Last week I joined New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as he announced a multi-state lawsuit against the Trump administration for its callous and unnecessary repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program. As I stood there with the crowd of activists that had assembled for the announcement at John Jay College, I began remembering the stories of the hundreds of Dreamers we have supported and worked with over the past decade. The traits of these immigrant youth that I have come to know - their infectious resolve, hope and promise - washed over me and I realized something important: we’re not going to lose this battle.
Ever since Election Day 2016, our communities have been bracing for the worst. And truth be told, the last several months have been exactly what many of us in the civil rights and social justice communities expected. A racist, nativist, sexist and homophobic administration has come to power and has attempted to impose itself on some of America’s most vulnerable communities. Suffice it to say, these have been some pretty dark months.
But we can’t live in the darkness. And what the stories of our Dreamers has confirmed for me is that fighting back against this onslaught of hate can only be successful if we commit to doing these four things:
Strengthen our Institutions: Hispanic Federation was founded more than 25 years ago to strengthen Latino grassroots organizations. These are the institutions that are on the frontlines of providing social, legal, educational and health services to our children and families, and advocating for the needs and aspirations of our diverse communities. We know that social change cannot happen without community organizing, base- and leadership-building, and education efforts. But they need our help. Institutions led by and for communities of color are severely under-capitalized, receiving less than 2 percent of annual philanthropic funding. If we’re serious about protecting civil rights in America, we’re all going to have to increase our commitment to these essential institutions.
Build Collaborations: We can’t do this alone. None of us. Not the LGBTQ movement. Not African American communities. Not organized labor. Not Latino communities. We have to recognize that our struggle for civil rights isn’t taking place in isolation from other struggles for civil rights. That’s why we need labor leaders to push for the Dream Act and why we need the LGBTQ community to demand criminal justice reform. The struggle for immigrants’ rights isn’t just a Latino issue, it’s an issue for Haitians, and the Irish, Chinese and Bangladeshis. In recent years we have built strong ties to the LGBTQ community to combat homophobia and transphobia in Orlando, and have strengthened our work with African American communities fighting for educational justice and criminal justice reform. These local collaborations need to be expanded to the national stage. In the face of attacks on Muslim immigrants, all immigrants must stand together. In unity, there is power and strength. In unity, change is always possible.
Get More Involved: If last year’s election confirmed something for us it is that we need more civic education and engagement in our communities. When communities of color are deeply engaged in the political process—when we register to vote, when we know the issues, when we hear directly from candidates—we are as excited by the electoral process as any other American. We need to redouble our civic engagement work. We already have our eyes on the important midterm elections of 2018, when we hope to change the historical underrepresentation of Latino voters in a number of key states.
Tell our Story: One of the most frustrating aspects of this last election cycle was the stream of misinformation about our communities - much of it coming from the Trump campaign and its supporters in the right-wing press. From immigration to criminal justice, there were so many duplicitous narratives about Latinos that it was difficult to keep track. We must fight back. We can’t allow the political discourse in the nation be framed by fake news and “factually-challenged” assertions. We have a story to tell about our families and businesses, our veterans and teachers, our children and our elderly. Last week, as I listened to the Dreamers in New York, I heard profoundly American stories of hope, sacrifice, effort and commitment. The lawmakers who will decide the fate of the Dreamers—and the fate of so many other pieces of legislation that will impact our communities—should hear these stories too.
I know that what I have outlined above won’t be easy, but democracy never is. These strategies will require work and our commitment, but I’m convinced of their effectiveness.
This is how we’ll beat them.
José Calderón is President of the Hispanic Federation.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.