Laura Abellera is the Western Wisconsin Campus Organizer with Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) and is based in La Crosse. We spoke with Laura, who is a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse graduate, about LIT and some of the work the group is involved in, like working to defund police and developing a new generation of radical leaders.
For people who don’t know, what is LIT?
At Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT), we are working to align radical youth of color led organizing, liberation, anti-oppression education, and public policy innovation to create power that meets the needs of, and is controlled by, the incredible young people of our communities. We provide a variety of leadership development programming, as well as campus, high school, and cultural organizing. We also encourage and support young people in engaging their civic and political power and influence.
As LIT’s Western Wisconsin Campus Organizer, what are some of the campaigns/issues that you are involved with at the moment?
As an organization, we have seen success in high school campaigns around divestment from policing and investment into community care including student support resources, restorative justice initiatives, and efforts to improve the climate for learning. We are hoping to provide college students the same support around divestment from violence and policing on their campuses. Since it’s also an incredibly consequential election year, we will also be focusing energy and efforts on voter registration, education, outreach, and combating voter suppression that often impacts Black and Brown students.
You work on college campuses – what is the climate like for racially marginalized students?
I can speak from my experience attending, working within, and now working to transform a PWI (predominantly white institution) from the outside. I’ve witnessed students experience harassment, hate, transphobia, both overt and covert racist practices and policies, and I share my own experiences with them of tokenization, erasure, cultural appropriation, tone-policing, and gaslighting. It is inarguable at this point that massive structural change is coming, and how communities like La Crosse respond to this will be imperative in avoiding further delays of justice.
LIT had a major victory in Milwaukee recently, with the school board’s vote to remove police from schools there. A similar debate is taking place in La Crosse. What are some of the lessons we can learn from Milwaukee?
First and foremost, listen to, amplify, and most importantly follow the voices of young people. Follow the lead of the people who are doing this work every day and who have built these important relationships with students. The following Huey Newton quote guides a lot of the work that we do at LIT and I think it perfectly exemplifies what we need to do as community members and organizers: “The revolution has always been in the hands of the young. The young always inherit the revolution.” Policing serves as a temporary “band-aid” solution to trauma, without addressing the underlying issues that are rooted in inequity and racism. Removal of police from schools is a win in and of itself and will only create additional opportunities to allocate funds for restorative justice, meeting students’ basic needs, providing counselors, and mental health support for students.
Why is it important to remove police from schools?
This is a larger conversation and collective reckoning that we will have to navigate as a community, as well as nationally, and it begins with humility and context. The origins of American policing (and our entire carceral system) is inherently racist and rooted in upholding white supremacy. Large scale divestment from all aspects of policing, including School Resource Officers (SROs), city and state police, federal law enforcement, ICE, and the American prison industrial complex, will eliminate much of the state-sanctioned violence that acts as a genocidal force toward communities of color.
We’re facing many big systemic challenges right now, from police brutality to climate change, economic inequality, and much more. What do you see as the path forward and what can older activists learn from the young people you work with?
We need to be following the wisdom, energy, and guidance of young people, and do so with trust, intention, and the willingness to be humble in our own experiences, recognizing that THEY know what is best for THEM and that they are inheriting a revolution that we are all responsible for continuing by uplifting our new leaders. I try to maintain radical hope that our little city of La Crosse can and will enthusiastically eliminate persisting and harmful archaic societal structures, and removing cops from schools is a necessary (and small) step toward justice.
Finally, is there anything else you want the public to know? How can people get involved and help with the work LIT is doing locally?
It’s an understatement to say that I absolutely adore the work that I get to do with this organization and the young people I have the privilege to support and work alongside, so I would love to speak with community supporters whenever possible. Feel free to support our work by amplifying young voices and power whenever you are able to, in whatever capacity you can access. Sign up to receive major updates, always include students and young people in policy and decision-making conversations, do the internal anti-racism work necessary for true liberation, or contact me with any questions or further discussion.
Interview by Eric Timmons. Send questions or story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Top photo credit: A demonstration calling for the removal of police from Milwaukee Public Schools courtesy of Michael Snow.