Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Where Are We on the Ladder of Clarity?

Guest blogger: Jeanette M. Acosta, third-year law student, UC Hastings

On the heels of the United States v. Texas oral argument, I write to reflect on the immigration reform movement and look at the movement’s ongoing fight through the lens of Evan Wolfson’s “ladder of clarity.”  Evan Wolfson is the founder and President of Freedom to Marry, the multi-decade campaign to win marriage nationwide, and author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry.  Earlier this month, I had the chance to attend a Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly fireside chat-style event featuring Wolfson and I left with a new framework to think about and apply to comprehensive immigration reform efforts.

During the event, Wolfson discussed how the Freedom to Marry campaign succeeded.  What particularly stuck with me after the event was Wolfson’s ladder of clarity, which is comprised of four rungs that are needed for a successful social change campaign.  Wolfson’s approach echoes aspects of Marshall Ganz’s community organizing framework; however, the approach maintains its own organizing style.  The first rung on the ladder is to have a non-amorphous goal.  The second rung is to have a clear-cut public strategy and to stick to it.  The third rung is to have clarity of “vehicles” and partnerships that will further the strategy.  The fourth and final rung is clarity of action steps that can be articulated to people who want to help.  

While there is no sure-fire way to create social change, it is worth applying this framework and considering whether or not the immigration reform movement’s ladder of clarity is polished and ready for continued climbing.  Given our long history as a nation of immigrants, I will limit this analysis of the immigration reform movement to the post-2012 election timeframe. 

In regard to the first and top rung, the goal of the post-2012 immigration reform movement is to create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented Americans-in-waiting. As Wolfson pointed out, the goal of the Freedom to Marry campaign was winning the freedom to marry, which connected to deeper values and emotions, and allowed campaign advocates to connect with those outside of the LGBT community.  The question to consider is does the goal of creating a pathway to citizenship connect with those who might not be directly impacted by immigration reform?  If we cannot articulate what winning looks like and connect with those who are not supportive or are indifferent, we will not reach out goal effectively or at all. 

The second rung involves clarity of strategy.  Early on in the Freedom to Marry campaign, the multi-year, multi-state, multi-partner, and multi-methodology strategy was to bring the nation to a resolution at the U.S. Supreme Court.  In regard to the multi-methodology aspect of the strategy, the Freedom to Marry campaign combined litigation, legislation, direct action, public education, and public narrative and storytelling.  In the context of immigration reform, the “multis” appear and have appeared to be in effect.  As the former Immigration Campaign Coordinator with an organization actively involved in the 2013 immigration reform fight and member to the broad coalition, Alliance for Citizenship, I had the chance to be involved in strategy implementation.  The strategy in 2013 was arguably to bring our nation to a resolution in the U.S. Congress and have a comprehensive immigration reform bill signed into law by President Obama.  However, with opposition cemented in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the strategy shifted.  The continued work and advocacy of the coalition and countless others arguably created the climate for a (now disputed) series of administrative reforms that were announced by the Obama Administration on November 20 and 21 of 2014.  The key piece of the reforms was an expansion of the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) initiative and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (“DAPA”) initiative for the parents of U.S citizens and lawful permanent residents who meet specific criteria.  According to the Migration Policy Institute, the two initiatives could provide 5.2 million people with temporary relief from deportation.  Now, flash-forward, advocates have coalesced around the Fight for Families and bringing the nation to a U.S. Supreme Court win in United States v. Texas.  However, Texas and 25 other states seek to block the implementation of the two initiatives.  Yet, the Fight for Families movement including 15 states, D.C., 73 mayors and county officials stand in support of the Administration’s reform efforts.  As Wolfson noted, “we should not define ourselves or our goal on our opponents’ terms; we should define ourselves by our own vision, because we are right.”

The third rung involves clarity of vehicles.  As Wolfson rightly said during the discussion earlier this month, you don’t win every battle but you don’t have to make that loss the enemy.  A movement must “lose forward.”  So a diverse portfolio of vehicles and reform efforts moving toward the overarching goal are essential to a successful movement because losses might happen.  While I, along with many others, am hopeful for a positive outcome for the Texas case in June, we must remember that there are more vehicles in play.  Every day, there are actions and events on campuses and in communities, advocates meeting with Members and their staff in Legislatures, and organizers knocking on doors in neighborhoods across the country.

The fourth rung is clarity of action steps.  How do people know what to do in order to help out?  I think that this is an area where all movements can constantly improve upon and leverage new and traditional organizing tools.  In regard to action steps taken by the immigration reform movement, the post-2012 movement has learned a great deal from the power and impact of DREAMers’ fearless and public storytelling.  The more that individuals can hear and see the human faces and families impacted by our broken immigration system, the closer we get to the goal of creating a pathway to citizenship for those in need and ensuring that families are kept together.  Thus, it is important for the movement to continue promoting opportunities for people to share their stories with others.  Now, just as the Freedom to Marry campaign, advocates, and families across the country celebrated the Supreme Court ruling last June, let’s hope for another celebration this coming June in the Fight for Families.



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