Little Rock More than forty representatives of unions, community groups, and pro-immigration reform advocates were arrested for civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. for street blocking in traffic. Those arrested included major advocates like Gustavo Torres of Casa de Maryland and Petra Falcon of Arizona, as well as leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, UFW, CWA, Center for Community Change, US Action, and others in the immigration reform coalition. After more than four years where the dominant strategy has been “inside the beltway” pressure on Congress for immigration reform, is a move to civil disobedience a sign of a significant tactical and even strategic shift or an expression of desperation with the stalling and stalemate in the House of Representatives?
The one thing that can be clear is that symbolic civil disobedience along these lines might be intended to put pressure on the White House, but would not put any pressure on the far right wing of the House, which is where the problem seems stuck. Furthermore, because this was a “leadership” tactic in DC, it also probably does not signal a fundamental shift in strategy or tactics by reform advocates. There still seems to be a consensus to accept something even gnarlier in a bill that might emerge from the House after the summer recess, and hope for the best in a conference between the Senate and House.
But, maybe it is time for such a shift? Over the last several years the most significant victory for reform advocates has been by the DREAMers and was absolutely accomplished by brave tactics by victims of terrible governmental policy willing to risk deportation in order to win a future. The strength of the DREAMers’ tactics and strategies also were locally-based in communities and states around the country, rather than in Washington. This was not an advocacy play, but a legitimate movement by participants, and it moved the needle from the White House to Congress. A similar shift in the immigration effort from reform in Congress to the tactics and strategy more typical of a civil and human rights movement might be enough to change the playing field and political calculus sufficiently to finally open up space for more legitimate political change, rather than this climate of “negotiating with ourselves” for whatever might be available.
At one level these arrests were simply a rock thrown at the window of Congress as they broke for summer recess, hoping Speaker Boehner, Congressman Paul Ryan, and other so-called leaders over there would get the message that advocates are united. Unfortunately, they think they already have a louder message from their backbenchers, and until there is more movement in the streets and workplaces around the country from the twelve million who need reform most desperately, we all have to fear that we are not likely to win what we need this round or this way.