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Comrades, community, and commitment

Why I joined Tempest

In what will be a recurring series, Tempest member Aileen Cerrillos reflects on their experience organizing in university and NGO-modeled spaces and their decision to join the Tempest Collective project.

I was first drawn to organizing and activism as a college student in 2018. I was going to protests against tuition hikes, participating in actions against border patrol, and campaigning for a sanctuary campus policy. Like many of my peers, I was becoming aware of the insidious capitalist system that wrecked the world around me, and as a result, I was becoming radicalized.

However, in many ways, I had bought into the idea that higher education and single-issue campaigns were the solution to the ills I saw around me. At the time, I was meeting with co-workers and hosting events for people who I shared identities with. This identity-based organizing was and continues to be a crucial location for making sense of and reimagining the world, but often (at least in my experience), its promise is obscured by the faulty narrative that our current institutions could be reformed to provide enough space for oppressed people to survive.

When COVID-19 struck, followed by the inspiring waves of Black and Brown rebellion in the summer of 2020, I quickly learned that neither the university nor NGO-style campaigns would or could provide the solutions we desperately needed and that we deserved more than survival. As the year unfolded, I joined other organizing projects while simultaneously bearing witness to continued societal upheaval via the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings, a deadly governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic, unapologetic fascist politicians, and the introduction of over four hundred anti-trans bills that went nearly unchallenged by the institutionalized NGO driven queer organizations. Through finding community, political education, and continued struggle, it was becoming clear to me that the only way to build a world without oppression is through a socialist project.

I joined Tempest following the Marxist Day School that was hosted by the collective in Tucson in 2023. While I had organized alongside Tempest members for some time, it was my participation in the day school that pushed me to join the organization. The process of reading Marxist and revolutionary texts with forty other members of the Tucson community, in addition to discussing and applying that knowledge to what we had identified as gaps in our organizing practices were the core pieces missing from my previous organizing. In other words, Tempest was the political home that I had been searching for.

Within Tempest, organizing for ‘single-issue’ struggles and organizing for revolution are not placed in opposition to each other contrary to what I expected. Fighting for reproductive justice, trans people’s rights to healthcare, land back, and the abolition of police are all central to a socialist struggle. I learned that it is the role of a revolutionary socialist to move where the people move, and to organize where people struggle because people will always fight back. This is the only way to grow our political muscle–fighting for concessions from the ruling class. This does not mean pushing leftists to take over the democratic party; it means building our political power through the joining and strengthening of revolutionary organizations.

But why Tempest? Why not any other revolutionary organization? Simply put, I believe Tempest’s politics offers the clearest vision of why and how to be in solidarity with people worldwide. Just as we can learn so much from revolutionary struggle, we can also critique and debate the success of these struggles through democratic, principled, and importantly, comradely debate  This praxis, this openness seeks to identify and amplify the dreams, wishes, and desires of ordinary people in search of liberation and democracy. Tempest’s commitment to internationalism, its steadfast solidarity, and its sharp critique of the imperial forces everywhere are what distinguishes Tempest as a political home for all those committed to socialism from below.

I am a member of Thompson House (a queer and trans housing group), a rank-and-file member of United Campus Workers Arizona, and a member of the Tucson Coalition for Palestine. I feel as though I am still growing as an organizer but my membership with Tempest makes me a more disciplined, helpful, and confident organizer in these different capacities. Tempest is a political home that allows me to be in the same room as some of the most brilliant, disciplined organizers I have ever met and encourages me to be a democratic participant with my own contributions.

I have felt for a long time that the closest thing to a faith I have is the study and struggle for socialism. It forces me to believe in a world that I may not live to see and believe that people truly want better. It is therefore an act of survival. The nihilism inherent to a lived experience under this system is intoxicating, but I have learned that it is my comrades, community, and commitment to organization that provide the hope and discipline required for the life-long struggle.

Featured image credit: Victoria Pickering; modified by Tempest.

Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Tempest Collective. For more information, see “About Tempest Collective.”

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Aileen Cerrillos View All

Aileen Cerrillos is a queer, Latinx member of the Tempest Collective currently based in the U.S. Southwest. They are a higher education worker with a background in campus-based queer, trans, and anti-racist organizing. When they are not in a meeting, putting off readings, or occasionally writing, Aileen can be found having heated political discussions at the local Mexican restaurant.