Midterm Reflections: Immigration Wins and the Road Ahead

Friday, November 11, 2022

Dear Colleagues:

I’ve always looked forward to Election Day. I loved my polling places – an elementary school, the local firehouse, a community center – and was especially grateful for the volunteers who made it possible for me and my neighbors to vote. This year, we voted on the Sunday before Election Day, buoyed by a fun morning watching the NYC Marathon run through our Brooklyn neighborhood.

As always, wonderful volunteers made the voting process easy and seamless, and I proudly wore my “I Voted” sticker for the short walk home.

At the time of the publication of this message, many races remain in the balance, with final results still being determined. Nonetheless, there are key takeaways that have emerged from political races, ballot initiatives, and referendum questions that have already been decided.

Local and state governance issues matter – and long-term organizing and infrastructure fueled some amazing wins.

While media attention and donor dollars continue to flow to high-profile national races, on-the-ground organizing built on durable coalitions and long-term strategizing yielded some incredible wins, including significant gains for immigrant communities, at the city and county levels:

  • In Cape Cod, MA, a hardline proponent of mass incarceration who has drawn years of protests over his handling of immigrant detainees was defeated;
  • DC voters passed a referendum ensuring minimum wage plus full tips for restaurant workers;
  • Kansas City voters passed a significant affordable housing bond; and
  • Voters in Howard County, MD rejected efforts to repeal the county’s status as a sanctuary county.

And in state ballot measures we saw:

  • MA voters remove the citizenship requirement for driver’s licenses;
  • AZ voters appear to support in-state tuition for non-citizen residents;
  • IL voters pass a workers’ rights amendment, enshrining protection against “right-to-work” laws; and
  • MI, CA, and VT voters codify abortion rights in their state constitutions.

With the Michigan state legislature under Democratic leadership again, the SAFE Drive Act, which would allow undocumented state residents to apply for drivers’ licenses (and is one of the state priorities GCIR named in our 2022 policy agenda), might be back in play.

These critical wins were born of long-term investment in community organizing and movement infrastructure. The non-electoral organizing that happens day in and day out – based on durable relationships and shared commitments – yields meaningful progress. Philanthropy must invest accordingly in city, county, and statewide infrastructure that supports power-building, co-governance models, and narrative strategies.

Young people are the key to victory.

Many progressive wins – on ballot issues and for candidates – were powered by Gen Z. Young voters supported Democratic candidates by almost 3 to 1, and the first Gen Z Congressperson, 25-year-old Maxwell Frost of Florida, was elected. Young people organized, campaigned, and turned out for local and state races. Investing in young peoples’ power and agency is essential and yields big results. Political actors that ignore this do so at their own peril.

Replace out-of-touch media narratives with people and community-driven narratives.

We had been told for weeks that there was going to be a “red wave,” but the results tell a very different story. Dominant media narratives were shaped by the outlets’ own interests and perspectives – including a tendency to treat this election like midterms of the past even though critical issues like democracy and abortion were at play – as opposed to focusing on the lived experiences of communities across the country at this moment.

Instead, it was people-driven campaigns – to protect the right to abortion, to secure greater access to voting, to elect candidates who believe in sustained investment in community resources, a humane immigration system, and workers’ rights – that prevailed. And those campaigns were grounded in personal narratives and stories reflecting the world inhabited by multi-generational, working-class communities of color. As our friends at the Butterfly Lab said, “Narrative work is long-term work. It is more than messaging; it’s about enlarging the social imagination.” At GCIR we know that there is a strong relationship between culture change, narrative work, and policy wins, which is why we are hosting a Narrative Change and Power-Building Strategy Session on December 8th to explore how philanthropy can more effectively support the efforts of the immigrant justice movement to build consensus for a vision of a world that works for all of us.

The road ahead: we must increase our investment in immigrant and refugee communities.

Those with lived experience have the stories that can advance narrative change and the social, cultural, and political power to secure policy wins. To that end, we are partnering with the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) to delve into their latest report on the state of philanthropic funding for immigrant and refugee communities. During this webinar, Transforming the Funding Landscape for the Immigrant Justice Movement on December 1st, we will examine the extent to which local funders invest in these communities compared to national donors, and how much grantmakers are giving in support of immigrant groups with intersectional identities (including Black migrants, LGBTQ migrants, Indigenous migrants, migrants with disabilities, and others).

Now is not the time to retreat from funding immigrant and refugee-led and -serving organizations. With DACA in the balance, ongoing threats to democracy targeting immigrants and communities of color – including gerrymandering and voter suppression – and the continued use of migrants as political pawns, more resources must be moved to support these communities at the local and state levels. Join us next month as we offer crucial recommendations for grantmakers who hope to liberate philanthropic assets in support of immigrant justice.

In solidarity,

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