Thursday, May 03, 2007

‘Our movement needs a vision and goals that address broader social and political change’

‘Our movement needs a vision and goals that address broader social and political change’

Interview with Monami Maulik of DRUM by Arnoldo García

Monami Maulk: For years DRUM has understood that undocumented workers, in the U.S. and globally, are major forces for social change. 2006 was a culmination and realization of the power and ability of the immigrant community, chipping away at the legitimacy of U.S. government practices. Internally, there has been a huge shift in racial composition of the country; immigration is impacting race and class. There is a serious global erosion of U.S. standing in Third World, in immigrants’ home countries and in the Middle East.

Particularly, coming from South Asian and Muslim communities, 2006 became a turning point. Our communities realized: what more could the government do to them, breaking through the political fears and daily fears of working seven days a week to survive in this climate.

What are the key alliances to build in the next period?

Building inter-generational alliances and leadership, especially of immigrant youth we were either brought here or born to migrant parents. There is not enough attention paid to this and not enough credit given to the youth upsurge. High school students were outraged at Sensenbrenner, organizing the walk-outs and working with their families.

We missed the board on building alliances with African American communities. There was a big opportunity, not building in a tokenistic way, and build longstanding relations in the wake of tensions with immigrant communities. Work is needed to build dialogues and strategic alliances. While is useful to see the immigrant community upsurges as a new civil rights movement; this assumes that old civil rights movement is over or finished. We need to hone an inclusive vision and strategy with African American movements, which is also suffering setbacks of gains made thirty years ago.

We need to also change our messaging too. When we hear marchers chanting, “We are not criminals,” this makes some of our community members cringe and sends the message that “we’re one step above” African Americans, because we’re not criminals or one step above because we’re not terrorists. Muslim and South Asian immigrant community members react with serious distrust marching hand-in hand with Latino immigrants when we hear these chants; makes us feel that they believe Muslims are terrorists and makes our communities less prone to working with Latinos. This reflects that there is not a sense in Latino community about what’s happening in the Muslim world. Makes people in South Asian and Muslim communities less likely to want to connect to Latino migrants struggles at the border.

Key issues in next two-year period, 2007-2008?

We need to set policy goals that are accountable to building a movement and not the other way around. Our movement should have a vision and goals that address broader social and political change, while building strategic alliances to achieve them. So if the strategy in the next two years becomes only winning a certain type of legislation then we haven’t learned lessons – from civil rights or other movements – that we need to address and solve the root causes facing migrant communities. We need to build serious organizations where none existed before, where people have emerged as active and leaders.

Lastly, building strategic alliances across nationality, different immigrant communities, to build a movement that’s not solely a Latino immigrant rights movement but an inclusive movement, which demands racial justice and civil rights and incorporates social issues that affect all communities.

We need cross-pollenization among groups doing electoral work and those doing community organizing with larger goals of social justice. We cannot believe that only by changing Congress we can get what we want.

A key issue is shaping our demands to be accountable to what’s possible from our community and not what is possible on whatever elected official is in office. This means not trading off rights and demands is key. While developing the ability to win any decent comprehensive reform bill, some groups have gone off alone to develop legislation on their own, which is piece meal, If we continue to do that in the current climate – because we haven’t yet made an attempt to develop consensus on what communities what, building unity, which is difficult among communities that are already segmented and marginalized – this will lead to more segmentation and going off in different directions.

We need to get down to the hard business of getting to know each other, as central to developing community-based vision and strategies. Communities are not just waiting to march for policies that they have not been consulted with by policy groups.

How do we break the logjam and rollback xenophobia?

Part of the hard work of getting to know each other and the harder work of building deep alliances not just in moments of crisis with those forces, who are outside the immigrant rights movement, is taking on the media messaging against immigrants that the Bush Administration and others are using to frame issues after 9/11. It will have to be a serious and far-reaching campaign to change the public’s mind. This is not just about addressing suburbia or middle America; it means exposing in the eye of the public the root causes of why migrants are forced to be here, their role in the U.S. economy and that upholds the wealth of this society.

At the level of communities, not just migrants, for example Katrina and African Americans, with the deteriorating support for the war in Iraq, we need to radicalize the U.S. public. When society is becoming more radical in this way, it can have impact on Congress and those who are in power. This also means radicalizing people in terms of education but also in the strategies we use.

We have to be ready on a mass scale to do civil disobedience, work strikes and stoppages – exercising power unapologetically, without feeling need to paint ourselves as deserving, good immigrants.

Within our community, there never was faith and hope that there was going to be a serious legalization that would be good for us. We are still wrapped up completely in a phase of defensive battles, resisting the attacks. The long-term depends on what happens abroad, globally the war aboard, and the xenophobia at home; we are faced with the defensive battles and will have to chip away at some of the severity of immigration law enforcement.

One way immigrant rights issues can overcome the climate, where local communities can develop a sense of their power to build the future, is to chip away and demand an end to immigration-police collaboration, and expand local ordinances, get driver’s licenses. Building local victories over the “war on terror” will be key to rolling back the anti-immigrant climate during the next two years.

Monami Maulik is the director of DRUM: Desis Rising Up and Moving, based in Jackson Heights, New York. Arnoldo García is the editor of Network News and heads up NNIRR’s Immigrant Justice and Rights Program.

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