Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Lesson We Should All Learn From

How Talk Radio Spurred Immigrant Demonstrations
Word traveled fast over the airwaves, helping to pump up turnout at protests across the country

For Los Angeles radio producer Luis Garibay, the crusade began with a question, put to Angelica Salas, executive director of the city’s Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. Was the recently passed House bill making felons of undocumented immigrants and those who help them a serious enough threat, he asked her, that Latino deejays should do something to promote opposition to it? “The anti-immigration forces have their echo chambers through FOX News, CNN and talk radio,” she told him. “You guys have to be ours.”

And so it was. For the next two weeks, Garibay's nationally syndicated colleague Eddie “El Piolin” Sotelo and the other major Spanish-speaking deejays in Los Angeles, whose combined local audience exceeds one million, abandoned their usual inane, bawdy banter for an all-protest, all-the-time format, urging listeners to join the march in downtown Los Angeles protesting the bill. Organizers of the L.A. rally and others elsewhere knew the deejays could spread the word not only to the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants but to the legions who count them as friends, relatives and neighbors. But none imagined they'd help generate the huge attendance the demos drew: 500,000 to 1 million in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, 50,000 in Detroit, among other places.
Taking notes, Lefties? We need to generate this kind of anger about other issues, and we need to find the audiences to do this type of groundswell of support, not just to oppose Republican laws.

But I digress...let's take a look at the underpinnings of this movement:
The groundwork for the protests was laid by activists before the talk jocks joined the effort. The Catholic Church's Justice for Immigrants campaign emboldened priests to encourage attendance by declaring that helping even illegal immigrants was a religious mandate superseding any law. Meanwhile, several prominent national coalition groups composed of service agencies, Latino community activists, religious-based organizations and unions shifted from straight lobbying to aggressive activism. These alliances hoped a national chain of rallies would send the message to legislators that the pro-immigrant faction is formidable.
You'll notice, then, that although this was a quick response to a crisis, it was clearly not a knee-jerk reaction. The arguments were focused and encapsulated views from all points on the spectrum: religious, civic, economic, and social organizations. Note in particular the effectiveness of a church mandate that God's law supersedes the irrational paranoia of the right wingers. We want to win elections? That's where we need to go.

Need more proof of that? Of the last six Democrats to serve as President, five of them ran on faith-based platforms: helping the poor, struggling for peace, helping all Americans to live in the Grace here on earth, so they could concentrate on earning grace for the hereafter. Think about it: Clinton, Carter, LBJ, Kennedy...all men of passion and deep religious convictions, who didn't (except maybe for Carter and even he seems tame by comparison to today's evangelicals) wear their religion on their sleeve. In fact, Kennedy ran away from his faith, and yet it was clear from his words and deeds, he deeply believed in doing God's work here on earth.

Again, I digress.
But first, the Latino community had to get the message about the protests. Enter the deejays. When his nanny told him that she and other babysitters in the neighborhood were inspired to attend the march after hearing so much about it on the radio, UCLA Professor Abel Valenzuela realized how influential the talk shows were. In other cases, chatter on the airwaves about protests elsewhere inspired left-out listeners to become accidental activists. All day long on March 22, Martha Ramirez, a tax preparer and mother of four in Kansas City, Mo., heard a deejay tell a string of curious callers that while other cities would be holding protests during the upcoming weekend, no demonstrations were planned for her hometown. Ramirez, 31, decided to lead a rally herself, and got 2,500 people to join her.
Listening, Air America Radio? Ed Schultz? Stephanie Miller? Jim Hightower?

It's no longer about REaction, it's about ACTION.