance, Stabilizing NYC (https://stabilizingnyc.org/), and Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (https://www.facebook.com/KARABronx/). Additionally, MOM works closely with a broad network of other non-profits throughout the Bronx, including Greenworker Cooperatives, Nos Quedamos, Banana Kelly, Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition, The Point, Sustainable South Bronx, Urban Justice Center, Goodwill Industries, Osborne Association, Save Our Streets, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, South Bronx Unite, and more” (https://mothersonthemove.org/wp/coalitions/).
When, how and why did you join the organization?
Before Mothers on the Move, I was a youth leader at the Northwest Bronx’s Community and Clergy Coalition (https://www.northwestbronx.org/). Today, they have like ten different neighborhood groups. I was part of a community coalition. Later around 1995, I became an organizer for the Northwest Bronx CCC. I knew when Mothers on the Move got started. I heard about the organization and knew people that worked for Mothers on the Move. In 2002 I joined Mothers on the Move staff. I'm a board member of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. I just became the vice president of the board. I'm also a board member of Banana Kelly and Nos Quedamos. So I still believe in a lot of the other groups in our community. We work together, and sometimes we have challenges together. But I do believe in the other groups. I'm not getting paid to be involved in those organizations, but I serve in those groups (See also https://www.laundromatproject.org/womens-history-month-honoring-wanda-salaman-and-mothers-on-the-move/).
MOM is a grassroots organization. When you say grassroots, it means that it just comes from the bottom up. Mostly everybody who now works at Mothers On the Move or that is a member of the organization are people raised in the community. For me, [grassroots organizing means to] really work for the people in your community and be from the community.
Foundation and Evolution of MOM
Mothers on the Move was the only group at that time, in 1992, that I can remember was doing education organizing. Mothers on the Move was only doing education organizing when it started. I was in the Northwest Bronx doing work over there and being a member. But I used to hear about the work that these women were doing. Before that, I don't think The Point was around at that time when they started. So, MOM was one of the first, besides the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition that started in 1974, that was also doing grassroots organizing. It was like the other group that came around the block that started doing work. At Mothers on the Move, some of their staff came from People for Change, which was another church-based organization that used to do grassroots organizing. So many that you saw working for Mothers On the Move came from People for Change. In the area where the Mothers On the Move was in, the Hunts Point area, there was nothing going on at that time. They started organizing around education, and then around 1996, they started getting more into environmental justice work.
Those two things were important. First education because it was very bad. At the time, in 1992, it was mostly community boards and education boards that they had in the school. It's changed in so many different ways. But most of the people that were in those boards were older white people, white women or men. And most of them were so old that their children weren’t even in school any more. And one of the things that Mothers on the Move decided to do was to make sure that they got some of their members to be on the education boards and stuff like that.
Then for the environmental justice piece, one of the issues that we had in that area was the trucks going in and out of Hunts Point, creating a lot of traffic jams, and not only just traffic, because in 1986 they killed a little girl. That was one of the issues that led Mothers On the Move to say we have to stop the way that trucks go in and out Hunts Point. So, they started organizing around there. One of the things that happened over 56 years was that the city had never changed the truck route in Hunts Point. They had also never done the [traffic] islands in the middle of the road. So, some of the work that you see there, some people say they did it or whatever. But one of the people that started demanding to have [traffic] islands in Hunts Point and to change the truck route was Mothers On the Move.
And then around 2006, when I came in, one other problem that we had was NYOFCo or New York Organic Fertilizing Company that was taking our human waste and turning them into pellets. We took that as a campaign, and we started organizing the residents in Hunts Point. Then we partnered up with NRDC, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and sued the city and that company. And that was also a big victory for us because then the city stopped putting the money into the company, and that company went out of business. At least we had one less thing to worry about when it came to pollution in Hunts Point.
Before The Point and Mothers on the Move, there was no organization in that area, no type of organizing. We organized in Hunts Point with tenant associations. The Point doesn't do tenants association, and none of the other groups did tenants association. Mothers On the Move does tenants associations, we do tenant work in the buildings. We ask the tenants what is wrong? Do you have your hot water? Are there any kinds of services that you need? So, some people would say that they do tenant organizing, but they don't go inside a building. You have to go inside a building. You have to have your meeting in the building lobby.
What happened was that the ladies’ children were in elementary school, and we met them at a literacy class. They had dropped out of school, and the teacher was teaching them to get a GED and, through that whole process, they were able to learn more about organizing. That's how they got involved in organizing. Some of those ladies and their children had joined the organization or had worked in maybe 2003, 2004. We had a group of youth that started a committee called Youth on the Move. The youth were doing high school education, organizing between Youth on the Move, Sisters and Brothers United from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, and Make the Road. I forget the name of the other youth group, but they started the Urban Youth Collaborative.
Achievements and Challenges
One thing that they always talk about is when they got this superintendent, they were fighting with him to leave. He just left. They were very happy about that. This is the first campaign that I had, to push this man out of his position. It happened that he just retired. So, for people that was huge because that was the first thing that they could say they accomplished. They also made some changes in the Board of Education at that time.
I will also say that for sanitation. A lot of the things that we pushed for the Sanitation Department was for them to have better garbage cans. It was something that we did because when the Bronx Commission of Sanitation started giving the garbage cans to the buildings in the neighborhood, they came with a whole bunch of garbage cans that they gave us, and said, because of you guys, now we have to do this. The guy gave me three garbage cans and said, “We have to park this trailer truck in front of here, but can we use the bathroom while we do this work?” Yes, you guys could use our bathroom any time.
Also, all the repair work that we have forced building owners to make. In particular on Kelly Street there was a partnership between Banana Kelly and MOM doing the tenant organizing, working with some of the lawyers from the Urban Justice Center, making sure that we took the building away from the building owner. Then we worked together to make sure that we had a plan. The tenants had an agreement that when they were relocated from their apartments, they could come back when the renovation was completed. We did that in five different buildings in the same block. That was a huge victory for the organization because we were able to be part of a hundred units of housing redevelopment in the community.
And also, when they closed down, we won the lawsuit against NYFCo (New York Fertilizing Company). They also gave us 1.2 acres of land that was given to the community. We are working on that right now to make it an urban farm. I'm working with a set of other members, and they're working on an urban farm right now. Just little victories that people have throughout the community, like having people that I have worked with before that didn't believe in organizing, and now they do believe in organizing.
Organizing has also been very good stuff. One of our members, her name is Dr. Jones, when she started, she was a mother with two children that just wanted to go back to school and stuff like that. She started getting involved with community organizing, and now she's doing participatory medical work with some other friends. Also, a lot of her experiences are in our organization.
I guess the major challenge is gentrification, or not just gentrification, but displacement. Not having all the tools or resources that we need to help the people, or sometimes people just don't want to understand that it's not happening just because. The Bronx having the most people at risk of dying right now because of Coronavirus is not just a coincidence. We have the poor, and some of the worst types of stuff. So what are those things that we could do to change it? And how can we have the resources to make those changes? We don't want to believe in money or whatever. But without that, we cannot do the work that we want to do.
Sometimes it’s like, do we have the right staff that we need to have in our organization to change policies? I know that we had the right leadership, but who do we need to partner up with to make some policy changes? Because it’s not only just about making policy changes, we’ve been working on a lot of campaigns for a long time, and then when we get to the pattern of doing that campaign, and the one that has to make a change is a stupid politician. So what are the things that we need to do to make sure that our policy changes? Do we need to do electoral politics? Brainstorming what are the things that we need to do to accomplish things in our community?
Citywide Planning and Climate Change Initiatives
Right now we've just been talking a little bit about Stabilizing New York City mostly on housing stuff. And in the Bronx, we are working on a candidates’ forum on June 9th. So, we've been working on that together in Zoom conference calls, and the Census.
The coalition that I am part of is mostly with people that are in the Bronx. I'm in a coalition with Nos Quedamos, the Bronx Development Cooperative Initiative, Banana Kelly, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, so all the groups we are in coalition with are people that trust each other. And even staff who leave from one organization jump around to the different groups because we all trust in each other. So I guess it's also about trust and respecting each other. It’s really about the respect that you give each other, the relationship that you build with different directors or staff from different groups, how long you know each other, and that I could call them and have an honest conversation and not be competing with them. I don't want to compete with anybody.
Super Storm Sandy did not affect Hunts Point. We didn’t have stuff deep in Hunts Point. I know that The Point was working more around there. So, we partnered up with The Point on some other resiliency meetings and stuff like that. And personally, when the lights went out, the group GOLES [in Lower East Side] was having issues. And they were like, can you help us? So, I had to drive downtown and take them a generator and things that they were asking us to give them. But as an organization, it did not impact us. We did give out food to people that live in Soundview, because some homes in Soundview got flooded. But we didn’t have people in our area that got impacted.
Before COVID, we were still organizing tenants in the area. One of the things that Sue and I created was an LLC to deal with green technology and stuff like that. So that was going full on, but with the pandemic, we had to stop doing the work we were trying to do. And now, how can we use some of those technologies to deal with this new world? Also, what are the things that we need to think about? We do need to have a membership meeting to get input from members. What do they want to do? Because the first thing[you hear] is everybody is stressed out.
It was about creating jobs, really. Continually doing tenant association, for me, was to help create jobs which is something we still need to do now anyway. Now it's probably even worse. Also, we were working on Southern Boulevard, and one of the things that we're working on right now with the Southern Boulevard Campaign is a community plan. Right now, we work on Longwood, Hunts Point, West Farms, and Mott Haven. When they started, they would mostly work on by community or by school district. So, I think it was school district eight, mostly Hunts Point and Longwood. We go as far as Soundview. Through all these things that's going on, we have a full project going on with the Mary Mitchell Center and serve at least a hundred families or more a month.
Meeting Space and Community
MOM’s first space was 928 Intervale. Millie and Barbara got that space. The one that we have right now, was something I asked Banana Kelly for, the owner of the building. I told Harry DeRienzo, the former Director, that we needed to find another home. And he told me, “I'm about to get this building, and when I get it, I will show you the office”. When he showed me the office, the gates were electronic. As soon as we saw that thing, I said I wanted it without looking inside because I was tired of rolling the gates all the time. The space happened to be a nice space, and the only thing that we had to do was paint it, and give it our touches and stuff like that.
The NY Foundation gave us a grant through the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI). So we took our ten thousand dollar grant that they gave us to do anything we wanted to, buy paint, buy desks, and replace everything that we knew was trashy. When we moved out of the old office, we barely took anything, only our files. I said we want to find money to fix this place. So Frances, her sister, her cousin, mostly women, painted the office. I guess just making sure that it is nice and painted and is always kept clean was the main stuff. In the other space, I used to let an electrical class use the space, and that was mostly men. And one of the fights was "el baño siempre está sucio" (the bathroom is always dirty). One of the decisions was that we cannot let the electrical guys come with us to the new space. They have their own space, but they always wanted our space because our space was bigger. So one of the things that we made sure when we moved to the new space was not bringing the guys back. I didn't bring the guys with me. They were a little upset at me -- but I was like, I cannot carry your guys' organization any longer.
We wanted a space that was more intimate. It is a huge thing for the ladies in the organization. Not only for people from Mothers On the Move, because we also lend the space to other groups, like a Muslim women's group. When they come, at a certain time, they need to do their prayer. Being comfortable and clean enough is important for them, so when they do their prayer they can feel nice in the space. We would also use it for the childcare class.
Right now, our space is converted into a grocery store. Since it's not a big location, people are not paying as much mind to us, so we are able to store groceries. I have two different entrances in the office, so I lend one entrance to a group called Take Back the Bronx, led by Lisa Ortega, who used to be a former organizer at Mothers on the Move. They are doing a lot of mutual aid work. The bigger office is where MOM and the Mary Mitchell Youth and Families Center operate. We have been buying food and bagging the food at the office and taking it to buildings that we work with.
Visions for the future
Nobody knows. We are living in a new world and so nobody really knows. Right now, we're into organizing, but we’re looking more into social service. So, what are the services that people in our community need to survive for the next couple of months? This is what we are doing. We got a grant. Mary Mitchell Center and us are like one organization, but we are also different. Mary Mitchell is much more into social service and Mothers on the Move is into organizing. So, we got a grant from New York Community Trust for a hundred thousand dollars, and for two months, we are going to concentrate on feeding people in the community.
Something we are still doing anyway is calling new people to see what other services that they have or they need. So we are calling people up, asking them what's going on? What do they need? But I guess one of the main things that we are trying to do is create a database of people, and then later on, as part of a committee, decide how we are dealing with this. So what's going on in the world? Right now we are seeing where people are at, and then later on, we have to deal with a lot of stuff because soon building owners are going to start taking people to court. Right now, there is a rent freeze. You have to pay rent, but right now, no building owner could take you to court. A lot of people are paying rent but, there's a lot of people that are not paying rent. As August comes, the owners will take people to court and we will see a lot of tenants calling us about resources and what they need to do. Can we get them a lawyer? This, that, and the other. So, we have to be prepared to help people.
Lessons from MOM and Women’s Leadership
The members from back before were like the work that we do is out of love, more than anything for the love for the community, and the love for the people that live in the community, and also for justice. So, it's not like anybody was just trying to do this work because they want to be malingers, and because they think that it is a big paycheck. Volunteers don’t get paid and the staff barely gets paid, so this is something that people do because they love and they believe in the stuff that they are working on.
One of the problems I have, sometimes, working with some males and some ladies too, is that they have ego problems. When you work with such people, it's different because everybody is just working on ego and not on trust. So maybe that's why I made the conscious decision not to be on every committee around the world, especially coalitions, because sometimes coalitions would just drown you. And sometimes not everybody trusts each other.
Right now, one of our youth members, Akeelah, she’s 30 years old. She was one of my youth members, and for the last three years, she's been my housing organizer. So it's like whatever people bring to the table. They say that they want to work and we will support them to do those things. I don't know if you know about the Black Project. This woman Tanya Fields is from a group called the Black Project. Tanya was a member of Mothers on the Move, she learned more and wanted to do things. She then opened herself a community garden and now she has a lot of different projects.
Tanya started her own organization, but Tanya started at Mothers On the Move. The same thing with Lisa Ortega. She got a group called Take Back the Bronx and they do mutual aid, and they do different things, but the way that I support Take Back the Bronx is by giving them space to have meetings. A lot of the members of Take Back the Bronx are professors. They have a mixed group of people. Some of them are professors. Some of them are artists. They don't want to be connected to one thing or the other, and they have trust. We have built trust that we let them use the space and have meetings in the space. A lot of the majority of the people in those groups are also women.