Lessons from the 2013 immigration reform battle

by Guest Blogger | July 2, 2014 11:11 am

This blog was originally posted on the Netroots Foundation website. Olivia Chow, Digital Campaign Manager at the Center for Community Change, and Emilia Gutierrez, Digital Director of Reform Immigration for America, will be hosting a training session at the upcoming Netroots Nation conference (July 17-20 in Detroit, Michigan.) The session, titled “Stories from the field: Lessons learned from the 2013 immigration reform battle,” will go over how personal stories of family members affected by our broken immigration system were used to revive the immigration reform fight long after it was declared “dead” by the media. Emilia and Olivia will discuss “how they organized to make these stories spread and how you can incorporate stories from the field into your own winning campaign strategies.”


By: Melissa Foley

Q: Tell us about yourself and your experience pushing for immigration reform.

Olivia: From 2010 to 2012, I was a field organizer for what was formerly called the Asian American Justice Center. We fought back against the narrative of immigration reform as a “border issue” or “just a Latino issue” by collecting and broadcasting Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPI) family immigration stories. I was in the Senate gallery in 2010 when the procedural cloture vote to keep discussing the DREAM Act failed. I remember sitting next to a complete stranger, who I had never talked to, grabbing my hand as the Senate cast their votes. I remember her tears, and the other community members pouring out of the Senate gallery, consoling each other. Since then, I’ve worked on the digital team for the 2012 Democratic National Convention and GOTV in Vegas for OFA-NV. Immigration reform has been unfinished business so I came back to DC as an Online Organizer for Reform Immigration FOR America in 2013. Immigrants and their families are feeling the pressure this stagnant Congress with each day of inaction but their perseverance has mobilized millions.

Emilia: I embarked on a new role as the Digital Director at Reform Immigration FOR America (RI4A) this past January. Reform Immigration FOR America is the online home of the immigrant rights movement with over a million and a half active members fighting for comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together. In this role, I work with immigrant families and supporters and mobilize them online to take action to make reform a reality. Prior to Reform Immigration FOR America, I was a Campaign Manager with Change.org where I worked to empower citizen activits and organziations to use online tools and platforms to sucessfully launch and win campaigns for social justice. While at Change.org I worked on a number of campaigns tied to immigrant rights including campaigns to keep families together, recognize the rights of domestic workers and care takers, and fights around wage theft for undocumented workers. Prior to Change.org I worked as a grassroots organizer for Pleitez for Congress and Obama for America where I mobilized the Latino vote and organized around issues important to the Latino community including immigration reform.

Q: In your opinion, why should organizers working on other issues take inspiration from the fight for immigration reform?

A: The fight for comprehensive immigration reform is a prime example of building a movement on our terms by real people. Throughout the campaign, there have been many moments where the media or Congress tried to split our community and overthrow our fight. They painted stories of “good” undocumented individuals vs “bad” undocumented individuals based on how they or their families came to the US, to try and convince their American public that only some deserve access to legalization and citizenship. They also tried to pin the LGBT movement against the immigration movement, etc. Time and again, immigration reform activists have rallied community members to action and changed the way we talk about immigration in this country by focusing on real people, real stories, and common values.

There are currently over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in constant fear of deportation. The movement to move undocumented immigrants out from behind the shadows is also a fight for workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, and above all, a basic fight for human rights. This movement is unique in that it affects each and every one of us regardless of background and status. Whether you are a business owner, a teacher, a parent, a law enforcement officer, a college student, a community leader, a person of faith, or an undocumented American- your life is touched by immigrants and this broken system.

Q: What is the biggest lesson from the battle for immigration reform in 2013, and how can organizers apply that lesson to their work?

A: Here’s what organizers can learn from this session and from the immigration reform movement:

  • How to take back the morality argument from “family-values conservatives” through personal stories
  • How to activate and engage youth as leaders in the fight
  • How to use stories to cut through the noise and take the conversation from political bickering to the lives of real people
  • How to pick up unlikely allies (read: conservatives & faith activists)

Q: Why should folks attend your session at Netroots Nation, and how can they connect with you?

A: Our session will be insightful both to seasoned campaigners and first time organizers. Regardless of your issue, the power of personal stories to speak for your movement, build a larger and diverse base, and drive people to action is critical for any campaign.

To learn more about our work, follow @RI4A or email egutierrez [at] cccaction [dot] org

To attend this training, or one of the 39 others at Netroots Nation 2014 in Detroit, register now.

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