Sunday, August 30, 2009

The case for a strong and vibrant Pro Migrant blogosphere.

Two years ago, after the failure to pass meaningful immigration reform, there was much introspection and examination within the immigrants-rights community about exactly what went wrong. Many lessons needed to be learned and much restructuring done.

I had this to say at that time:

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?

... 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.

There's more

So, two years later, how much has really changed since I first wrote those words.

Once again resrtrictionists, racists, and wingnuts are gearing up for the next fight. Testing their strategies and abilities at town halls, teabag revolts, and a media barrage opposing healthcare reform, they are honing their skills for a battle that will be far more contentious.

Groups mobilize for the next immigration battle

Former schoolteacher Evelyn Miller doesn't plan to retire from the anti-illegal immigration movement any time soon.

She's too busy organizing petitions, blasting e-mails, faxes and letters, and threatening politicians who are up for re-election.

The 76-year-old member of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform says she is driven by her belief that those in the country illegally are taking jobs and taxpayer services from Americans.

"We're soldiers in the foxhole," Miller said from her dining room in Irvine, which doubles as a home office.

Groups like Miller's have proven so effective in mobilizing and delivering their message that they have halted two attempts at comprehensive immigration reform. In 2007 the groups literally shut down the Senate's phone system at the height of discussion on changes that would have given millions without legal status a pathway to citizenship.

OC Register

And while I agree that great strides have been made on the pro-reform side ...there is still much to be done, ...and much that has been done incorrectly in my opinion.

It is true that pro-immigrant groups all scrambled after the last failure to gain web presence. Websites that had been afterthoughts at best, were revitalized and invested in by national organizations. Nearly every organization under the sun set up some sort of blog or webpage, promoting interns or in some cases hiring known bloggers to run them.

Daily e-mails, Facebook messages, and tweets now fly from the advocacy groups in rapid-fire succession pimping this or that blogpost, highlighting events or news, or asking for various actions. Listbuilding of perspective activist has become a universal obsession for advocacy groups..

It's a far cry from the days when most of the organizations barely acknowledge the web's existence.

But with all this, the a real organic growth of a pro-migrant movement online has not taken root and grown.

Sure. there are hundreds, if not thousands of new pro migrant websites that weren't around a few short years ago. But the great majority of them or not the organic, grassroots efforts of individuals or communities needed for true movement building, but rather top-down enterprises formulated by national organizations, PR hacks, and professional think-tank types in DC, NYC, or LA.

In fact, in some ways, in their haste to enter the new medium of web base activism, these organizations sucked all the oxygen out of the room and stifled any organic growth that was taking place.

Back in the spring of 2006, when the large scale rallies were taking place, most of the organizing for them was done via myspace, hastily thrown up websites, texting, local advocacy groups, Spanish language radio, and on the ground efforts like posters, flyers and old fashioned organizing.

The national organizations were late to the game and in some cases ambivalent to the whole endeavor.

Back in the spring of 2006, when the large scale rallies were taking place, most of the organizing for them was done via myspace, hastily thrown up websites, texting, local advocacy groups, Spanish language radio, and on the ground efforts like posters, flyers and old fashioned organizing.

The national organizations were late to the game and in some cases ambivalent to the whole endeavor.

On-line, there were but a handful of us posting information about march locations, times etc. There was so little discussion of immigration on the web that my small blog, with less than 100 hits a day at the time, remained the number-one google search for "hr4437" and "Sensenbrenner bill" from the time the bill passed in Dec of 2005 until after the marches of April 2006.

But this lack of web presence did not hamper the effort ... it instead made organizing easier. People knew where to get accurate and up to date information. A simple google search or myspace link put them on one of the few sites that listed every march in every city or town. Organizers also knew who to contact to update their info or add new events. As far as the web aspect of the campaign was extremely effective.

But this could never be replicated today.

Small, hastily thrown together websites like those of and other groups like the March25Coalition and the Immigrant Solidarity Network would be overshadowed today by the large national advocacy groups and their now well-oiled web machines. And the decisions and direction of any grassroots effort would be hampered by the usual DC political machinations.

And this is a great loss to the movement.

As we move forward to what we all expect to be the battle of our lifetimes, it becomes evident that the need for a vibrant, independent, and strong pro-migrant blogosphere is greater than ever.

Perhaps, there has been no greater demonstration of this then the recent growth and success of the Dreamer movement.

No other on-line organizing effort from the pro-migrant community has come close to the effectiveness, reach, and scope of their organizing efforts. Over a relatively short period of time, a small group of on-line activists has grown a truly formidable on-line campaign of thousands of people to move DREAM legislation forward and highlight the plight of Dreamers. They've saved many from deportation, and forced the issue to the front of the immigration debate. All this done from the grassroots up.

Now of course, the national advocacy groups all clamber to "cash in" on the DREAMER magic. All want to be able replicate the effectiveness of their on-line efforts.

But of course this too can never happen.

Just as the rallies grew organically from the ground up, so too did the DREAMERS. It is through their commitment, heart, and drive that these true grassroots efforts grow.

While all the work done thus far by pro-reform forces has been well-meaning, and in some cases useful, one of the most important things they must do is make sure that a true grassroots pro-migrant blogosphere thrives and grows. That it is never overshadowed or usurped by money or politics.

- Give us the tools we need
- Support us financially when possible, but without restrictions or preconditions
- Spend the time to know our work... then let us go about doing it

We are an unruly, often impetuous group, that might seem at first glance to be too headstrong or emotional, prone to infighting and argument ... but that is because we are REAL. We are the grassroots, we are the on-line activist committed to the cause...for ourselves, our families, community or friends.

And if this movement is to ever match the fervor and emotion we see in our opponents as they scream and yell at town halls, or stand outside home improvement stores, or spend their weekends intimidating others at the border .... we will need to tap into the headstrong emotions that only come from the true grassroots

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