Organizing: December 2010 Archives

Phila New Years 2009.jpg
I'd like to join my co-blogger Kyle in wishing our readers a happy new year. It has been a roller coaster of a year, but we're not in the same place we were on January 1, 2010. While going forward we may not have the same unity of purpose that came at the end of the year from pushing for a discrete piece of legislation, the DREAM Act, there is new momentum and energy stemming from that push. And the new year will bring opportunity for new ideas and strategies. They will be necessary to counter new threats from increasingly anti-immigrant legislatures on the state and national level. But how many nativists went on hunger strike in 2010? How many marched over a thousand miles to raise awareness of their cause? How many were arrested in acts of civil disobedience which could lead to exile from their families and communities? I don't remember any. And that is why we will win.

So from Philadelphia on New Year's Eve, Happy New Year!

[Image: Rob Rudloff]

Gregory Rodriguez's Op-Ed today in the LA Times is characteristic of much of this year's pro-DREAM Act messaging in that it doesn't challenge many basic principles of the current immigration and citizenship regime. I had hoped, along with many others, that the DREAM Act targeted such an egregious injustice and the beneficiaries were so sympathetic that the bill could be carried into law on the strength of its intuitive power without disturbing the legal system that keeps Dreamers undocumented. The DREAM Act could then have been a foothold for reforming the system, as newly empowered and legalized Dreamers led their communities to a broader victory.

It was a close call, but in the end, the system was too strong for this strategy to succeed in 2010. Instead, Dreamers, other undocumented activists, and allies may need to do the hard work of challenging the system itself, which means deconstructing the ideas about citizenship, identity, community, and loyalty that the immigration regime is based on. This runs counter to much established DREAM Act messaging, which has often adopted themes of patriotism, assimilation, and loyalty that have also been effectively used by nativists to justify exclusionary immigration and citizenship laws.

Perhaps the current ideological trajectory for DREAM is the right one after all, and just requires persistence, patience, and more effective electoral organizing. But such a path to the DREAM Act would be a hollow victory if it strengthened the "us vs. them" immigration narrative and undermined the prospect of legalization for all.

I'll leave for now as a thought exercise to the reader to identify the assumptions on which Rodriguez bases his argument for the DREAM Act and alternative ideas which might lead to better long-term results. I'm also open to the possibility that alternative messaging would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Please share any insights in comments to this post. From his Op-Ed:

The reactions this week by mainstream progressives to the Senate's failure to move the DREAM Act forward on Saturday shed light on the motivations of different groups in speaking out about this issue.

Markos Moulitsas' immediate reaction was to condemn Senator Jon Tester for being "morally bankrupt" and an "asshole" and "the Democrat I will most be happy to see go down in defeat" in 2012.

Markos was a big supporter of Tester, who raised a good chunk of money from the Netroots to win in a close election in 2006. Tester will have a tough campaign in 2012, and it just got a whole lot tougher by making a personal enemy out of one of the progressive blogosphere's most influential voices. This was a response likely to have some impact given the target and Markos's history of support for Tester. It was an effective response because Markos actually seems to care whether the DREAM Act passes or fails.

On the other hand, Organizing For America's reaction was to email supporters to ask them to call John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and tell them "to stop playing politics with immigration reform."

This is not likely to be an effective response. The tactic looks about as well-conceived as the DSCC's cunning plan during the Minnesota Senate recount last year to ask Al Franken supporters to sign a petition to his opponent Norm Coleman to concede the election to Franken, one of Adam Green's "Profiles in Bad Online Organizing."

OFA's response has much in common with the Democrats' broader strategy for passing comprehensive immigration reform--both are designed to promote the appearance of activity rather than to achieve any concrete policy objective. The thing is, these strategies can easily backfire. No one likes a fake friend, and it is easy enough to spot someone who is just going through the motions. OFA does itself no favors by angling for the Latino vote in such a transparently cynical way.

Just as President Obama does himself no favors by perpetually renewing his commitment to immigration reform while ratcheting deportations to historic highs.

How uninformed does he think voters are?

Wayne Cornelius's take on the failure of the Obama immigration strategy was on point:

The larger problem is that the entire Obama immigration policy strategy was based on a high-risk gamble that winning credibility on border and interior enforcement among members of Congress would buy the political space needed to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

This strategy was fundamentally misconceived because Republicans in Congress have found tough immigration stances to be reliably effective in mobilizing their base, and because the Great Recession heightened public anxiety and anger about immigration.

Why would you intentionally adopt immigration policies--like the abominable racial profiling Secure Communities and 287g programs--that energize your opponents' base unless you were profoundly detached from the affected communities?

Cornelius continues:

The Obama administration has continued the Bush II-era border fortification project and also significantly toughened interior enforcement, pushing spending on all forms of immigration enforcement to unprecedented levels. But with the failure of the Dream Act, and the negligible probability of enacting any larger legalization program in the next Congress, President Obama is left with nothing but the stick.

His immigration legacy may well turn out to be a step-level increase in immigration enforcement and spending, with no progress on anything unrelated to pursuing the undocumented - even high-achieving students brought to this country as children. To those of us who worked hard in his presidential campaign, that is a bitter pill.

It's also not a smart strategy if you want people who support pro-migrant immigration policy to vote for you.

So far, it looks like Obama cares less about winning over those voters than he does about not pissing off nativist Tea Party voters. And as long as he has groups like OFA helping him carry out this misguided strategy, he is unlikely to change course.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled two unexpected developments out of his pocket this fall: he became a champion of the DREAM Act in Congress, and he secured victory over his opponent by a margin that no one had foreseen. I propose that these two events were related, but not in an obvious way.

Nativism Causes the Nevada Tea Party to Self-destruct

Politicians and pundits speculated that Harry Reid owed his victory over Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle in November because Latino voters were energized. Angle had run a series of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino ads which won her notoriety for running one of the most racist campaigns of the election season. One ad prompted the View's Joy Behar to taunt Angle to come to the Bronx in one of the election season's more memorable TV moments.

In the ads, Angle alleged that Harry Reid was "the best friend an illegal alien ever had." In one ad, she went after DREAMers directly, claiming that "Harry Reid is fighting for a program that would give preferred college tuition rates to none other than illegal aliens." This specific ad was almost certainly created in response to Reid's highly public effort to pass the DREAM Act shortly before the ad was run.

The narrative that emerged during the late stages of the campaign from both the left and the right was that Harry Reid had pandered to--or responded to--Latino voters in Nevada by announcing his intent to attach the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill in September. Reid knew that by promoting a bill that would legalize hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children, he would mobilize Latino voters who could provide the margin of victory he needed against Angle. So he made a public statement of intent to bring the DREAM Act forward, knowing it would polarize the Senate and inject immigration politics into the Senate race in Nevada.

In retrospect, it was a brilliant plan. Staging a public push for the DREAM Act, which many voters had never heard of before September, was like waving a red flag in front of a bull for Angle and her Tea Party supporters, driving them to embarrassing outbursts of nativism. It seemed they couldn't help themselves. Rachel Maddow called the anti-DREAM Act spot the "most overtly racist ad of this campaign season."

These explicitly anti-Latino attacks in turn mobilized a previously disaffected Latino electorate in Nevada which had been upset with Democratic leadership for ignoring immigration reform. Latino voters came out in force and voted for Reid by a high margin--between 68% and 90% depending on the source. Reid won by 5.6%, mobilizing Latino voters to turnout in record numbers against all predictions.

Perhaps it was Reid's plan all along to pull out the DREAM Act late in the campaign to construct the "Latino firewall" that by some accounts saved his job. But maybe there is more to the story.

Thumbnail image for UrielIt's been hard for me to set fingers to keyboard to organize my thoughts about yesterday's Senate vote blocking the DREAM Act. I have a lot of thoughts and emotions swirling around inside right now. Even before the vote, I felt stymied--anxious about the bill's prospects, angry at the obstinate ignorance displayed by opponents, and frustrated at my own feelings of powerlessness.

If there is any cause for optimism in this dark moment, it is that the DREAM movement has now come into its own. Dreamers will never again be token poster children held up to support someone else's agenda--the enforcement first, legalization later agenda unsuccessfully promoted by President Obama, Democrats, and national advocacy groups.

That agenda failed, the plans that others made for Dreamers failed, and at the end of it all, advocacy groups and politicians jumped on board the DREAM Act bandwagon because it was the only legislative vehicle that was moving, the only one that had even left the factory. And the primary reason the DREAM Act got as far as it did this legislative session was because of the activism of Dreamers: the hunger strikes, the 1500-mile Trail of Dreams march, the acts of civil disobedience targeting key legislators, the Dreamers coming out to journalists, and hundreds of other actions around the country planned and executed by Dreamers themselves.

As we look for a way forward, it is important to think about what has worked and hasn't worked so far. With this in mind, I want to address a few key groups.

To my fellow pro-migrant allies and advocates:

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Organizing category from December 2010.

Organizing: November 2010 is the previous archive.

Organizing: January 2011 is the next archive.

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