On Dobbs, the Census and Fighting for a New Politics of Tolerance

This year NDN has been involved in two consequential campaigns critical to our ability to reform our broken immigration system next year, and to push back on the rising tide of intolerance in our national politics. In the past week each has been resolved in our favor, a hopeful sign for those who share our commitment to a more tolerant, diverse America. A quick report, and some broader thoughts on what this all means:

Defeating the Effort to Disrupt the Census and Reapportionment - Last week, by refusing to accept any amendments to the appropriations bill for the Commerce Department, the U.S. Senate defeated an effort by Senators Vitter (LA) and Bennett (UT) which would have disrupted the orderly conduct of both the census next year and the reapportionment process the years after. The Vitter-Bennett Amendment was a highly charged effort to use the presence of a large number of undocumented immigrants in the US - who constitutionally must both be counted and incorporated into reapportionment and redistricting - to politicize these processes to the point where the ability for them to even happen at all would have been called into doubt. It was just the latest in a long line of conservative scapegoating of immigrants for their own perceived political gain.

The strategy behind the Vitter-Bennett Amendment was something NDN had been warning our leaders about in public writings and private briefings since the spring. When the legislative effort by Senator Bennett began this summer, NDN was the first to report on it, helped explain to allies what was going on, organized a broad and diverse coalition to fight it, held press conferences and private briefings to expose the malevolent intent of a seemingly innocent amendment, posted several front page op-eds on the Huffington Post bringing attention to it all, and ultimately prevailed last week when the Senate invoked cloture, and defeated Vitter-Bennett.

In the many years at the helm of this organization, defeating Vitter-Bennett was one of the most satisfying and consequential efforts I've been involved in. But then, incredibly, came Wednesday's surprise announcement that our great foe, Lou Dobbs, was leaving the powerful national platform of CNN. A remarkable week indeed.

Dropping Dobbs - Getting Lou Dobbs off CNN is something many of us have talked about for years. His presence on the CNN election night sets, masquerading as he a journalist, had caused me to switch allegiance, after 20 years as a CNN watcher, to MSNBC. Many other people we know had taken similar steps.

But it was this summer and fall when we all witnessed the wild anger and intolerance exhibited at the town hall meetings, the primal racial scream of Rep. Joe Wilson, the spiraling rhetoric of Dobbs, Limbaugh and other right wingers that we at NDN said enough. We have to do something. We need to fight back against all this. I released this video at the time, but we kept asking what else can we do?

It was around that time that Andres Ramirez, our Senior Vice President here, began meeting with Media Matters staff to see if we could put together a different kind of campaign against Lou Dobbs. And on September 15, Drop Dobbs was born, and we had our way of pushing back against the rising intolerance we saw across the country. NDN acquired the web address, and conceived of the strategy and simple name - Drop Dobbs. Working with Media Matters' remarkable research and sharp team, our internet strategist Dan Boscov-Ellen built the website, created the logo and got the thing on the web. Andres and the Media Matters folks then went out and began building what became a powerful and unprecedented coalition to encourage people to sign a petition to ask advertisers to drop their advertising from the Dobbs show, a strategy inspired by Color of Change's recent success with Glenn Beck. Then other efforts sprouted, including the highly influential BastaDobbs efforts, and away we all went. Press stories followed. Hundreds of thousands signed petitions and watched videos of Dobbs. Dobbs began talking about the effort on the air. The thoughtful and well-produced CNN series, Latino In America, was overwhelmed by questions of Dobbs and his anti-immigrant rage. In something that has not been reported, advertisers we had approached were agreeing to pull their ads from Dobbs and were telling their ad buyers to shift their buys. Included in that group were among the most significant consumers brands in America.

And on Wednesday came the announcement that the most intolerant voice in mainstream American media was leaving CNN. It was a great victory for our coalition, and for those working to beat back the rise of intolerance this year in America.

While each of these victories were important in themselves, taken together they are truly significant. In each case private citizens and organizations organized, rose up and fought against angry voices of intolerance and divisiveness - and prevailed. In each case NDN was in the lead, building coalitions, encouraging and involving many others in the battle, helping set strategy and message. In each case our effort was led ably and deftly by Andres Ramirez (a big thanks to him).

Over the past few years many have questioned NDN's commitment to passing immigration reform and all that "Latino stuff" we do. Whatever the reasons I and our organization began working on these issues many years ago, the reason we are working on them now is that America is undergoing one of its most profound demographic transitions in all of our history and needs leaders to step up to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible. We are in the midst of transitioning from a white-dominated America to one that will, within my lifetime, become majority "minority." This transition means many things – a need to modernize a broken and anachronistic immigration system, closer ties to our neighbors in the hemisphere, ways of redefining mixed race and mixed ethnic identities, etc - but above all what this transition can be is an extraordinary opportunity for this nation to redefine what "race" means. For most of American history, race has been a malevolent, exploitive experience—one where an overwhelming majority subjugated and mistreated a small minority. How race has manifested itself in American history has been the greatest moral failure of a nation whose very existence and vision of self-government and free and open society has been an inspiration to so many around the world for literally hundreds of years.

But with our people going through profound racial and demographic change - driven by historic waves of immigration from across the world - the American people now have the chance to redefine "race" in a way that is less exploitation and more tolerant acceptance of people not like me. It is in many ways the great American project of the next generation or two, fashioning a coherent society from much greater diversity than America has ever faced before. Given our history, helping America come to a better understanding of "race," of people not like me, is an exciting and thrilling project, and one NDN and its team has embraced with all that we can muster, and one that we will not ever back down in our commitment to. It is just too important to who we are, and who we are becoming. As Americans.

Which is why these two political victories this past week are so important. Together with allies from across the political and ideological spectrum, we fought back and defeated remnants of an old order, an old way, a old politics which does not share our excitement about what America is becoming, and the opportunity we have to create a "more perfect union." But that's okay, for old orders and ideas don't just fade away - they have to be battled, again and again, and defeated. And while we have won these two recent battles, and should celebrate appropriately, we should also, soberly, steel our selves for the even more and significant battles to come in the years ahead.