By Lacey Williams, Youth Program Manager
What a difference a day makes.
With school out and the summer rolling along, our youth activists at United 4 the DREAM had quite a few actions up their sleeves. One of the actions they had been working on was a protest outside Obama for America’s Charlotte office on the afternoon of Friday, June 15. (NC DREAM Team, a Raleigh-based youth group, had attempted to occupy Obama for America’s Charlotte office the day before, but failed when the office closed preemptively.)
Students and DREAMers across the nation had spent the week, months, and years preceding June 15th putting pressure on President Obama to use his executive powers to provide relief to DREAM Act eligible youth. Then, a curious and unexpected thing happened. The President announced that people who were brought to the U.S. as young children (and met several key requirements) would be considered for relief from removal from the country or entered into removal proceedings.
[We acknowledge that this relief is limited and is a temporary solution to a larger problem. We still need the DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform in this country.]
I immediately began to run through all the actions that our youth had held and participated in over the last two years and I remembered one in particular that, to this day, is one of my favorites.
Last summer, it was my privilege to accompany six of our youth activists to the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) annual convention. The students were particularly excited because President Obama was slated to give formal remarks during one of the luncheons. A mix of U.S. citizen, permanent resident and undocumented youth, the group quickly became dismayed at the lack of attention that the conference gave to issues of immigration reform and to the precarious position of DREAM Act eligible students. Their dismay reached a fever pitch when NCLR asked all the young people in attendance to give up their tickets to the Obama luncheon so that more adults could attend. The young people stood firm and told me that, under no circumstances, were giving up their tickets and the opportunity to see the President in person.
That night, the students met up with Felipe Matos, a DREAMer who had walked from Miami to DC in 2010 to raise awareness of the DREAM Act. Together they formulated a plan to respectfully protest the President during the luncheon for his inaction on behalf of undocumented youth. They decided that they would stand in silence when the President mentioned the DREAM Act or undocumented people to demonstrate that undocumented students will no longer hide in the shadows while waiting for legislative solutions.
During President Obama’s remarks, he addressed the calls for administrative relief but told members of the audience that he could not bypass Congress. The young people, who had already gained the attention of the President and the audience through their standing and their red t-shirts, began chanting “Yes, you can!” The room exploded in a unified voice. “Yes, you can! Yes, you can! ¡Sí, se puede!” For one minute, the President was silenced on the issue of administrative relief and was held accountable through his own words. Yes, you can, Mr. President.
As it turned out, he could.
When I think back to this moment, it really illustrates that the beauty of the June 15th announcement isn’t just that it’s relief for DREAMers. The beauty is that it is a direct result of DREAMers who have been advocating for themselves. When I got wind of this announcement early Friday morning, it was not through my national advocacy networks. It was through the national DREAMer networks. DREAMers have rallied, vigiled, direct-actioned, lobbied, told their stories, applied pressure, stopped deportations of other DREAMers, built networks, used activism creatively and have achieved this success largely without the help of more established organizations. We should celebrate and learn from those achievements.
And if one thing should be remembered from this moment it is that young people truly do have the power to change the world. They always have.