Standing Up as Allies in South Carolina: “We follow the ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ Model”

Almost since their inception, Indivisible groups around the country have been pitching in on fights for justice for immigrants in their own communities.

We’ve asked some of our groups to share what they’ve been working on, what they’ve learned, and to share a message for DACA-mented folks during a difficult time.

South Carolina’s congressional delegation is right in the center of the fights ahead over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and the DREAM Act. Here’s what we heard from Indivisible Midlands in South Carolina about how they seized an opportunity to put this issue right in front of their lawmakers—literally—and how they’ve approached this and other fights as allies.  

Seizing an opportunity

None of our members of Congress held town halls during the August recess, leaving our group to seek out any public appearances where we could bird-dog them. One of our members tipped us off that Rep. Joe Wilson and his son, South Carolina Attorney General (AG) Alan Wilson, always walk in the Chapin Labor Day Parade where he lives. When we found out that Sen. Lindsey Graham would be present as well, we knew it was an opportunity too great to pass up. Alan Wilson is one of the state attorneys general who threatened to sue the government if the DACA program was not rescinded by the day after our action (September 5th.)

With that in mind, and knowing that Senator Graham is a sponsor on the DREAM Act, which would give DACAmented youth in our community permanent legal status to stay, we reached out to collaborate with several local immigration rights activists, leaders of immigration advocacy community groups, and several faith leaders who advocate for immigrants and refugees to plan an action.

As a group, we set the goals of the action to including asking AG Wilson to drop the suit, while simultaneously signaling to Rep. Wilson and Sen. Graham that we support the DREAM Act. We decided a peaceful, civil disruption of what normally would have been a conflict-free event would be best to draw attention to this important issue. All told, our group managed to recruit a few dozen folks to come out. We pitched the story to our local news contacts, making sure to tie our action into what was going on nationally with DACA, and with a follow-up story ready to go for them for the next day in the form of a vigil that was being planned by a local advocacy organization. This made our action an attractive and easy option for them to cover, leading to coverage by several local TV news stations, and write-ups in our local newspaper and in local online outlets.

We made lettered signs that spelled out “#DefendDACA” on one side and “Drop The Suit” on the other and when the Wilsons came by, we went out on the street and met them almost face-to-face with our signs while chanting “Defend DACA” and “Here to Stay.”

When it was Graham’s turn to roll through, we did something we haven’t had many chances to do so far this year. We cheered him on and shouted “Thank you, DREAM Act.” At first, he seemed confused on if we were cheering or jeering, as some of us were wearing our Indivisible shirts. Once it became clear to him that it was a moment of support and appreciation, he slowed the car, gave us thumbs-up signals, and basked in the positive reinforcement before continuing down the parade route.

Organizing as allies: “Nothing about us without us”

Indivisible Midlands subscribes to the “nothing about us without us” model of organizing. If input from affected groups on our actions isn’t sought out by us, there is no way for us to be held accountable to and become better allies of the communities we are seeking to help. Even in such a deep red state as South Carolina, we are blessed to have a wealth of issues-based advocacy organizations who have been organizing for their causes for far longer than we have.

We enter into these partnerships as listeners first and lead with asking how we can be of support to them, not the other way around. Egoism can very easily creep into and stifle activism if privilege is not checked and addressed within ourselves as organizers. We often debrief and ask for feedback from groups and activists we ally with and take what they have to say seriously.

For instance, during the long slog against TrumpCare, we invited disability rights groups to come with us to a series of office visits at our MoCs’ local offices. Listening to their groups about ableism, the misconceptions about Medicaid in our state, and how to remain considerate of all angles of disability inclusivity when planning these events, helped us realize there were significant gaps in our organizing efforts.

When Trump impulsively tweeted that transgender troops would no longer be welcome to serve in the military, we asked our friends at SC Equality Trans Action group what we could do for them, resulting in a rapid response rally at the Statehouse. We wanted the people personally impacted by this to have the microphone and stay centered in the discussion of how to fight this bigotry and to just know that we were there to support them. Hearing stories about how trans individuals had been targeted by hatred over the years right here in our own communities helped our group learn how to speak out against the flagrant misconceptions and anti-trans attitudes we hear from friends, family, co-workers.

After seeing violent white supremacist groups bring tragedy to Charlottesville, we went to the amazing organizers at Simple Justice (Columbia’s official Black Lives Matter chapter) to learn how we could be involved in their efforts to getting the Confederate monuments removed from public spaces in a manner that wouldn’t put people of color in our community at risk for violence. This helped lead to a broad coalition event with over two dozen local activist groups and nonprofits teaming up to hold a rally. With several hundred people in attendance, it featured a broad range of politicians, activists, and organizers speaking on the importance of dismantling white supremacy and how to get involved in racial justice efforts in our state.

When it came to organizing in defense of DACA, we knew that without input from people working in this arena, we could very easily come off as tone-deaf and even negatively impact the local public’s perceptions about the very real threats against undocumented community members. Originally our action was intended to be more disruptive than the final product. But we hadn’t considered how that type of action could put the DACAmented youth in attendance at a very serious safety risk. After speaking with immigrant rights advocates from our local Grassroots Alliance for Immigrant Rights (GAIR), SC Appleseed Justice Center, and a local public defender, we learned more about the consequences DREAMers could face if any confrontation with police were to occur. These perspectives helped us realize that despite our good intentions, if the impact of our actions ended up harming the very people we seek to help, then it wasn’t an acceptable risk to take.

As we’ve grown and become advocates for this issue, one thing I’ve learned that has really stuck with me is…

How little we as natural-born citizens truly understand the daily siege immigrants in our community are under and how frustrating it must be to feel like pawns in a political process in which your voice and input is unlikely to be valued by politicians whom you had no part in electing.

If there’s one message we want to get out there to DACAmented folks right now, it would be…

That we value you as our friends and neighbors. You are not some trendy “cause of the week” in our eyes. We know the clock is ticking on Trump’s six month deadline and we are committed to putting immense pressure on Senator Tim Scott and Representative Joe Wilson to support the Durbin-Graham DREAM Act (S.1615/ HR3440) and get it passed quickly to ensure that y’all are permanently #HereToStay.