Ally’s Guide to the DREAM

Working on the DREAM Act as an ally is like being pounded by waves at the beach.  Just when you think you’ve seen the biggest wave- yeah, that one was huge, it probably won’t get any bigger than that- a bigger one comes, throwing you over and leaving you winded. ÂJust when you think you’ve seen the worst, you haven’t seen anything at all.

Getting a full understanding is a process.  A friend comes out to you- and another, and another. You go to the rallies. You sign the petitions.  You use your Facebook to link those petitions. You find yourself going deeper and deeper, until it’s pretty clear there’s no going back.  And every day, all the time, you wonder if you’re doing everything you can do.

If you just can’t take it anymore, if you just can’t watch any more of your friends graduate with dreams deferred, here’s a rundown of stuff you already know, but might have forgotten:

  • Follow the lead. One of the best allies I know maintains that the most important thing is to really let dreamers have their voice. Literally.  In meetings, at conferences, make a concerted effort to spend the majority of your time listening (if this is a struggle for you, feel free to email me for moral support, as talking is one of my favorite extra-curricular activities in general).  Speak only when absolutely necessary, since your job is to help them be heard.  The premise of the DREAM Act is to restore agency to young undocumented immigrants, so we should reflect that in our work and make sure they are the agents in their own movement.  If you’re down with the cause, you know that this is about empowering a disempowered group. So acknowledge their power, and lend them the support of yours.
  • Yet as you help dreamers be heard, be vocal in your support.  In class, in conversations, and especially online- this means discussion boards, message boards, chat rooms, etc.  Ever heard of racial battle fatigue? Studies show that many black university students show frustration, disappointment, resentment, helplessness, and hopelessness due to their being defined as “out of place” and “fitting the description” of illegitimate members of university campuses.  And it sounds like exactly what it means- they get tired of fighting sometimes.  This is no different.  If a topic steers towards immigration or towards human rights, speak up.  The support is both practical and moral.  You never know who may be listening to you speak or reading what you write- a potential ally, or perhaps a dreamer who, encouraged by the support, speaks for herself.  Is someone being a nativist punk? You probably can’t shut them down completely, but you can try (all those message boards that require you to register to comment? Create a fake email address to beat the spam).  And you can let them know that somebody really, really disagrees and thinks they’re a… you know.  Steer away from foul language and all capitals, and you will come off as a sentient human being while the nativist punk will just look like a lunatic.  So go ahead, and in the spirit of love and compassion for others- raise hell.
  • Do the obvious stuff, and do it over and over again.  If your congressperson is not on board yet with the DREAM Act, let them know you’re less than pleased.  Call, email, fax, send a carrier pigeon.  Do it a lot.  There’s a 19 year old intern listening to voice messages, going through mail, and receiving carrier pigeons, tallying the number of times constituents mention support for the DREAM.
  • Enjoy doing the “dirty” work; flyering, petition drives, clean ups, etc.  When people estimate attendance at an event, let your name be among those they automatically assume will attend.
  • Don’t burn out online. Donate your twitter feed, if you’ve got one, to DREAM-related links. ÂUse your Facebook status similarly- the Facebook world is very, very big.  It’s so big that it might even include your parents. Ghost-write a message or an email for them, asking their friends to sign petitions.  Speaking of which, sign all those petitions and vote for all the DREAM-related causes that come your way. Yes, you’ll get a lot of email, but let’s be real- a cluttered inbox gives you something to do in a boring lecture.
  • Be creative in your help.  Transportation issues? In states where drivers’ licenses are a no-go for dreamers, offer to drive. Funding issues? I have a friend who turned his birthday party into a fundraiser for a DREAM student scholarship.  Pays to be popular, doesn’t it?
  • Buy a round of beers (or Capri-Suns, whatever) for your fellow activists. Seriously.  If all you do is work, the movement will feel exactly like that- work.  You’ll forget that the people you’re trying to support are real people.  You’ll forget that the people you’re trying to support are your friends.   So reconnect with your own commitment, and remember the words that clichés, commercialization, and bad t-shirts just cannot corrupt- that “the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love…”

This is obviously not a complete guide, so feel free to contribute your own suggestions. Also, enjoy this blog post, an excellent resource for allies of progressive movements everywhere.

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