As a good friend of mine said, describing the struggle, “We have to move a large rock, and this requires many hands.”
I was reminded of this when on September 22, I marched with students and teachers across the 16th street Unity Bridge in support of the DREAM Act.
Before the march we were honored to hear from Peggy Rozga, one of the NAACP youth council members that marched across that bridge in 1967 against segregation in Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. For 200 days they marched across the bridge, facing a violent and dangerous mob.
She said to us, “When I was a young woman marching here, my dream was that others would follow and pick up that banner of social justice. You students are my dream come true.”
This was a beautiful moment because it reaffirmed what it means to be part of a social movement—it is not just about the goal, it is about how we get there, and building and sustaining a culture based on community, democracy, respect, and compassion for others. To see our efforts as part of a link in a chain, that cannot, and must not, be broken.
On the day the vote was taken on the DREAM Act, I did not see it as a setback—I saw it as a measure of the strength of the immigrant rights movement.
Not even powerful corporate interests in the high tech industry had succeeded in getting their version of an immigration bill up for a vote, it was the DREAM Act, and the determination of a diverse youth movement that got it that far.
The DREAM Act and a federal Senate immigration reform bill have been introduced before the elections.
But as Frederick Douglas, a powerful voice against slavery said, “Power concedes nothing without demand, it never did and it never will” –which means, that we must sustain and nourish the movement for the long haul.
Part of sustaining the movement is recognizing our progress and achievements— beating back Sensenbrenner’s HR 4437 in 2006, winning the support of a majority of Americans for federal immigration reform, 57% support immigration reform and 70% support the DREAM Act, defeating the national and state Social Security No Match rules that were causing unjust dismissals; mobilizing the largest march to date under the Obama Administration with over half a million people on March 21 marching in Washington DC for immigration reform; a successful push back against the implementation of Arizona’s SB1070 through a national boycott, mass mobilizations on May 1 in over 70 cities, including Milwaukee with 65,000 protestors, a mass national protest of more than 100,000 on May 29th in Phoenix, and of course winning in-state tuition in Wisconsin in 2009.
We are in challenging times—we have made progress, real gains, yet we also face many threats.
At no other time in history has there existed a greater social inequality globally and nationally. In the richest nation in the world, 1 in 10 people live in poverty.
Immigrants today, like immigrants of previous generations and people of color are convenient scapegoats for the economic crisis created by the financial elite and transnational corporations that have closed manufacturing jobs in the US.
The next weeks ahead will be critical.
We have politicians in Wisconsin running on a political platform that embraces the politics of hatred, racism, and xenophobia.
Ron Johnson, a Republican multimillionaire running for US Senate, advocates changing the US Constitution to allow Arizona-type laws to expand across the nation and opposes legalization.
Wisconsin’s Republican candidate for Governor, Scott Walker, has pledged to take away in-state tuition rights for immigrant students, block driver card legislation we hope to win in 2011, deny prenatal medical care for pregnant immigrant women, and applauds Arizona’s law, famously saying, “If I were governor of Arizona, I would have signed that law.”
We have a target on our back and it’s our job to sound the alarm and unite in a fight for our future.
We cannot lose ground. We must come through this fight, with greater unity and numbers of people engaged in the battle, to ensure we have a stronger base ready to hold those in power accountable to either deliver on the changes we seek or defend ourselves against attacks.
As we fight for equality, it is essential to challenge prejudice against others within our own movement, whether by race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation or identity.
We’re doing everything right and the only thing left to do is to keep our hand on the freedom plough and as the words of one of my favorite civil rights songs says, “Keep our eyes on the prize, and hold on.”
This post is also available in: Spanish