The movement for the DREAM ACT culminated yesterday in an exceptional showing of unity in action by diverse forces working for justice. The fight was an exceptionally good fight. Classic in social movement history: “we may march separately, but in critical moments, we have to hit together.” Working from their position of interest , from high ranking university administrators to the directly impacted students, all raised their voices and took steps to press for the passage of this partial solution to the marginalization of 12 million individuals considered “outlaws” in our society.
But as so often happens in social movements, the time to act was thrust upon us. Given the polarized politics of the time, what had been a successful last minute strategy for progressive causes—attaching amendments to Defense Department authorization bills—failed. Not because the totality of the social movement for justice did not step up to the plate, but because we ran head on into the fractures of a political system that seeks to reproduce itself at the expense of expanding opportunities equally to all parts of the nation. Those contradictions were evident throughout this intense week of work.
In Houston, the visible part of the movement was the activities of the students. A vigil was held in front of the federal buildings, visits were made to the elected official considered to be the most likely to vote in favor of the DREAM Act, social networking technology was used to broaden the reach of the calls, e-mails and letters to elected officials. Many more sectors in Houston moved within their spheres of influence: the Cardinal sent a letter to both US Senators and circulated an alert among all Catholics to act; conservative educators, pastors, businessmen and attorneys took advantage of easy access to these decisions-makers to urge passage of this legislation; editorials and op-ed articles argued for passage; in community events, local elected officials and community leaders asked audiences to call, text, e-mail on behalf of the DREAM ACT; and finally, many individuals made calls, wrote letters, sent e-mails, joined national organizations’ petition for a pro-DREAM ACT vote. Houston reflected and reproduced what was happening in thousands of communities throughout the nation.
However, the vote against the DREAM ACT also brought forth, not our weaknesses—we marched in harmony to our strength–, but the strength of the forces that are at work against us. In the aftermath, national media rarely mentioned our exemplary fight or issue. The focus was the defeat of another amendment—the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military. The marginalization of millions remains an issue out of the national consciousness. The anti-immigrant forces made no distinction between college educated or working class immigrants—all were guilty of their illegality and of usurping resources of benefits, etc. Incidents of hate continued unabated. In Houston, a little noticed blurb on Channel 11 spoke of a bar in Huntsville that openly and defiantly advertised Wednesday WB Drinks, with WB equal to wetbacks.
If anything this exemplary fight requires that we meet to analyze its development and impact to redirect our efforts more effectively. How can we elevate our needs to the national consciousness, check-mate the political actors and isolate the hateful elements against us. This is the challenge that is before us.