An Analysis of Activism:
Examining Social Movement Strategies

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as major civil wars erupted in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, thousands of North Americans organized to protest the United States’ military and financial support of the oppressive regimes in those countries.

Directly and indirectly, US support sponsored torture, violence, and other human rights abuses, causing millions of Central Americans to flee to North America. Despite causing the flow of immigrants, the US denied them legitimacy, aid, and asylum. Thus began what is called the “Sanctuary Movement,” a religious and political campaign that provided safe haven for refugees, sheltering them in churches and synagogues.

In 2006, another movement emerged in reaction to intensifying conflict around frequent raids and deportations under President George W. Bush. In the “New Sanctuary Movement,” activist communities joined forces with various religious traditions and dozens of cities. Participants both harbored refugees and educated themselves about immigration law, waging a media campaign to shift negative perceptions of immigrants.

In Luisa Laura Heredia’s advanced, semester-long public policy class, “The Politics of ‘Illegality,’ Surveillance, and Protest,” students used theoretical tools to assess immigration politics over time. Within both sanctuary movements, activists and allies made strategic and sometimes problematic choices. In this class, students examined the two movements with the understanding that the better your analysis, the better your activism. And for Heredia and her students, activism is an imperative. In her words: “If we’re only saying inequality exists, that’s not enough. We have a responsibility with that information to impact society, to change things.”


Emily Ptak-Pressman ’17: There was the switching of ideas about the impact on the economy of immigrants … with this whole new [idea in the New Sanctuary Movement] to offer proof that immigrants would not be a drain … and instead would stimulate the economy. …

Luisa Laura Heredia: What else?

Ariel Kalati ’18: [The New Sanctuary Movement] used testimonials [from immigrants] again, but instead of making it testimonials to a [church] congregation, they had it be part of the PR movement by picking and choosing immigrants who adhered to family values and economic value to America. …

Alexandra Bugden ’17: [Activists were] also using the model movement strategy, so using a model [immigrant] to lift up the group as a whole … highlighting faces that they think will be received best. …

Aiman Rizvi ’17: [The New Sanctuary] Movement leaves a lot of people out. It has this upwardly mobile construct of citizenship, but only for a select few, when it’s convenient … black immigrants, Muslim immigrants are just being left out. …

Heredia: … The idea here is how do we decriminalize [migrants] such that they can fit within the law. …

Ptak-Pressman: There’s an emphasis on mixed-status families. So someone in the family is a citizen, and there’s this tie. It’s just this horrible thing where this one family member is at risk of deportation, and it’s going to impact these citizens. …

Heredia: … One of the other things that I think helps in the discussion around the deservingness and un-deservingness [of migrants in the New Sanctuary Movement] are the two concepts or mechanisms that Yukich brings up, through this dramaturgical approach. … What are the two mechanisms?

Carolyn Martinez-Class ’17: Casting and scripting. …

Emma Zigman ’18: Casting is selecting immigrants for sanctuary, and scripting is working them into a pre-existing script of deserving and undeserving, and mobilizing from there. …

Rizvi: Both serve to increase credibility. So casting isn’t just limited to immigrants, but somewhere [Yukich] mentions that there is a supporting cast of white, native-born clergy that gives credibility [to immigrants] within religious communities. …

Zigman: Then scripting … [used language of] “brothers and sisters” and your ties to people who can legitimate your presence, being part of this new family.

Heredia: Brothers and sisters instead of what?

Class: Strangers. …

Heredia: Yukich is emphasizing the shifts in language in the script [of the New Sanctuary Movement]. … We’ve been talking about this idea of rhetoric, and Yukich makes a big deal of it. The question here is: Does this matter?

Class: Laughs

Sky Mihaylo ’17: I think in this case, rhetoric is at the epicenter of everything that goes on. Without the rhetoric, I don’t know that there would have been any action, either on the part of mobilizing people or on the part of sustaining the Movement, or where the Movement has gone since the mid-2000s. …

Moises Serrano ’18: Yeah, I think the purpose of the rhetoric is to humanize [immigrants]. … I don’t so harshly judge [New Sanctuary Movement activists] for how they open this conversation, but how they maintain this conversation. I’m almost okay, in certain geographic areas and contexts, to [use the trope of], “Oh, well, [immigrants] do the jobs that we don’t want to do.” Perhaps that’s how you open the conversation, but that’s not how you maintain it. I think the immigrant rights movement hasn’t figured out how to maintain a conversation that continues to center human beings and their worth in a way that is not tied to the nation-state and the economy. …

“... The immigrant rights movement hasn’t figured out how to maintain a conversation that continues to center human beings. ...”

Heredia: … We can think about movements in terms of dialogue, but we can also think about movements in terms of strategic framing. So we might start with one frame, but the idea is that that is for the opening, which then leads to other frames. There is an example of that in the Yukich piece where [New Sanctuary activist and reverend Donna Schaper] goes on The O’Reilly Factor.

Zigman: O’Reilly says to Schaper, “Well, what if terrorists came into your church?” and she says, “Well, the people in my church are nothing like those terrorists” (paraphrased)—which in one way shows that she’s going to welcome them in, but on the other hand alienates the people who had anything in common with those terrorists, who are Muslim or male.

Heredia: And reproduces the notions of terrorism. Yukich criticizes this, but also puts it in the framework of the [reverend, who afterward said something to the effect of], “Yo, I did not have a good enough response there, and what can we do and how do we be self-reflective so that the next time, I can provide another frame that makes sense?” So when we’re thinking about critique, we have to … allow for self-criticism and a shifting of those narratives. This is an example of what Moises was talking about—there’s an opening, a learning, and then you have to move it along. Because if you don’t, then you’re stuck in these spaces.