My daughter turned eleven this week. ELEVEN. That’s an important number to her, sure, but it’s also important for the resilience this blog is, theoretically, about.
You see, she was born in March 2006 (eleven years ago…yes, I’m going to keep emphasizing that number). I went into labor with her while I was at a rally for immigration reform at the U.S. Capitol. True story. (She was born with her fist over her head, too, also a true story. Also a reason the labor took a lackadaisical 48 or so hours, and yes, she still dawdles like a champion.)
In March 2006, we were beginning to see huge rallies and demonstrations across the country by advocates, increasingly led by the undocumented themselves, seeking immigration reform. It was an exciting time, full of possibility. And there I was, stuck in a hospital room pumped full of drugs (no, that wasn’t the plan, yes, god laughs at most of our plans) thinking I was going to MISS OUT ON IMMIGRATION REFORM while I was at the hospital. I really did.
As a friend just pointed out, some people have FOMO for parties; I have FOMO for immigration reform. I don’t think she was judging me.
You probably see where this is going. I did not, in fact, miss out on immigration reform. Eleven years later, we are still fighting, fighting, fighting. Some of the fights are a little different, many are much harder, and there has been some progress in places we didn’t anticipate eleven years ago (local activism, support for DREAMers, success in limiting law enforcement cooperation with immigration in many cities and states across the country).
These issues do not go away. My membership in the fierce band of immigration advocates dates back to 2002. Many of my colleagues in immigration have been fighting since the new, draconian, immigration law of 1996. More still go back to the Sanctuary movement of the 1980s, and the effort to pass the Refugee Act in 1980.
So, for people, especially young people, feeling they have no ability to act against today’s injustices, I say this: Imagine what you want to be able to do in five years, whether that’s big or small, and start working toward that goal.
- Pick the issue that fires you up the most (because you need a strong fire to stay in the work), and be patient with yourself as you learn more, as you connect with others, as you learn who does the work in ways that fill your soul (keep them close), and who does the work in ways that deplete you (politely excuse yourself from their company).
- Maybe learn a new language–it’s possible, it’s so useful, and for some of our brains, it’s really fun.
- Maybe also learn the word no (a truly foreign language for me), so you say yes to things that matter more to you, and no to the things that don’t.
- Think about running for a local office, or helping someone you admire to campaign. (Going door-to-door for them is also excellent exercise and will ever after give you intense admiration for how your local mail carrier does that day after day.)
- Join a local affiliate of an organization that inspires you, and show up to their events, or help with a fundraiser, or work your way toward being a leader within the organization. A lot of great work happens at the most local levels, and while it can take over your life, it doesn’t have to. Your role can be very small and very local, and still matter profoundly.
It all takes time, but when it comes to injustice, unfortunately, we have time–and the people who’ve been fighting for a while will be quite happy to tag out, and tag you in. And the faces of new people showing up will inspire and strengthen the people who do this full-time, I promise. And providing inspiration…what could be more satisfying than that?
So, true story, I did not miss out on immigration reform. Eleven years later, I have built my skills to the point where I feel maybe a little too useful, but that’s a nice position to be in.
And in honor of her 11th birthday, I’ll tell my sweet fist-still-raised-over-head daughter that she didn’t keep me from doing anything…she made my heart grow many sizes bigger, and she gave me the strength and love and inspiration to keep going, every single day.
Happy 11th birthday to her! And maybe we’ll get immigration reform done in the next eleven.