Sunday, October 17, 2010

Insults aside, Issues emerge

On my birthday and Indigenous People's Day, Sally Kohn, a shero whom I otherwise admire, decided to fight fire with fire in an Insult match with four DREAMers. But insults aside some real issues emerge from both pieces.

The DREAMers argued that:

"The Nonprofit Industrial Complex is a network of politicians, the elite, foundations and social justice organizations. This system encourages movements to model themselves after capitalist structures instead of challenging them."

But for many that critique was lost in an emotional reaction to:
"Our progressive allies insist in imposing their paternalistic stand to oppose the DREAM Act" (emphasis added)

Sally argued that:

"While the young DREAM Act leaders are mainly those who want to go to college and thereby gain citizenship, the undocumented members of most 'mainstream' grassroots immigrant rights groups are low-wage workers who are struggling to make a living and support their families"

But for DREAMers this challenge to acknowledge privilege was probably lost in an emotional reaction to:

"I wish that, in the aftermath of a collective and hard defeat, they weren’t acting like petulant children." (emphasis added)

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and two P-words don't make a dialogue. But if we can get past the name calling of “paternalistic” on one side and “petulant” on the other side, some real issues emerge.

Too many DOCUMENTED, privileged, often white and often men - do too much of the talking, framing and decision making in the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (which is a fair term and accusation in this current staffer of a non-profit's opinion). Even in my non-profit, ultimate say on what work does and does not happen on the immigrants rights front is not in the hands of a person of color or migrant for that matter.

At the same time, the DREAM movement rasing these concerns is generally led by folks within the migrant community who have a level of privilege that is the exception not the rule for undocumented folks. We are talking about graduates and post-graduate students of schools like UCLA, UC Berkeley, and even a Harvard student or two. Promotional videos, congressional testimony and most things pro-DREAM Act generally reflect this college going or college bound led movement dynamic.

Both of these real critiques, as they relate to the DREAM Act, can be addressed in a meaningful way by going back to the community. Now I’m not talking about propagandizing and talking pointing our folks to sign petitions and support policies that remain illusive. I’m talking about genuine listening and dialogue and sharing of full information about what is being talked about in the halls of washington and non profits. Then listening and making a space for undocumented folks (the majority of whom are not going to a UC or a big private school anytime soon and neither are the majority of their sons and daughters) to lay out what THEIR agenda is and not impose OURS or guilt trip folks into supporting ours.

Campesino Housing, Rural Oregon- No Soy El Army Tour
Every time I have dialogues in the community about the DREAM Act without framing terms with non-profit or DREAM Movement imagined limits of “what’s possible and politically viable” just laying out the text of the document the intent and basic facts. The community always responds by saying things like: we want legalization without conditions, we want financial aid for college, de-criminalization, an end to ice raids and secure communities, an end to enforcement approaches that have taken thousands of lives. The vast majority of folks I dialogue with never ask for a military path to citizenship, while a vocal minority strongly rejects it.  The vast majority of community voices are also unwilling to negotiate away their demand for financial support to make a college path in the DREAM Act viable and equally unwilling to negotiate away non-military paths to legalization.

In short, the community prefers CIR that does not include border enforcement approaches and deportations, but if pushed to articulate a DREAM Act vision the community basically describes Dick Durbin's original bill with a community service path to legalization, Financial Aid including pell grants and no military "option" and they reject the current language of the DREAM Act as a de facto military Draft for most undocumented youth.  This has been my experience at several gatherings it does not speak for the entire undocumented community but we wont know where they are, unless we hear from them. My guess is their Agenda will continue to reflect these demands.

When we take THAT agenda, the community's AGENDA and fight for it with the community voice in front and us as allies behind. When this agenda becomes the immigrant's rights non-profit agenda and the DREAM Movement agenda, then these real critiques that have emerged will be silenced and we will look more like a people power movement. But in the mean time, Non-profits look too much like political parties detached from their constituencies and the DREAM movement falls into the traps of the very things it critiques of these non-profits, speaking for and not with a community from a position of relative privilege.

Let's DREAM bigger and together!

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