The DREAM Act Students Have Taught Me New Things about Strategy and Planning
It’s an Illustration of a Relatively Small Group of People Organizing and Winning
By the Rev. Jim Lawson
Remarks at the Fletcher Summer Institute
July 11, 2012
(Publisher’s Note: In 1968, hours before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presented Jim Lawson to striking sanitation workers in Memphis as “the foremost strategist and theorist of nonviolence in the world.” Lawson had organized the 1960 lunch-counter sit-ins that desegregated Nashville and he has continued strategizing and organizing ever since. On June 24 this year, Lawson delivered the keynote address at the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict at Tufts University. Here is an excerpted transcript from those remarks in which he commented on the successful organizing campaign by undocumented students in the United States that won an Executive Order by President Barack Obama last month to stop the deportation of hundreds of thousands of them. Known as the DREAM Act organizers, they created a case study in how to organize and win, utilizing nonviolence training, sequenced tactics and shifting strategies when necessary. Paulina Gonzalez – like Lawson, a professor at the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism – publishes a step-by-step account of how the DREAM Act proponents organized and won, which serves as a companion piece to Lawson’s remarks and is a must-read for anyone wishing to make political and policy change in the twenty-first century. Here are Rev. Lawson’s remarks, transcribed by School of Authentic Journalism graduate, class of 2012, Laura Garcia.)
There’s a wonderful example going on right now in the United States. And it’s making me rethink some things about strategy and action. That’s the Dream Act students. You may or may not know that just two Fridays ago, the President announced a two-year moratorium– giving maybe two million undocumented students in the US – mostly from Central America, Latin America and Mexico, but also from Africa and Asia, even from Europe – a two year period where they can do their work and go to school without being deported.
Jim Lawson with Mexican journalist Mario Menéndez Rodríguez at the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism in Mérida, Yucatán. DR 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky.
Various people in our country have been urging that executive order for three years. And always they were told: “we do not have the power.” When The Dream Act started organizing 5 years ago – only about 5 years ago – the base was in Los Angeles at UCLA
, undocumented students who began to research and organize. Against the wish of the immigrant rights movement, they decided: “even if we don’t get the comprehensive reform, we’re going to get changes made on our status.” So they defied their elders on this issue. And they are organizing systematically. Now the press hasn’t reported the result of the strategizing for that Executive Order because they’ve done other things. They’ve had conferences at the White house and even with the President. They’ve had hunger strikes in Miami, in LA, and elsewhere. They had a group of undocumented students march from Miami to Washington a year and a half or two years ago. So they’ve had all of these demonstrations. None of these demonstrations have been large. Most are relatively small.
They keep strategizing. They strategized: “we are going to go after this Executive Order.” They did it by carrying on a demonstration, first of all in Denver at the Obama Campaign headquarters. They did a sit-in. It put the Democratic Party in all sorts of fears. They were persistent – they were nonviolent – they sat-in. They made it possible for the Democratic Party to consider: “what are we going to do?” They didn’t want to arrest them. “Should we call the police and arrest them?”
That’s what some wanted to do. But what would that look like then for the Democratic Party? For the campaign? They did about six of these sit-ins across the country, then moved to Washington, to the Obama reelection campaign headquarters and did sit-ins there.
The Democratic Party was entirely alarmed at the upper levels. They insisted – “we’ll keep on doing this.” The Democratic Party strategists then saw the practicality of writing that executive order: an order that, in my judgment, should’ve been written three years ago.
You see? That was power. Not large numbers in that case but a great variety of activities. Remember now, this is a group of people in the United States who had no legal papers. I’ve met any number of them, on both coasts and in between. Some of them were brought to the US by their parents with a valid visa. They came when they were two months old or three years old.
I met, not six weeks ago, a young man named Philip, a South Korean. His father came in on a visa: a job. Then the boss and the job and his father had a falling out and he would not renew the contract, so he could not renew the visa. They’re not simple stories of illegality. They’re human stories, often extremely complicated. They have no papers but of course, my thesis is there is no such thing as an undocumented human being anywhere in the world. The side of creation, there is no such thing as an illegal human being. I think creation may know better than we know what it’s doing. Creation doesn’t produce undocumented illegal people. It’s nonsense for us human beings to adopt such ideas about one another.
But here’s an illustration of a relatively small group of people organizing, ‘cause it’s tough. They could be picked up at any time as they go to work, go to school, graduate from high school, graduate from college… But it demonstrates there’s still much I can learn from strategizing and planning and how you put on a campaign.
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