Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
“Right now, we are all on the defensive because we believe we are going to get hurt,” Carlos Saavedra, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha (Harvest Movement), told AlterNet over the phone from Boston. “That is probably true. A lot of people are going to get hurt, especially the most vulnerable communities. But we have to remember that we are in a fight, and that means we can hit back too.”
Saavedra is part of a growing community of undocumented people, immigrants and Dreamers across the United States who are determined to go on the offensive during the Trump years, with the ultimate goal of launching “massive civil resistance and non-cooperation to show this country it depends on us.” Cosecha calls itself “a nonviolent movement that is fighting for the permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants” and is determined to secure these values for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.
“Our overall strategy, our core belief, is that this country depends on the labor and consumption of immigrants in order to operate,” said Saavedra. “If people do stand up and start leveraging consumer power in massive numbers, if they wage a general strike of five to eight million workers for seven days, we think the economy of this country would not be able to sustain itself.” Now in the training and support-building phase, Cosecha aims to build towards a migrant boycott and general strike. Strategies of non-cooperation are especially important in light of the incoming Trump administration, say movement leaders.
Trump claims that, within the first 100 days of his presidency, he will “begin” deporting more than two million undocumented immigrants, and in a post-election interview with 60 minutes he said this number could reach three million. If he were to follow through on these threats, the mass sweeps and expulsions could impact one in four undocumented people living in the United States. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to create a “deportation force” to expel 11 million people, and he claims that, in the first 100 days, he will escalate the criminalization of immigrants and undocumented people and “cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities.”
While it is difficult to predict exactly what these policies will look like in practice, his appointments—which have given organized white supremacists a direct line to the White House—signal a hardline stance. Trump’s pick for attorney general is Jeff Sessions, who was determined too racist to serve as a federal judge under the Reagan administration and has built his career on his draconian anti-immigrant policies.
Cosecha organizers are no strangers to tough battles. The initiative went public a year-and-a-half ago, emerging from the Dreamer movement, which was led by undocumented students demanding legal status and protections from deportation. The Dreamers ultimately pressed Obama to take executive action in 2012 and pass Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants limited deportation reprieve to some undocumented young people who came to the country as children. Trump vowed on the campaign trail to overturn DACA.
Yet, Obama also leaves behind the troubling legacy of an administration that oversaw more deportations than any other president in U.S. history, at more than 2.5 million forced expulsions. In 2014, the Obama administration made the mass detention of families a cornerstone of its response to large-scale displacement from Central American countries, where violence and poverty have been worsened by U.S. policies. These prison-like institutions have been compared to to the historical disgrace of Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. While such camps have dwindled in number, they continue into the president, and the Obama administration has vigorously fought legal challenges aimed at shutting them down.
Following sustained resistance during the Obama years, Saavedra said that Trump’s victory has left Cosecha grappling with “how to engage the millions of people in this moment who want to join a movement. Our organization is designed to absorb these people and bring them in very quickly. We do mass trainings all over the country,” said Saavedra, putting the number at 30 to 40 so far.
Cait Vaughan, a community organizer from Portland, Maine, recently attended a training in Boston. “Training leaders made clear that this movement is relationship-driven, grounded in truly collective processes of learning and risk-taking and flexible enough to take root and scale up quickly,” she told AlterNet. “They emphasized that victory is possible, not in spite of fear, but through facing it in the context of an accountable and bold community.”
Maria Fernanda Cabello, who is based in Maryland and is one of 15 full-time volunteer organizers with Cosecha, told AlterNet, “The way we are going to reach mass scale is doing trainings and a lot of public actions.” This includes building the Sanctuary Campus movement and staging creative direct actions like “Salsa Shutdowns,” she said, explaining: “We’re going to stores that profit highly from immigrants and dancing Salsa around the cash register so people are unable to make their purchase. It is a family-oriented action.”
While mobilizing for a general strike may seem ambitious, Cabello emphasized that it has already been done before. On May 1, 2006, immigrants across the United States staged a coordinated walkout, termed “The Day Without Immigrants,” to protest hardline anti-immigrant laws. “We are trying to replicate what happened in 2006 after the mega-marches, but at a bigger scale,” said Cabello. “These are really scary times for everyone, and we need to move faster and be bolder. Building movements is only way to protect our community in the next four years.”
“We know this strategy is bold. We are ultimately trying to pull of the largest strike in the history of this country, and it’s a goal that’s needed,” Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, told AlterNet. “An offensive strategy is needed now in these dark times.”
Along with communities across the country, Cosecha is also organizing a preemptive defense against escalated raids and deportations, including by pushing for the the expansion of sanctuary movement in religious congregations, schools and cities. According to Saavedra, “Safety doesn’t come from the government giving you something. Safety comes from an organized community. It’s really easy in these moments of pain to get isolated with your pain and let the fear lead you. The only answer to fear is having a community.”