Bay Area activists celebrated the end to their six-month campaign against news anchorman Lou Dobbs and CNN on Friday night with pupusas, margaritas and dancing inside the bright orange and mint walls of Dolores Street Community Services.
Dobbs announced his resignation from CNN on air on Nov. 11.
“If there is a war on immigrants, the head of that war was Lou Dobbs,” said Roberto Lovato, one of the co-founders of Presente, the Berkeley-based group behind BastaDobbs.com that formed in May of this year.
Presente coordinated with many local and regional Latino organizations across the country to counter Dobb’s anti-immigrant message. The campaign created a petition for CNN to drop Dobbs. They collected more than 100,000 signatures.
“CNN, you can’t have it both ways,” explained a video on BastaDobbs.com that got about as many views as the petition got signatures. On one hand, CNN courted Latino viewers with Latino talent and programming. On the other, they employed Dobbs, who’s been criticized for fomenting hatred toward Latinos.
Neither Dobbs nor CNN recognized the campaign as a reason for his departure. This did not surprise Lovato.
“CNN was internally divided about what to do [about Dobbs],” he said. And leveraging this was central to the campaign’s strategy.
Another important strategy was technology. More innovative than the viral video and online petition was their use of text messaging. Getting involved was as simple as texting “basta” or “enough” to their campaign number.
More than 10,000 people signed up via text message, according to Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte, a co-founder of Presente and campaign manager for ColorOfChange.org.
“We never said that technology is a weapon—we showed them,” said Ana Pérez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center who helped spread the word to Latino organizations nationally.
Presente drew strategy ideas and inspiration from online organizing successes preceding them—including Color of Change, which does online organizing with the black community, and MoveOn.org. Helping to adapt these strategies for a Latino audience with Presente was James Rucker, executive director for Color of Change and former director of grassroots organizing for MoveOn.org.
According to Rey-Goodlatte, Presente’s success in winning a large national campaign like that against Dobbs in such a short period of time was unprecedented.
To him, this indicates that “there are a lot of Latinos out there who are ready to be engaged in a serious and strategic platform.”
For Lovato, it represents a step forward in humanizing and understanding the Latino experience—and acknowledging that anti-immigrant rhetoric hurts people.
“People don’t recognize Latino pain,” said Lovato, who resembles Van Jones as much for his deep-hearted way of speaking as for his wire-frame glasses and bald head.
“As an indigenous woman from Oaxaca, I carry a lot of sorrow about what our people have been through,” said Laurie Ignacio. She said that “carrying a lot of defeat from generations past” meant she wasn’t confident the Dobbs campaign would be successful.
“But we do win sometimes!” she added.
Several speakers during the award ceremony linked the dehumanization of immigrants with hate crimes against them.
“To kill, maim, injure somebody, you have to take away their humanity first,” said Lovato.
Eric Quezada, director of Dolores Street Community Services, said immigrants are unfairly scapegoated because people are frustrated by larger issues.
“Demagogues like Lou Dobbs exist because of the political climate and economic crisis,” he said. “It’s easy to scapegoat immigrants to divert attention from other problems in society.”
Their next campaign will focus on immigration reform and on humanizing Latinos, said Favianna Rodriquez, one of the core founders of Presente with a shock of pink in her curly hair.
But before moving to the next campaign, the organizers took a moment to breathe, dance and imbibe.
“I feel overwhelmed, honored and very emotional,” said Lovato of the victory.
“. . . when the farm workers strike and their strike is successful, the employers go to Mexico and have unlimited, unrestricted use of illegal alien strikebreakers to break the strike. And, for over 30 years, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has looked the other way and assisted in the strikebreaking. I do not remember one single instance in 30 years where the Immigration Service has removed strikebreakers. . . .The employers use professional smugglers to recruit and transport human contraband across the Mexican border for the specific act of strikebreaking . . .”
Cesar Chavez quote