On Thursday of that week, at NASW-Michigan, information regarding a rally for “DACA Driver’s Licenses” was forwarded along to us from a social work organization (SWAIR) at the University of Michigan. We sat down in the office that day and researched the issue to find out if it was an event that we should take a part in.
I initially thought it seemed like short notice, but realized that there was an explanation for that as well. Upon research I discovered that the Michigan Secretary of State had just updated their guidelines regarding qualifying documentation for obtaining a driver’s license—this update excludes those who qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from receiving driver’s licenses. Apparently, in October, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson sent a memo out to branch workers advising them against issuing licenses to these people who are legally granted the right to live and work in the U.S. There was no warning. People went into the Secretary of State to get their license and were just turned down. While I initially thought that we were learning about the rally on very short notice, as I reflect on the circumstances I can understand why. This wasn’t about the possibility of an unjust policy change; this was about current social injustice which had suddenly started taking place.
That being said, the various groups that organized the rally chose this form of activism. It would make sense that they’d want to hold the rally as soon as possible, and I’m sure each did what they could to put the word out to people who might be supportive. Some probably knew much sooner than I did, others may not have. In any case, it was well attended, so they were successful in getting the word out.
When we arrived, there were quite a few people gathered. Though it was calm and quiet at first, there was definitely a positive energy and uplifting spirit in the air. There were a number of groups who had come together to organize the rally, and they had signs available for people to hold—I was glad for this, because of course I hadn’t thought ahead to prepare and bring a sign (which, in my opinion, is a must for a rally!). Also, one of the organizers had press releases available to hand out to people from the media or to others who may be interested in having information to pass along (such as NASW, for example). As more and more people gathered around the steps of the Capitol, some who were on the steps led chants. Although I’ve always thought that it is amazing and wonderful that people come together for common causes, I was standing in the midst of it, being a part of. I could feel the excitement in the air.
While simply being together, chanting for the changes the group was seeking, and holding our signs would have drawn attention to the cause and was enough to provoke that excitement and sense of commonality, this turned out to be much more than a simple gathering. Rather, there was a specific format and an entire demonstration—the extent of which took me by surprise. One person led the demonstration; she began by talking about the problem and about the goals of the rally, and she interacted with the crowd as she did this. She then introduced several different people, one by one, who shared their personal experiences as immigrants who arrived in America as children. They talked about their dreams, what DACA meant for them, how the Michigan Secretary of State policy could take away those dreams, and why they should be able to get their driver’s licenses. The stories were moving and gave a real picture of what life has been like for each of the young people who spoke. One person spoke specifically about the economic impact of the policy on the state of Michigan. Another speaker was an ally from the faith-based advocacy group, On the Side of Love.
The goals of the rally were: to influence Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to change Michigan’s policy and let people who qualify for DACA obtain driver’s licenses; get a meeting scheduled with Governor Rick Snyder, in order to discuss the problem; and also to promote comprehensive immigration reform. Once all of speakers had shared their messages, the lead speaker wrapped things up. At this point, I was in for another surprise.
Organizers of the rally were going to march into the Capitol and demand a meeting with the governor, right then and there, and she encouraged the crowd to take part in the mission. More excitement! We were asked to leave our signs outside, and we marched in chanting “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” and “Si, Se Puede” (Yes, We Can). The group then went up the steps and gathered around the rotunda—not quietly, I might add. I wondered if security would ask us to be quiet, or even ask us to leave. At one point, a man came over and asked if we had ordered pizza (apparently someone was trying to deliver pizza to a group that was supposed to be at the Capitol—wasn’t us though)! After maybe five minutes or so, someone let us know that the governor was in his office across the street that day. The rally then (chanting) moved out of the Capitol and across the street.
My colleague and I had gotten separated somewhere along the way up the rotunda, so I lagged behind (hoping to spot him) as everyone filed out. Once everyone from the rally had left the building, I observed a security guard apologizing to small group—a couple of adults with several small children—for all the commotion. He was very calm, and he didn’t seem upset by the demonstration at all, but apologized and said that it doesn’t happen too often. My colleague and I were expected back in the office soon for a meeting by this point, so we had to leave the rally. As soon as I got home that night I began checking online for information about the results. By now, I was invested in the rally and couldn’t wait to find out what had happened once it moved across the street. I was happy to read that people from the governor’s office did allow delegates from the group to meet with them and there is a meeting with the governor scheduled, as well as a follow-up rally planned.
Through this experience as an intern I was able to learn that there is more to a political rally than people meeting in one place for one cause. From what I observed, it seems that in order to organize a successful rally, you need to:
· Have a goal.
· Get the word out!
· Have signs prepared for supporters to use.
· Have press releases prepared.
· Have a format.
· Have a possible plan of action for achieving your goal.
We chanted it in the rally and it’s the truth; a rally is what democracy looks like. We have the freedom to walk right into our government building and peacefully demonstrate for change. We have the freedom to come together in groups and speak for justice. This is just one form of advocacy that we can be involved in as social workers; that anyone can be involved in. Not only is it a way to make a difference, but it’s also nice to know that everyone there is making a difference together, and being empowered as they do so. If you have the opportunity to attend a rally for a cause you believe in, or even to organize one, I highly recommend it. It is an excellent experience and feeds your social work spirit!
-Heather Haro, BSW Candidate
Eastern Michigan University
Learn more about the event and DACA here: