Sunday, September 10, 2006

Losing Traction?

The AP headline that floated across the top of my screen (an annoyance that comes courtesy of my Earthlink account) stated "Low Turnout at L.A. Immigration Rally." Apparently only about 350 or so folks showed up, as opposed to the 500,000 who attended the march and rally earlier this year. From that AP story:

Few people turned out Saturday for a rally demanding amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants, the latest sign of pro-immigrant groups' struggles to regain momentum after hundreds of thousands marched for the cause in the spring.

Local bands played rock music, vendors offered chicken tacos and dozens of activists set up information booths in a downtown field. But only about 350 people showed up, and many were organizers and journalists.

Sounds like a complete bust, right? I suppose, in some respects it was. Still, the march came after several days of a Latino conference held in Los Angeles in which community leaders discussed the next steps in immigration reform. I think those efforts are a bit more noteworthy, especially at this point in the process. The LA Times had a rather unusual article on that event, unusual insofar as it seemed to be reaching to downplay its significance. Here's the part of the article that I found useful.

Has the immigrant rights movement fizzled?

At a national Latino conference that drew hundreds to downtown Los Angeles last week, movement leaders emphatically said no.

Although Congress has stalled action on broad immigration reform and Labor Day marches failed to mobilize wide support, activists said they were only now beginning to roll out the next stage of their battle: a massive effort to produce 1 million new Latino voters and U.S. citizens.

"Now is not march time," Antonio Gonzalez, president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in Los Angeles, said Saturday. "We're mobilizing voters. That's the big deal."

...Louis DeSipio, a UC Irvine associate professor of political science and Chicano/Latino studies, said it was premature to dismiss prospects for broad immigration reform.

He said such aims could take years to achieve. The 1986 amnesty for illegal immigrants, for instance, took a decade to pass and did so abruptly, just as most members of Congress thought the provision dead.

DeSipio said movements cannot be built from marches alone.

"It's good they've moved away from the marches," he said. "Marches can get people's attention, but it doesn't necessarily get a higher percentage of the community involved in civic participation. That's what things like get-out-the-vote and voter registration drives do."

...The number of new Latino voters grew by 35,000 in Los Angeles County from March to August, helping to boost their share of the electorate from 20% to 24% over last year, according to an analysis of Los Angeles County registrar-recorder data by the Latino officials' organization.
[Emphasis added]

It's become clear that no immigration reform bill is going to get through Congress before the elections. For all the huffing and puffery of recess "hearings", it's just not going to happen. The GOP is divided on the issue, and the Emperor is fairly impotent on the issue, no matter what he does. There's an election to be salvaged.

This fact has been appreciated by the immigrant political community. On the one hand, it keeps 11 million people in limbo, not knowing just what is going to happen. On the other hand, however, it gives them a little time to start doing the hard work that results in the kind of change that is needed. The marches are necessary to keep the issue in front of folks. The voter registration and GOTV efforts are necessary to resolve the problems.

It looks to me like the immigration rights has indeed not fizzled. It's just organizing. I am cautiously optimistic.


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