On Civil Disobedience

*Note: This entry contains thoughts and opinions that belong solely to the writer. It is not a reflection of Dreamers Adrift as a contingent.*

Not too long ago, I received a phone call from a very prominent and well-known DREAMer who wanted to ask me a “strange question”.

I decided to indulge the caller.

First question she asked?

“Have you ever thought about getting arrested?”

I knew exactly where this was going. She wasn’t asking about my thoughts over being arrested out on streets on my daily grind. Of course I’ve thought about the possibility of being arrested. I’m undocumented!! Getting arrested is always on my mind. It’s a scenario that I have to push to the back of my head in order to start my car and get going every morning.

I chose my words carefully.

“Yes. I have thought about getting arrested. I’ve thought about it a lot.”

“How would you like to get arrested later this month?”

There it was.

I declined politely, citing several reasons why I wouldn’t be available to have my ass hauled off to jail and fingerprinted for her upcoming civil disobedience action. I expressed interest in a future action, told her to let me know once she has something lined up and organized. But I didn’t really delve too much into what I really wanted to discuss.

She called back a couple of more times, doing her best to address my concerns and appease my anxiety about participating. She made a point to tell me that many others like me have done it in the past, and her organization’s track record speaks for itself.  And I couldn’t help but notice something very important: Not once did she ever think about talking to me about the action itself. She didn’t mention the idea for the action, the importance of the action and why she thought it had to take place, why it was necessary to have DREAMers arrested. No pitch, no details, no nothing. Just a yes-or-no question.

Truth is, I admire this person for having the guts and tenacity to call random people she doesn’t know on a personal or professional level and asking them to risk deportation for… well… whatever covert operation she has going. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to do such a thing without feeling like I have to explain myself a bit before asking someone to make a very important life decision on the spot.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve grown from a loud and agitated ignorant activist (with my heart in the right place, of course) who had no problem with throwing shit into the fan just to see what it would look like all over the walls, to a more thoughtful and strategy-orientated individual. And don’t get me wrong; I definitely feel that civil disobedience has its place in every movement, including the DREAM Act momentum.

But really? Has it come down to casting a wide net out there to find individuals who’re on the fence about how to best move our campaign forward, and convincing them to get arrested without even having a discussion about your organization’s political philosophy? I could definitely see a younger more-naïve me accepting to trust a complete stranger and become a participant in whatever action they had in mind, so long as it created a major stir, no questions asked, no second thoughts addressed. But not anymore. I’ve come to understand that this movement is bigger than a dozen people getting arrested at the same time in different places around the nation. And with a movement as big and diverse as ours, every action counts.

I know that other people have their own objectives and their own philosophy about how to best deal with this unrelenting situation of ours. But personally, if I’m going to be participating in a civil disobedience demonstration, there are a few points that I need to clear with those organizing the event and with myself:

  1. Does this action fall in line with my own personal philosophy? Do I agree and understand what the statement of the action is? Is the overall message one that I can get behind fully?
  2. Is this action in line with local, state, and national campaigns?
  3. Is this action going to hurt or damage the reputation of any local organizations? Is it going to create extra strain and/or misunderstanding between organizations working on this same issue? Is it going to damage the perception of individuals in my situation on any level?
  4. Will we be able to control our message? Is there a possibility that it might be misconstrued or misrepresented in the media? What steps are being taken in order to retain some control of our message?
  5. What do we expect to get out of the action (on a professional, organizational, and personal level)?
  6. Are there funds already secured to get everybody out of jail?

If I’m going to get placed in tourniquet zip ties, these concerns of mine need to be addressed and secured first.

I need to know what I’m doing is what I want to do, not what someone else is asking from me for someone else’s agenda. I need to know that what I’m doing is going to forward the movement, not stall it or hurt it. I’m through being a pawn for politicians; No way am I going to now become one for foundations allegedly organizing for my liberation.

I also feel that the logistics of the action really need to be dissected and addressed. I don’t think it’s constructive to drop in on a community (one that you’re not a part of), put on your own event/action without communicating with local organizations, get community members arrested without having any funds for their bail, and then ask the community you’re trying to help to pick up the tab for your action after the fact. I fail to see how this furthers the idea of community when you’re placing an urgent monetary responsibility on people who are more than likely strapped for cash.  As urgent as some of these issues we face are, I don’t believe that we can afford to trade organization for actions out of desperation.

I’ve thought about the past several actions, and I feel nothing but a deep sense of pride, admiration, and respect for the individuals who decided to participate.  They exercised their first amendment right, it brought up different issues affecting our communities into the press and overall societal consciousness, and it created an opportunity for DREAMers to look into different venues of escalating and proliferating action.

But as far as I know, these last couple of C.D. actions have created a divisive sentiment between many DREAMers, for many reasons. And in my opinion, this is probably the most positive outcome of these past several actions. I sincerely believe that sooner or later, we have to have this discussion.

Have we, as DREAMers, been too passive? Are these C.D. actions direly necessary? If so, is there a more constructive and better way to go about creating the space for these actions? How can we work on these campaigns without it evolving into something divisive?

Personally, I made up my mind that sooner or later, I will be take part in an action. But until there’s an action that I can support enough to risk ICE detection and detention, I’ll be focusing on working on getting my message across on my own terms and through my own venues.

Any thoughts/comments/input welcomed in the comments section.

In solidarity,


12 Responses to “On Civil Disobedience”
  1. annette says:

    Great piece, Jesus. Hopefully this will serve as food for thought for those younger versions of you just entering the movement.

  2. Random Hero says:

    “Over the past 10 years, I’ve grown from a loud and agitated ignorant activist (with my heart in the right place, of course) who had no problem with throwing shit into the fan just to see what it would look like all over the walls, to a more thoughtful and strategy-orientated individual.”

    Sometimes that shit on the wall looks like elephants, clouds and cup cakes. And much like you, I’ve been making the same transition. When people start talking about ‘divisiveness’ within the movement, the challenging/questioning of ideas,actions and individuals work/intentions, it turns into, well shit hitting the wall. I know the shit I started by questions where bail funds go, disagreeing with CD actions and the circumstances of those actions could have been done in a more … mature fashion, but at the same time, I can’t help who or how I am.

    How can you be against the movement ? Don’t you support those who are getting arrested? Aren’t you undoc & unafraid ? Give us your money because we are manipulating your emotions and feelings of solidarity/compassion for the movement … “people will donate money once they get arrested.” Am I really a bad dreamer for questioning the actions and intentions of folks who are shady as fucks?

    Whatever direction the ongoing conversation takes, I’m sure things will get worse before they get better. Names will be called, things will be said and intentions will be questioned. Sides will be choosen and people will stop talking to each other. Fine by me. Thanks for posting your two cents on this and for keeping it real, even though keeping it real can go wrong sometimes.


  3. Laura says:

    Great post and thank you for sharing. I hope this reflection of yours helps / guides students that are being contacted by this person for upcoming civil disobedience actions.

  4. hmm says:

    I think this is an important list of questions, but I also think that in many actions since the first DREAM civil disobedience, the answer to several of these questions has been that they were out of line with what many organizations wanted and that funds were not secured for the highest possible bail amounts, and also that the insider/outsider dichotomy with respect to community is tricky because communities are not, of course, monoliths. I agree strongly that one should be able to assess if the philosophy behind an action lines up with one’s own, and that this can only occur when information is shared. I do, however, think that an action that isn’t right for a particular person or even group may still be a valid, right action for a different person or group of people.

  5. Ivan Ceja says:

    This is a must read. Mad love, respect, and props to you Jesus. I must say that while I was reading this, I felt like you were tapping into so many thoughts that have been wandering in my mind and continue to do so for the past couple of weeks, and even today. Once again, you capture into words thoughts & feelings that I’m sure so many share. Thanks.

  6. carlos says:

    thank you for raising these important questions and thoughts Jesus. I agree that these discussions should happen in a collective and safe space, soon.

  7. Kevin Solis says:

    When in dialog with a military recruiter, do they say “let me tell you about the current actions around the world, explain the background, background, desired outcomes and see if you want to fight.” Or, do they say “are you ready to serve your country?” The answer to this question is based not on forces external to you but on internal. The answer will change throughout your life. But this is not a question of ‘to CD or not CD’, it’s that all immigrant rights activist movements analyze their policies in a similar 5 point matrix…against an opponent that is singularly focused; getting you out of their country. Their actions and policies demonstrate they take no concern with positioning or appearance, nor how these will affect their own political party. It is a scorched earth, take no prisoners policy headed by FAIR, CIS, and Numbers USA. If we look to each other as “good DREAMer” or “bad DREAMer” we stop looking at them and they win. At the next action ask “am I able to look past an action that I may agree or disagree with and see my real opponent?” “Am I as focused on them as they are upon me?” And finally, name the last CD conducted by FAIR and ask yourself, “why are they so effective without this?” That is where you need to ponder a 5 point analysis. Don’t let them distract you. And make sure you are clear on who “them” is.
    Jesus, thank you for opening the discussion of what we were all thinking. Let’s not let it stop there.

  8. felipe escobar says:

    Like Ivan mention in a previous post, your toughs mirror some of my toughs about CD. I give you props for how you kept it real and not attacking anyone at the same time, I hope more individuals can start sharing their opinions about or how someone else is carrying out their work similar to how you did and not having to trashtalk someone else just because they’re choose to carry out their work differently, if we should be attacking anyone else is should those who are oppressing and constantly attacking our communities and not waster their time criticizing someone who’s working towards the same cause because that is just going to slow our movement down and only give us another ten years of no federal DREAM act or CIR.

  9. good for nothing Dj says:

    Need to share this…Lots of work and tweaks to make the show happen. Some of those tweaks plain and simply dishonest, dreamer to dreamer dishonest.
    Lots of clean up, sometimes unwillingly, but who else is going to do it? At this point good hearted people just look for the best good hearted thing to do to make the best out of the situation.

  10. hijadetlaloc says:

    I am still “a loud and agitated ignorant activist,” but the agitated part aint ganna change much. At least I accepted it, and use my anger and agitation in positive ways. The ignorant part is slowly getting better…which is why the above entry makes so much sense to me. very well said!

  11. Fermin V. says:

    One of the best reflective and most meaningful pieces I’ve read in a long time around dream movement. Thanks for expanding our understanding and standing up to question strategy.

    Cheers Jesus!

  12. Ingrid C. says:

    I ran into this post randomly while browsing the site. Even though you wrote it a few months ago everything you’re saying is reminding me of the events in Alabama this Tuesday. When I heard this was going to happen I got scared. The non-profit I work for has a legal project, and every day I see the reality of what happens when people get ICE detainers, the bad prison conditions, the abuses, and I see how hard life is for people with deportation proceedings–especially in the South. For this reason, I grew very angry when I received an e-mail asking me for money to bail people out. Knowing how undocumented prisoners are treated, and talking to ICE personnel makes me extra cautious about undocumented immigrants participating in C.D. In Mississippi, we thought C.D. would be necessary eventually, given the history of the state, but back in the 60s, no one participating in C.D. risked deportation. If it happens, it would be very far off and only as a last resort, only after talking to a bunch of experiences laywers, and only if we can raise the gargantuan amount of money it costs to bail and undocumented immigrant out of jail (4K-17K for non-violent offenses seems to be the average here). I think that in MS, if anyone ever mentions C.D. I’ll definitely use your questions as a guide to whether or not it’s doable or strategic in this state. Otherwise, we’re going to stick to things that keep us away from cops. It’s hard enough being brown here even WITH papers, and scary without.