New Orleans The laugh line in the welcome to 150 organizers coming together in the “Turning the Tide” conference in New Orleans, convened primarily by NDLON (the National Day Labor Organizing Network) for immigration reform organizers who are at the sharp point of the grassroots fight against punitive enforcement, was the mention that special entertainment had been put together for the delegation that night: the New Orleans Saints vs. the Minnesota Vikings!
Wisely, because of travel concerns for many of their organizers, who are also constantly harassed and under surveillance due to their status, the organizers had arranged for video streaming of the conference, which despite the stutters and stops that go with such technology, meant that I – along with many others – could watch and listen to the speakers even while preparing for meetings about foreclosure resistance back in Phoenix at the time. It felt weird to be in the desert watching organizers from Phoenix that I had last seen marching against SB 1070 in Arizona standing and talking in New Orleans. When one speaker mentioned that more than 500 law enforcement jurisdictions in the country were “enforcers” for Janet Napolitano and President Obama’s ICE because of the wildly unaccountable and abusive 287g program, it was impressive that more than 100 had made it to New Orleans. The city is a safe house for such meetings, since we now have a national reputation for enforcing no laws whatsoever with the police who are as often the criminals as anyone else.
NDLON, coming off its steady fights against Sheriff Arpaio and leadership of the massive coalition assembled to oppose SB 1070, is showing increasing leadership for the immigration reform movement in its willingness to stand with conviction and courage against abuses. This conference is one of two that are expressly planned to deal with creating a strategy and increasing commitments to oppose abusive enforcement practices.
This work speaks to a grassroots rebellion and strategic shift in the reform effort. The beltway strategies that were premised on the President’s leadership and a docile Congress willing to embrace reform have been discredited and with every passing day the ability to imagine reform without a true movement are unimaginable. Ironically, many of the national reform forces, regardless of the importance of their contributions, have been unwilling to embrace resistance and movement strategies as off message and unsettling to the declining head count in Congress on this razor sharp wedge issue. In a long run, not a short sprint, it is hard not to join NDLON and its allies in hunkering down to fight in the trenches, where it counts and where change must be made. Whether on video stream, in person, or watching for the reports as consensus emerges, this conference and others in the future like it are perhaps the best harbingers for hope for reform.