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In the Balance: Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan

September 19, 2018

Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Class of ’11 graduate, can most often be found traveling to meet clients or leading solidarity delegations in Latin America. When she’s not on a plane, she’s “seditiously conspiring” to help communities challenge systemic oppression. Not only is she an attorney and a professor, she is also an avid dancer and cook. Here, she tells us how she gets it done.

 

 

On a typical morning

I begin most of my days by easing into them. I try to include time for meditation, even if it’s brief, to help prepare me for the intensity of the day and to reflect. I spend my commute getting caught up with my friends and community via social media, breaking news stories, and some reflective podcasts, particularly “On Being,” which really grounds me and gives me a great perspective for this journey of life on which we are all travelers.

 

On what she thinks every American should be paying attention to right now 

We have all been outraged for the past two years by Trump and his administration’s normalizing of misogyny and establishing federal policies based on racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic ideology. It is very evident that these policies have harmed our communities. What is perhaps less visible is how they have also emboldened others to behave in the same way, including some employers who now feel they have the license to mistreat or discriminate against their workers because of how they look or speak. The public condemnation of this administration’s open hostility against immigrants hasn’t impacted employers because they do not face any consequences for their actions. Similarly, the #MeToo movement has not fully reached low-wage, immigrant workers and women of color who continue to labor in industries rife with sexual harassment and abuse. It is our job to help make visible the conditions under which they continue to labor, as well as to hold accountable those who continue to exploit them.

 

What people need to know about the state of Puerto Rico and the rights of Puerto Ricans today

One year ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, laying bare centuries of political despair and surfacing the deep economic depression. While most people responded to the humanitarian crisis that resulted, in part, from the (un)natural phenomenon, it was really the criminal government neglect that caused at least 3,000 people to die, hundreds of thousands to evacuate, and the entire commonwealth to be left without power.

 

While Puerto Rico will take decades to recover, it is the toxic combination of colonialism, disaster capitalism, and climate change that is actually ravaging the island and attempting to remake it into a tax-haven playground for the ultra-wealthy. The United States – in our name – continues to hold Puerto Rico as a colony and, as a result, has imposed a federal fiscal control board to run the island. The board – composed of seven bankers and financial executives – has full authority to make public and fiscal policy decisions, and it can, and has, vetoed local elected government’s decisions. The board, combined with recent Supreme Court decisions, cemented Puerto Rico’s status as a colony with no ability to make autonomous decisions about its economic or political future. This is an outrage and should lead all of us to demand a stop to this pillaging . We cannot be complicit in the actions of our government, when it runs counter to the fundamental principles of human rights, including one as basic as the right to self-determination.

 

On returning to CUNY Law to facilitate the first Critical Race Conversation 

It is always such an honor for me to be back at CUNY Law and to share space with the esteemed members of our community. Being able to share my experiences working for racial justice and immigrants’ rights with students was so insightful. In some ways, I realized how much my vision and approach to this work has evolved since I was a student. I also realized that we are still having different versions of the same conversation, and what we are often looking for is to be seen in our work and our lives. The failure to do so really compromises our collective integrity, because it is, in fact, our collective responsibility to make sure that we hold each other accountable to supporting, embodying, and pushing racial justice work.

 

On why she loves her job

I have always felt it is a great privilege to do justice work because there is great responsibility that comes with it, especially if you have been entrusted to speak with and for communities. The communities that I am a part of have taught me so much about what it means to live a life of dignity.

 

Because of the collective wisdom of my clients, my comrades, and my community, I have been able to learn how to do both great movement and lawyering work. I am a board member for the Center for Constitutional Rights and MADRE. Both have played such instrumental roles in my professional and political formation, particularly as it relates to transnational solidarity. The National Lawyers Guild is the perfect example of those principles in action. For example, often in justice spaces in the U.S., we tend to have a hyper-local focus on issues, which I think is a result of American exceptionalism leaking through our activist lenses. We have had the luxury of not having to think about transnational solutions to our issues, or seeking solidarity from others abroad who are fighting against the same systemic oppression, perhaps as a direct result of U.S. intervention or policies directed at their countries.

 

After Trump was elected, things shifted somewhat, for better and worse. I felt that it was the first time where we were actually seeking solidarity from our compañeros and compañeras who had long struggled against fascist and neo-fascist regimes. Though we might experience this fascist moment as a uniquely American problem, it is part of the global rise of nationalist, fascist, and “alt-right” movements centered in white supremacist ideology. I have seen this very clearly in my work while traveling to Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico, where these same struggles have taken various forms over the years. I saw this recently when I went to Palestine, which has been fighting against apartheid and ethnic cleansing for 70 years. Developing a nuanced analysis that is able to recognize the many manifestations of structural oppression and its various institutions has been critical to my development as a lawyer, an activist, and freedom fighter.

 

On how she spends her downtime

My work is not a job – it’s my life. There is no time I ever stop working, and, in the same way, there is no time I stop living. Being able to flow between all aspects of my life feels natural and allows me to build in time for activities I love. When I travel, I try to find time for dancing with friends. When I’m in Puerto Rico, I host a traveling dinner party and cook a vegan meal for friends and activists. I am able to care for my community in a very different way than serving as a lawyer. I also am on the board of an organic farm and agricultural project in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in which food is a form of sovereignty.

 

On her plans for upcoming projects or initiatives

I’ve started writing more, and the more I write, the more I realize just how much I have to say. I hope to continue to find this time, perhaps writing longer pieces or maybe a chapter.

 

Related Categories: Alumni, Spotlight

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