Those who are afraid to fail never really come close to succeeding.
I’ve had old school activists look down at our use of social media. That’s fine. I am not in the business of changing how people organize (unless I am getting paid for it). Social media cannot replace door-to-door advocacy. Rather, it is a readily accessible tool and we don’t need to look to Egypt or Iran to see how people can use it to drive social change in their own communities. We have it right here at home, in the form of undocumented immigrant youth using social media for the advancement of their right to live in the United States.
Organizing for the DREAM Act is the sexy part of the immigrant rights movement. Almost everyone wants to be on the bandwagon. I would even say that it has become the “marriage equality” of the immigrant rights movement. But it wasn’t always the case. We had to fight really hard to get there.
It started innocently enough. In late 2007, seven undocumented students came together in a virtual chat room on a DREAM Act forum to talk about the need for an action-oriented site for the DREAM Act. They purchased a domain called DreamActivist.org for merely $10. Having virtually no organizing or social media skills beforehand, they taught themselves how to use the technology and resources available to them to build a new powerhouse in the world of immigrant rights with a following that rivaled and went beyond multi-million dollar beltway groups. It didn’t really take money — it just took attitude and initiative.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win. And that’s how it went down. For years, these young immigrants were ignored by larger advocacy groups. As they formed communities online and across the country, they were told that their demands for a standalone DREAM Act and a progressive immigration reform bill was completely out of question. Fueled by millions of dollars, immigration reform advocates (never to be mistaken for immigrant rights advocates) ridiculed immigrant youth and their efforts, often using these youth as tokens. Immigrant youth were shut out and shut down during meetings and conferences where backdoor deals were hatched. At the same time, they were also used to lead organizing trainings across the country. And after all was said and done, the very organizations who fought against Dreamers but could not jump start their own vehicle had to jump on board a dingy that was beating them hard and fast. And since they knew nothing about steering, it helped no one as the reform part of the immigration battle sunk without trace.
Part of the success of the DREAM movement for immigrant rights has to do with the willingness of undocumented students to plan and carry out highly strategic civil disobedience actions around the country as a community of advocates who are undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid. But this was not always the case. Social media has been critical in planning and advancing these goals and getting undocumented youth from the depths of oblivion to the heights of public-policy making in the White House.
It was in the deep periphery of the internets when a few undocumented youth started sharing their stories. It started with “My name is _______ and I am undocumented.” This small but vocal group of DREAM youth refused to be silenced. They connected with other youth in similar youth across the country. Narratives are a powerful organizing tool. But narratives that connect people to one another threaten to build community. Soon, they were ready to reveal their faces, organizing hunger strikes across the country, shutting down traffic in various cities and risking their lives. The small but powerful network they had built made them feel like an almost invincible force, ready and willing to take on even the President of the United States.
There is certainly power in organized clicks as immigrant youth activists use what is available to them online for specific campaigns such as ending the deportation of a particular student or tell Obama to quit campaigning using the DREAM Act while he is deporting more people than any other President.
But more than that, what undocumented students have done online is build a community of activists across the country who identify with one another through a cause: the passage of the DREAM Act. In this particular community, people may have never met one another but they share a trust and bond that is grounded in recognition that they are in similar circumstances and united for a common purpose. The battle for the legislation created a community of activists that continue to fight for their rights in several spheres. More than strategy or money, that is what fuels the movement.
Want to stop the deportation of an undocumented student? Shoot a video and upload it to Facebook. Write a message accompanying it and then tweet and facebook it. Within hours, it will likely go viral. An insurmountable network of immigrant rights allies will pick it up and take it upon themselves to stop the deportation.
Want to connect with other undocumented students? Check out the long list of undocumented students on Twitter who converse daily on everything from horoscopes to sex to immigrant rights.
As always, this is a work in progress.