Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Movement Meta

I believe the last round of negotiations on Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR), the so-called "Grand Compromise", provided a huge wake-up call for the immigrant-rights community. We found out just how badly the right-wing had out flanked us both in Washington and in the media and that any hope for meaningful CIR was now in the distant future.

Crafted in hopes to find a "sweet spot" that would calm the far-right, give business interests what they wanted, and appease those concerned with immigrant rights, the Compromise ended up to be nothing more than a gumbo of concessions to business and the restrictionst wing of the Republican party.

Despite the fact that a majority of Americans believe that the immigration system is severely broken and that those who have come here improperly deserve to be given the opportunity to stay and continue leading productive lives, a vocal and influential minority within the Republican Party managed to hold CIR hostage. They garnered concession after concession until the bill presented was an unworkable mess of restrictions, punishments and business concessions. All these concessions made in a vane attempt to appease this minority so that they would allow the "amnesty" that the vast majority of the American people want anyway.

As has happened time and again, when the closed doors were finally opened, and the super-secret compromise legislation revealed, many in the immigrant-rights community decided to play it safe with a "wait and see" strategy before endorsing or opposing the bill. This, in the hope that they might "work to make it better" through the amendment process.

And just as in the past, the amendment process was not meant for them, but rather those demanding greater and greater restrictions, and in the end, the bill received tepid support from a few organizations and outright opposition from others, and was killed.

Yet, this didn't stop the far-right for taking sole credit for its demise.

Lou Dobbs crowed about how "we the people have stopped the illegal alien amnesty bill", restrictionist Republicans gloated over the bill's failure, and Rush thanked his listeners for killing "shamnesty".

Yet, even though the bill was a train wreck from the start and probably never had any real chance of passing despite all the bravado from the Whitehouse, the grassroots campaign launched by the restrictionist movement was impressive to say the least. Over 700K e-mails and faxes flooded the Capitol in opposition to the legislation.

An effort like this is only possible because the ant-immigrant movement has a firm grip on much of the traditional and emerging new media.

Along with their legion of talk radio propagandists, they have Lou Dobbs' daily hour long cavalcade of hate on CNN, Pat Buchanan posturing as NBC's resident immigration expert, and a full roster of immigrant bashers occupying the seats over at FOX News to dominate the traditional media.

On the Web the ant-immigration movement is broad and far-reaching also.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its affiliate organizations, The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Numbers USA dominate. CIS, through its "studies and research", and Numbers USA, through their legislative "analysis," provide talking points and misinformation spread throughout the web and the main stream media. Numbers USA alone has a membership of 447,000 and played a large roll in orchestrating the restrictionist grassroots effort last spring. This web presence is magnified by the hundreds of blogs and other web sites that take their cues from FAIR and the other more traditional lobbying efforts.

So where does that leave the immigrant-rights movement?

Right now … in the dark.

We have no true counter to this restrictionist effort.

In the traditional media, print journalism does manage to get to the truth sometimes, and there is the occasional positive piece on TV. On the web there is a disjointed community of web sites and blogs trying to reach an audience, but in general nothing comes close to the coordinated effort put on by the right.

In my last post I discussed the lack of a coordinated message and unified goals as one chief stumbling block for the movement. But there are others.

Even if a set of goals and messages were formulated, we have no effective means to disseminate them. Sending a lone representative from the NCLR off to face Lou Dobbs on his home turf, or writing op-eds in hopes that they sway public opinion don't constitute an effective media strategy.

Along with a unified message we need a strategy.

We need infrastructure.

We need tools.

We need coordination.

We need to reach the point where not only is our message getting heard, but the opposition's message is being debunked or vilified. We need to be able to ensure that every time a CIS "study" is quoted as fact, it can be countered. We need to make it possible that when a restrictionist pundit or expert quotes the same old Borjas study on the adverse effects of immigration on those at the bottom of the economic ladder, it can be countered with the newer Peri study that debunked it. But that kind of information needs to be not only readily available, but but people need to know it's out there. But most of all, we need to be willing to confront some of the uglier aspects of this debate and not let the underlying racism and xenophobia that motivates some, receive a free pass out of fear WE will look too confrontational.

I'm not an "old media" guy so I can't really make too many suggestions as to how to crack that nut.

I do know that as much as I give credit to anyone willing to face down Dobbs or Buchanan, our official spokespeople have not done too effective a job when dealing with them. We need spokespeople willing to be as confrontational as our opponents, who won't be bullied or badgered, and are willing to call our opponents out when they mislead or misrepresent the truth or rely on jingoistic rhetoric or fear mongering. And most of all; They can't be afraid to call a minuteman a racist …because he is one.

But that said, much of the work to be done is in the new media and the web.

The web is where much of the misinformation used by our opponents emanates. Google up "immigrant taxes", "immigrant crime" "immigrant disease" or any of a myriad of other hot-button topics and I guarantee the CIS or some other restrictionist think tank or web site will come up to supply an endless stream of bogus studies and talking points. Those "facts" then swirl around the right-wing echo chamber from the blogs to talk radio to the MSM…. Eventually becoming accepted fact by the public.

The web is also where restrictionist advocacy and organizing takes place. Number USA being the most prominent site. Between its legislative analysis, candidate rankings, and on-line lobbying efforts, it’s a one stop shop for restrictionist action. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other websites and blogs raising money, influencing elections, lobbying legislation.

We need to do much better in this respect if we are to ever move our cause forward.

We have no strong "think tank" web presence like CIS or the Heritage Foundation etc.

We have no centralized or organized lobbying effort on the web.

We have no new media echo-chamber to magnify and disseminate information.

The broader Progressive blogosphere IS building those kinds of tools. But as of yet the immigrant-rights community has not reaped any benefit from it.

A few things could be done to rectify this situation in a relatively short span of time.

One would be to set up a central "think tank" type website that could aggregate the academic studies, reports, papers, demographic data, and everything pertaining to immigration and immigration reform. Then make sure that all advocacy groups, lobbyists, media people, bloggers, and anyone else who addresses this issue knows not only about the site, but how to easily find what they need.

Another thing that could easily be done would be to start to tie all the various pro-immigrant websites and bloggers together with a centralized set of tools for such things as contacting representatives, e-mail campaigns, voter registration, etc. Then start coordinating efforts and campaigns across the web to lobby for reform through these tools.

Out-reach to the already existing Progressive blogosphere is a must. They already have an existing infrastructure. But as of yet, most traditional immigrant-rights advocacy groups and organizations have virtually ignored this rapidly expanding movement. And quite frankly, in their ambivalence, have lost ground rather than gained in the last year as more and more reactionary populist ideas have made there way into Progressive discourse. From the Daily Kos to the Huffington Post, the pro-immigrat message is just not getting through.

Start a coordinated effort to use as much New Media as possible. Create viral videos through You-Tube, tap into social networking sites like Myspace, start reaching out to the blogoshere, all of this would be a good start.

Last year, through an uncoordinated effort of Spanish language radio, Myspace, websites, posters and flyers, the movement managed to put millions in the streets. With coordination one can only imagine what could be accomplished in the future.

But as I posted in my previous post, none of this can happen until all the hundreds of organizations and advocacy groups, large and small, start to work together and truly become a unified front.


Yave said...

Glad to see you are back. As you can see, your commentary is much valued.

You are persuasive in this post and the last one. Some questions: Do you think an online venue exists that could be amped up in the ways you're describing, or does a new forum need to be created? If the latter, who would be the principal movers to make it happen? E.g., immigration bloggers, reps from existing off-line immigration organizations, others? There is a thriving online pro-immigrant community of sorts in the form of AILA's message board--it deals much more with navigating the existing system than changing it, but there is an online community there ready to be mobilized if it can be reached. (Unfortunately, it's only accessible to AILA members.) There is a whole network of advocates that would likely be supportive of online advocacy but probably haven't considered the ways an "immigration netroots" could further their goals--I'm talking about CLINIC and AILA, for example.

In short, I'd be curious to know what some of your ideas are for implementing the suggestions you've made.

Duke1676 said...


You raise lot of good questions. I'm working on a detailed response. If it gets too long I might just have turn it into a post rather than post it here in the comments.

thanks for your thoughts

Duke1676 said...


Thanks for your questions, they provide much food for thought.

As to your first question about an existing venue, I don't believe we have any web presence currently that either meets our needs or comes close to the having the mobilizing, news dissemination, or capabilities to influence public opinion or legislation we need to counter what's being accomplished on the right.

The rightwing and progressive web have evolved over time in ways that in many ways reflect the very basic differences in political their philosophies. The rightwing web is a very centralized, top-down, affair whose chief purpose is to reinforce talking points and mobilize the masses in grassroots efforts. Very much using the same organizational model used by the Christian Right so effectively since the late eighties. In the realm of immigration this means large, massively funded, think tanks and advocacy institutions like the Heritage Foundation, FAIR, ALIPAC etc. set out policy goals, and talking points which then are echoed throughout the web to shape public opinion and mobilize action down through the ranks to the lowliest blogger and special interest website .

The Progressive/Liberal web has for the most part been a very bottom-up, organic affair. Even the "big boys" of the web like Move On or Daily Kos started as individual efforts of small groups of motivated "on-line activists". And while it has grown exponentially in scope and influence it still retains a very "guerilla politics" nature to it. And this is its greatest strength and weakness. Unlike the rightweb which can be controlled and kept on message, the leftweb ebbs and flows ,somewhat scattershot, but with such a high level of commitment and passion that once harnessed becomes a major political force, as was seen in the last election cycle where web support played a crucial role. There has been, and there never will be such a thing as a rightweb "netroots candidate."

But in the realm of immigration the leftweb model makes it less than ideal for organizing and message dissemination.

Currently there are hundreds if not thousands of websites advocating pro-immigrant positions. There are the Latino and other ethnic advocacy groups, Unions, Liberal groups, Religious and faith-based groups, Lawyers, bloggers, and Immigrant and Refugee Coalitions, just to name a few. But they're all disjointed; existing independently of one another as far as the web is concerned. There is no coordination of efforts or campaigns, in fact a campaign being promoted by one group on their site most likely will not even be mentioned on a different groups site, be it a rally or protest, letter writing, or lobbying effort.

The same is true of news dissemination. Unless it's a story picked up by the nation press like Elvira Arellano, the news featured on most pro-immigrant sites never gets beyond the site itself, be it a migrant death in the desert, a union busting raid at a chicken plant, a kid who can't go to college, a detention of a child or US citizen, a piece of heinous local legislation, or any of the thousands of other stories that the general public never hears about. Unless one is willing to surf around from site to site to find the latest news, opinion on legislation, or action, most immigration information on the web is lost …just bits and bytes in the ether.

So whatever we do must be large in scope. Far larger than anything done to date.

It must be a site where all the divergent groups and entities within the pro-immigration movement can come together to share information, organize, and mobilize.

It should be on the "community site" model that's been so effective in the progressive blogosphere where members can post up stories and information and have discussions. It would become over time a central "clearing house" for everyone involved in the movement where activists, organizers, the press, and public could come for information, news, or research. I guess I envision a pro-immigrant Daily KOS on steroids where bloggers and representatives from all the organization come together under one roof, in one central location.

But it must be more than just a community site, it must incorporate the mobilizing tools and organization of the rightweb sites. If there is a piece of legislation that needs lobbying the tools for on-line lobbying will be there, if there is to be an action, like the Washington or Miami DREAM actions later today, news of it and mobilizing tools will be there.

It must also have a database or wiki of all studies, reports, statistics and demographics that pertain to the issue. One of the greatest weapons of the right are their think tanks, turning out reams of studies and reports (be they as bias and misleading as they are) to fuel the anti-immigrant arguments. We need the same.

So that ,I believe, answers the question of what advantages this would have to the community on a whole and how it could further most advocacy groups goals.

So we are left with the nuts and bolts …How and who could make this happen.

I think one large umbrella coalition group would need to be formed whose sole purpose would be to fund and maintain a website. (it's not like we're talking giant bucks here , there are hundreds of scoop and soapblox sites run by individuals with funding solely from ad revenues and donations). The umbrella group is more important as a measure of solidarity and unity. If membership is within the thousands, encompassing the vast spectrum of the pro-immigrant movement its clout and stature goes way beyond that of any one group.

It also lends an egalitarian nature to the site as a representative from one of the largest groups in the nation is no more or less "important" than anyone else and can never be seen as "controlling" the site or its message since no one organization or group is backing it financially, but rather the broader coalition. Very much in the bottom-up model of the Progrressive blogosphere as we discussed earlier

The umbrella group would receive funds from it's member groups (again this can be done on a very small budget) and be tasked with running the site as far as all the technical aspects go. But it would serve no other purpose. It would not be its own entity politically or policy wise. It would merely be web-based alliance or coalition to provide a service to the entire pro-immigrant community. All members still retaining complete autonomy, just coming together on a common cause.

Anyway, that's what I've got so far. Now I just need a couple of hundred organizations and groups to sign on board :)

Monty said...

I was of the opinion that the Grand Compromise provided a reasonable framework for comprehensive immigration reform and with a few tweaks most of our immediate immigration problems would have been addressed. Yet a combination of right wing xenophobia and left wing idealism and political gamesmanship, lead to its demise. Filling the void was more of the same... an intolerable and unfair enforcement only right wing appeasement policy.

So where to go from here? Of course as many have suggested the pro immigrant reform movement needs to agree on a basic framework for future immigration reform. It is crucial that this framework is realistic in its goals and takes into account the current social and economic climate. It seems that many Democrats who voted against the Grand Compromise failed to recognize these realities.

I have detailed these realities and my frustration here... and here...

It does us no good to advocate for immigration policy that is not in line with what the majority of Americans believe. We need to agree on a pragmatic framework before we proceed. It is important that this basic outline addresses all the economic and social concerns of our nation. Forget about comprehensive immigration reform without a shift to a more skill-based system. Also forget about a guest worker program with a path to citizenship. Supporting such policies that are out of touch with mainstream America does nothing but add fuel to those anti-immigrant organizations like NumbersUSA.

So those battles, however legitimate they might be, should be saved for a much more accommodating time. In the mean time we must work to undo the damage done by the current wave of enforcement only restrictionism that has hijacked the debate.

The problem with immigration reform is that the majority of Americans who are pro-immigrant do not consider immigration as their core issue. To these people the war in Iraq, the economy and healthcare are far more urgent and important. On the other hand those anti-immigrant Americans who have been convinced that immigrants are a threat to our autonomy and safety have made immigration their key issue.

So purely from a numbers perspective it is very difficult to combat these right wing forces. This is a large part of the reason that the ‘anti-immigrant movement has a firm grip on much of the traditional and emerging new media’. Pro immigrant postings rarely surface on sites like the Daily Kos or the Huffington post. So we need to find a way to elevate the immigration issue to that of the other important issues I have listed above.

And the best way to do this is to immediately emphasize the important of pro immigration reform as a key voting issue in next years general election. In my opinion the Republican stance on immigration is akin to political suicide. Michael Gearson outlines this in his recent Washington Post Op-Ed..

Republicans do not seem to realize that most Latinos are native born U.S. citizens and, more importantly, that a great number of Latinos have relatives who are either undocumented or in the eternal process of waiting for legal immigrant entry. We need to highlight how the Republican party has turned their back on this largest growing bloc of voters. One thing that is for sure is that when votes are at issue politicians start to pay attention. So emphasizing the importance of the Latino vote is the best way to bring immediate change to this cruel enforcement only status quo.

And now for my Plan: I suggest that the most effective starting point for a more centralized pro immigrant forum should focus on this key voting issue. Perhaps start with a website that highlights how the Republican party has alienated the Latino vote - all immigration issues should be framed according to this key point. Create an online sign-on campaign so that Latinos and can pledge to no longer vote for any Republican who supports such blatantly xenophobic policy. There will be some footwork involved, contacting organizations like La Raza, Latino radio stations and other venues that cater to that portion of the population who are directly affected by immigration policy. I truly believe that this is a numbers battle so the goal will be to create an online community initially comprising those directly affected by anti-immigrant policy and hopefully, once the importance of this voting issue is highlighted, the rest of the progressive blogosphere will jump onboard.

Duke I think this can be achieved with a small staff of bloggers and little initial funding. It might also be easier to get those scattered pro immigrant websites and bloggers onboard by initially focusing on this single theme and goal. And of course your suggestion that the website be used to provide various tools to combat anti-immigrant forces as well as lobby for positive reform, will naturally follow.

Anonymous said...

We all agree that calling the problem "immigration," or the "immigration problem," or even "the illegal immigration problem" misses the point. There is a problem from our point of view, but we have not distilled it down to one word. We have not offered a substitute for the framing of this issue as the "immigration" issue.

Immigration is what people do to come here. The problem is really what we do to people who come here.

What is the word for that?

The word for what abolitionists fought was "slavery." The word for what South Africans fought was "apartheid." Words for what the civil rights movement fought (and fights) include "racism" and "discrimination." Those words convey a clear, one-word enemy. A wrong that needs correction.

In one word, can you say what the wrong is that needs correction in our fight for immigrants? What if we could invoke that word when we speak on this subject? Would it make it more clear where we are coming from?

To move in this direction, I have at least tried to stop referring to this issue as the "immigration" issue. I try to use the word "immigrant" and not "immigration" where possible when talking about the issue in general - because the "immigrant" word personalizes the people we are fighting for. I also use the phrase "immigration bureaucracy" when I'm talking about the problem. But if I'm really looking for a one-word enemy to call out by name, "immigration bureaucracy" fails the test by being two words, and the phrase is not as crisp or to the point as "slavery," "apartheid," "racism," or "discrimination."

I have heard our friends and allies use the words "isolationism," "xenophobia," or other words. Are these the words, then? Are these the one-word enemies?

If so, between the two, I'd pick "isolationism," because it describes the policy instead of just the emotion behind the policy. But I wonder whether it's exact enough. Lots of policies fit under the isolationism umbrella, however, many of them applicable to how we interact with people outside this country. We are fighting primarily for people in this country. Maybe "xenophobia" is the better of the two after all.

Is there an even more compelling noun that describes the policies we fight, on behalf of our immigrant neighbors? Is there one noun that truly isolates what it is that we are really against - or for?

While neither a noun nor what we are fighting, "welcoming" is a word that has been used with a measure of success, and the word still reverberates today. Just by using the word in public, I think we have pushed the boundaries of the debate in our direction. And we also gave people the courage (or at least a common vocabulary) to express with one voice what some in the city were already feeling and saying in other ways. But "welcoming" is not the enemy.

"Invisibility" is a word that I saw Univision use once, and that word conveys the idea of being physically present but nonetheless outside of society. Or to say it another way, with apologies to Shakespeare, "to be here but not to be - estar pero no ser - that is the question."

"Excommunication" is a word that seems to capture the spirit of unjust exclusion, and it has the added benefit of calling religion to mind, which is a frame that favors our position.

But I suspect that you think these words fall short. We may truly be at a lack for words, or more accurately, at a lack for the one word.

Please tell me I'm wrong. In one word, tell me what we're fighting. And then tell everyone.