How Immigrants Built the American Left -- And Can Build It Again

Lichtenstein, Nelson
Date Written:  2017-02-22
Publisher:  Dissent Magazine
Year Published:  2017
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20552

The energy and upheaval unleashed by the Trump administration's assault on Muslims, Latinos, and other immigrants, documented or not, has been directed toward a restoration of their rights and dignity, toward the family reunions and free passage into our country that have been happily broadcast from airports all across the country -- and rightly so. But if our ambitions are simply to restore the old status quo or even recreate a liberalized version of the policies extant under President Obama, then we will be selling short the possibilities inherent in this moment.



America is a nation of immigrants and becoming more so almost every year. But demography is not destiny. Texas has a Latino population proportionally as large as that of California, but it remains politically inert outside of a few large cities and without leverage at the level of state government. Nor are mass marches and demonstrations enough to stop the drift to a nativist authoritarianism. Organization is essential, in unions if possible, but of any sort that can create a structure capable of repeatedly mobilizing its membership, projecting an ideological vision, and confronting opponents, not just episodically but continuously, day in and day out. Republicans understand this, which is why upon assuming power in a state legislature, they immediately target Planned Parenthood and the unions. These organizations do good things -- protecting workers on the job or providing health care services for women -- but that alone is not why the GOP has been so fierce in its attack. More potently, both Planned Parenthood and the unions are also sophisticated and tenacious centers of opposition to the Republican program, with a seasoned staff, an extensive membership, and connections to the Democratic Party and activists outside its orbit.
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