New Tactics As DREAM Deferred

Langston Hughes Poem
Langston Hughes Poem

Orange Beach When looking at the Senate’s Saturday work, it’s important to remember the difference between people who volunteered and those who didn’t.  In DADT we are talking about some protection and relief for brave men and women who volunteered to serve and die for our country.  The defeat of the DREAM Act would have provided some protection and relief for brave men and women who in fact did not volunteer to be in our country, but who were so young that they had no choice as their parents united the families in America.   DADT and DREAM actually had something in common because the involuntary young people could become citizens by volunteering to serve and die in the military.  This is all salt in the wound for these young people.

Some of the DREAM organizers said that they were going to follow some of the “NO” Senators back home to continue pushing for justice.  There was handwringing in the Times about how the Obama Administration would resurrect what has clearly always been a failed immigration reform policy.

Proponents of immigration reform should also need to revisit tactics and strategy, since much of what the DREAM vote was involved the political equivalent of playing politics with a “hail, Mary” pass.  From the minute the majority changed and Obama was elected, there were choices about whether to go “comprehensive” or carve out attractive and politically salable pieces of immigration reform, and passage of the DREAM Act was the lowest hanging fruit on the second strategy.   This is a case where in retrospect going big or going home meant going to a home country on the Obama deportation express if the bets were wrongly placed.

In the fall of 2008, making the big bet seemed right, but as early as spring 2009, the facts were probably already in hand arguing for radical changes in strategy and tactics for immigration reformers.    The cold realities of the situation were lay between slim and none.   When pressure from the base was ruled out as early as the Inauguration by the funders and powers that be, immigration reform was off the table for the first 100 days, when the chances were best with the consequences still years away and the surge of aspiration and power still strong.  Not moving to accelerate local fights in cities and states or target weak Congressmen on immigration in areas where the numbers in the base favored immigration reformers weakened the prospect within the first six months of any real reform.  By the Tea Party Summer of 2009 comprehensive reform for all intents and purposes was DOA, yet even so reformers seemed slow to embrace and advance the real movement and courage of DREAM act students were standing up and putting themselves on the line or to make the repressive excesses in Arizona or the widespread abuse and misuse of 287 (g) immigration police function subcontracting the new Selma’s or Marches to Montgomery.

Now it’s back to the drawing board and once again the strategy, I believe, has to be to go deep at the local level, find opportunities to repurpose reform at the city and state level for progressive reform in the same way that Arizona has manipulated reform for repressive measures, and then target and punish Congressmen, local sheriffs, and even Senators where the opportunities exist to send a message about re-elections, rather than moralities.  Taking down some big bear like Congressman Issa who I would argue is in a very vulnerable district on this issue would create shockwaves in Congress that would be impossible to ignore.

Coming late to the local targeting and base mobilization helped kept a heartbeat alive because of the leverage on Senator Harry Reid in the Nevada election.  We should have done this in scores of elections identified in 2009.  Hopefully we have learned a lesson and are willing to live it in the field.  This is not a DC fight.  This is a door-to-door, community-to-community, state-to-state fight with a DC rearguard in waiting to help when the job is done around the country, and not the opposite.  Lessons taught for sure, so hopefully lessons taken to heart as well.

There shouldn’t be any back slapping among immigration reformers about “how close we came,” because payback is going to be hell as long as the Obama Administration is triangulating this issue with the right and accelerating detentions and deportations, some of which inevitably will hit the best of the DREAM organizers.  Reformers need to stand up and create a sanctuary movement for these organizers now.

Organizing decisions always have consequences and a merciless accounting, even if they do not immediately have accountability.  In this case we may have started on the right foot, but didn’t step quickly enough on the floor when the music changed and the band was willing to play our song.  This isn’t musical chairs though, and everything is going to be harder now, but we need to use the next two years to keep from making the mistakes of the last two years and just hope we have another shot in the opening days of the 2013 session to finally make something happen for millions.

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Tequila Party Makes Four

Munoz_Carlos

New Orleans Discussion of an independent party or a party caucus focusing on Latinos and modeled on the success of the Tea Party has now lept into public view. A story on debates within the community about a possible “Tequila Party” was reported in a piece by Delen Goldberg in the Las Vegas Sun over the weekend. [“No Label” Party, “Tequila Party,” who is coming up with these names, but that’s a question for another day.]

The trigger point in this discussion is not surprisingly the disappointment over the likely failure of any real effort at immigration reform. It is also not surprising to see this story start to breakout in Nevada in the wake of the critical importance of the role played by Latino voters in Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election.

“I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but there’s talk,” said Fernando Romero, president of the nonpartisan Hispanics in Politics, Nevada’s oldest Hispanic political group. “There’s discussion about empowerment of the Latino vote.”

Add the fact that Latinos accounted for 15% of the total electorate in 2008 and despite the decreased participation in general in the 2010 midterms, have now seen their percentage of the vote edge up to 16%, and this would be a serious political movement if it developed.

Latinos in Nevada are watching the schizophrenic politics of a Latino running for governor as a Republican, yet embracing the anti-immigrant Arizona measure. Latino Dems are just disillusioned and weighing the coming legislative moves in Congress.

“There’s a feeling that Democrats aren’t listening,” said Louis DeSipio, a Chicano studies and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Congress’ actions over the next month could decide the fate of the burgeoning Tequila Party. If comprehensive immigration reform is shelved again, some Hispanics will likely decide to strike out on their own.

“It would definitely induce us,” Romero said. “We would have to do something at that point to get ready for 2012.”

Interestingly many voices in the debate are calling attention to a piece that Carlos Munoz, the emeritus University of California professor, wrote commemorating what would have been the 40th anniversary of the Raza Unida Party in Texas and its heyday in Cristal City. Munoz ended his piece with an important, and perhaps controversial, call to create a broader, independent and progressive party in the United States.

“The story of the La Raza Unida Party teaches us that independent political parties based on racial or ethnic identity will not work. An independent mass political party that can represent the needs of our more complex diverse society must emerge to challenge the two-party dictatorship. Such a party could lead to an authentic multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural democracy for the twenty-first century.”

With all of the discussion and the various individual initiatives been shown, Munoz’s call for a broader party resonates, but still seems to be falling on deaf ears.

If these discussions continue to build, that may not last, and then we will really have something serious on our hands offering real alternatives for progressive politics.

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