Anne Dutton is Advocacy Associate in LIRS’ Washington D.C. office.
2011 comes to a close in the midst of increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric and punitive state legislation joined with the decreasing desire and ability of Congress to address the problem. Last week, LIRS joined our partners in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) for a day of grassroots organizing training with the Midwest Academy. The training provided a much-needed opportunity for the faith community to take a step back and reflect on where to go from here.
A collective concern voiced throughout the day was that traditional advocacy strategies just aren’t working. Legislators are not always swayed by facts or moving testimonials. So how can we, as a coalition of diverse faiths and limited budgets, cut through the anti-immigrant rhetoric and persuade legislators to act from their morals, rather than their desires for re-election?
One of the training’s themes was the power of personal relationships in organizing. This discussion resonated with me, a Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC) member who comes to this work out of college where I studied social work. I chose my field because of my belief in the concept, integral to the practice of social work, that strong human relationships have a unique and restorative effect on people who are suffering. I entered LVC hoping to work at LIRS because of the relationships I developed while studying immigration and social work in Mexico.
The passage of Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 wreaked havoc in the Mexican community I lived in for a semester. I saw the fear in the face of my neighbor as she talked about her son who had been living in Phoenix for the last 15 years without documents. I saw the turmoil of my host sister who did not want to immigrate to live with her American fiancée because she knew that “it can be a very ugly thing to be Mexican in the United States.” As I saw the people and community I cared about devastated by the passage of the law, my personal relationships impelled me to look for a way to join the work LIRS and other organizations do to create a culture of welcome.
As national organizations, LIRS and the IIC can help members of our respective faith traditions embrace their own power, connect across denominational lines and become leaders in local communities to achieve together what we could not alone. I don’t come to this work with a background in politics or strategy but I do bring a firm belief in the transcendent power of human relationships to create change. Now more than ever, we must mobilize, remember our own power as participants in a democracy and voice our collective demand until we are a nation where all newcomers are embraced and empowered.