The Youth Organizers Unafraid of Old School Tactics: Dorchester Organizing and Training Initiative

Audrey Irvine-Broque

In 2011, the Institute of Asian American Studies at UMass Boston published a study called “Asian American We,” in collaboration with the Asian American Resource Workshop (AARW), a Boston-based organization “working towards the empowerment of the Asian Pacific American community to achieve its full participation in U.S. society.”

The “Asian American We” study examined civic participation of low-income Asian American adults between the ages of 18 and 25 in the Boston area and made recommendations for how participation in civic matters could be improved among this community. Out of this report, AARW, along with six Vietnamese American young adults in Dorchester, formed the Dorchester Organizing and Training Initiative (DOT-I).

DOT-I is a leadership development and organizing training program for Vietnamese American young adults (16-30) in Fields Corner, Dorchester. DOT-I provides leadership development and organizing training in a culturally-specific frame with the intention to move participants towards engaging in organizing issue-based campaigns. The program remains youth-led to this day: young leaders are involved in hiring staff, recruiting program participants, developing curriculum, leading campaigns, and setting the direction of the program. In 2018, DOT-I was the recipient of a Grassroots Fund’s Young Leaders grant to support their work.

Currently, DOT-I's organizing committee is working on addressing issues of displacement and gentrification in the neighborhood of Dorchester. They do this through involvement with “Dorchester Not For Sale”, a multiracial, multi-lingual, and multi-generational collective of Dorchester community residents pushing back on gentrification, development, and related city planning processes in the neighborhood. DOT-I aims to engage Dorchester Vietnamese residents in the planning process to make sure they have a voice at the table, and to make sure that the city planning process is informed by neighborhood residents who will be most impacted by the city’s planning process.

In addition to the organizing work with “Dorchester Not For Sale” (DotNot4Sale), DOT-I also organizes to fight against the deportations impacting the Vietnamese and broader Southeast Asian community, happening locally and nationally. For the past 1.5 years, DOT-I has been organizing in response to the increased detentions and deportations happening in the Southeast Asian community by providing direct support to vulnerable and impacted families, organizing community forums and teach-ins to raise awareness about deportations happening in the community, and building the leadership and organizing capacity of more Vietnamese young adults to be able to respond to the deportation crisis in the current political climate.

While the organizing work against gentrification in the Dorchester neighborhood and mobilizing against Southeast Asian deportations may feel like two very different and separate issues, AARW/DOT-I sees them as linked. They have approached organizing on these issues within the Vietnamese community by grounding their frameworks and organizing strategy in the histories and experiences of the Vietnamese and broader Southeast Asian diaspora.

They see the detentions, deportations, and gentrification, to be part of larger cycles of displacement. Southeast Asian communities historically fled Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos due to war and genocide, to resettle in the United States seeking safety and survival. 43 years later, the Southeast Asian community is being targeted for deportations to countries they fled due to a war perpetuated by the U.S., and unable to find safety and security in their new homes and the neighborhood due to gentrification.

While DOT-I might be run by millennial organizers, they are no strangers to old-school organizing tactics. They see door knocking, flyering at train stations, and conducting direct outreach as necessary to engage a wide section of their community, and are out there doing this work to create multiracial, multilingual, and multigenerational community power. This includes providing ongoing support and training to Vietnamese organizers, many of whom are 1.5 and 2nd generation, to develop and strengthen their Vietnamese language ability to hold more conversations with community members and organize in-language.

The young people leading DOT-I believe that ending these cycles of displacement is core to building the power of people in a community and strengthening the local economy and environment. “Our communities are here because the US was there. Our families fled war and genocide 43 years ago for survival, and 43 years later, many of our families and communities are still living through a survival mentality. When communities are being forcibly displaced multiple times, as we’ve seen for the Southeast Asian community, living and moving from a place other than survival seems unimaginable. But we believe that holding space for collective healing, to support the leadership and organizing of our young people and community, and building collective power, will begin to move us and our community from a place of surviving to thriving,” said Kevin Lam, AARW’s Organizing Director. This year, DOT-I will facilitate the sixth year of their leadership development and organizing training program with ten new leaders. You can learn more and support their work here.