This essay was originally published by WireTap magazine.
November 4, 2008
Last week, hundreds of Bay Area high school students walked out of class to bring attention to one of the most overlooked issues in the presidential campaign: immigration. They marched through the rain to demand a stop to increasing numbers of raids on undocumented workers and families. Some painted their faces to commemorate dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) and all those who have lost their lives at the hands of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (
) and border patrols. Their message was clear: immigration is a youth issue.
Their efforts highlight a crucial domestic and international issue President Barack Obama’s Administration will have to confront. They also draw attention to the ways young folks are organizing at a grassroots level against issues that reach across generational boundaries.
I’m not too much older than those high school students. At 23, the only Presidential administration I’ve really known in my lifetime has been led by George W. Bush. I was born during the Reagan years and developed a political consciousness during the Bush era, so it’s hard for me to imagine a presidential administration that, for the most part, works to positively engage issues that affect the lives of people of color. As young folks, we’ve come of age in a post-9/11 society filled with violent patriotism and racist nationalism.
After voting in my first Presidential election, George Bush and his Republican party operatives had won another hotly contested Presidential election, even after losing the popular vote, and the world seemed ominously silent. There were no mass protests, no student walkouts and no challenges in the Supreme Court. Everyone around me seemed deflated.
From there, I focused on community organizing, and felt that we were often battling the failures of electoral politics. I worked with working-class people of color from Oakland and the Bronx and was often frustrated at the disconnect between the community and Capitol Hill. Eight years ago, George W. Bush won his election on an educational reform platform. Yet, years later, young people at Sistas and Brothas United, a youth-led organization in the Bronx, were still fighting city officials in order to open a community-based leadership academy. After all, how could a system built on serving the interests of white landowning straight Christian men affectively and honestly serve the folks around me?