We just wrapped up dinner and an evening plenary here at the RI4A Summit. And, as if things couldn’t get any better, its been a great night.
Today over 700 advocates hit the halls of Congress to talk to their representatives about immigration reform and the issues that are affecting their communities. Organizers of the Summit have been receiving phone calls from their friends within the beltway about just HOW MANY of our advocates were on the Hill today.
One woman told me that towards the end of their very long day talking to lawmakers, one of the security guards at the Capitol asked her “Who are you guys?! You have been everywhere.” Suffice it to say that I think we have made an impact.
Perhaps the best story of the night though is an incredible development in the case of Robert Cote and his family. Earlier, I posted on Robert’s horrifying testimony of his wife’s arrest and pending legal case. When Robert visited his Representative today in Congress, he told his story and his Rep. (not sure who, but I will find out for you guys) immediately put his family in touch with his own legal counsel, in order to search for a way to win his wife’s case. The Representative was so impacted by Robert’s story that he vowed to begin work to pass legislation in the state to ensure this never happened again.
Robert related the story of this incredible visit to us tonight during our dinner plenary, and the good news was met with a celebratory round of applause. Its encouraging to see the hard work and efforts of these amazing organizers pay off. I am in awe of the people I have met this week – people like Robert – who are among the most dedicated, energetic, kind and genuine individuals I have had the privelege to work with and represent. I am honored to be a part of this.
One of those individuals spoke last night, Sister Mary McCauley. Sister Mary became the hero of the Postville disaster last May, when she opened the doors of St. Bridget’s Church to the traumatized community, as a sanctuary from the fear, despair and overall destruction that had gripped the town.
Sister Mary’s speech was different from the others we have heard in these past few days. She rarely spoke of policy and there were no “si se puedes” erupting from the crowd. Rather, she spoke from her heart and the audience was almost silent (a feat for 700 tired and hungry organizers), riveted by the terror and the humanity of her words. She spoke of the individuals affected by the Postville raid, and of her own committment to immigration reform and the immigrant rights movement because of the injustice she witnessed.
McCauley is humanizing the debate in a way that I feel is sometimes lost.
After 48 hours of chants, signs and staying on message with policy expectations, Sister Mary’s candid words were a breath of fresh air – albeit the kind of fresh air that reminds you there is much injustice still to be fought.
After Sister Mary, Gerald Lenoir, the Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, spoke of the need to bring African American communities in the fight for immigration reform. I think this is thechallenge of the immigrant rights movement at the moment – building black/brown power and working against the propaganda of divisiveness to make sure that the movement is inclusive.
Ernesto Cortes, Regional Director of the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, closed out the night – reminding us that we need to be thoughtful about how we fight if we want to win. Again, from kyledb’s live-tweeting (thanks, Kyle!):
Cortes – the only way we can get immigration reform passed is to communicate with people different than ourselves.
Cortes reminded us that it is only through the agitation of those who think differently than we do that we can win hearts and minds, in order to move the votes we need in Congress.
In closing, Cortes adress the infuriating injustice that the most vulnerable have faced because of our broken immigration system. He reminded us that Cold Anger is the only kind of anger that will help us win this fight.
Cortes – anger should give you patience, discipline, and a sense of humor.
We are angry. We are impatient. We are ready for change. But we must continue this fight with discipline and humanity. We must continue to win the small battles – like Robert Cote’s case – and push steadily towards the reform we need.