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:
- 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?
- Is this action in line with local, state, and national campaigns?
- 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?
- 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?
- What do we expect to get out of the action (on a professional, organizational, and personal level)?
- 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.