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DREAM's on the Rise Now, and Nothing Can Kill It

Jessica Ritter

Think youth activism in the U.S. is dead? Think again.

Many Americans who are committed to issues of social and economic justice bemoan the current state of activism among young adults. They are often portrayed as apathetic and uninformed young people who would rather spend hours on Facebook than lobby a legislator or attend a political rally.

Discouraging research from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University reinforces this view. According to their data, nearly two-thirds of young people ages 15-25 are "civically and politically disengaged." But the news is not all bad. Youth activists fighting for the DREAM Act (who call themselves "Dreamers") have successfully propelled this little known Act onto the national stage.

The DREAM Act, a bill that has been introduced in some form since 2001, would provide a path to citizenship to undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as minors by their parents, have grown up here and consider the U.S. their home.

It is estimated that there are 2 million undocumented children in the United States, and roughly 65,000 graduate from high school every year. Since they do not have "papers," they cannot obtain a driver's license, get a job or qualify for federal student loans in order to attend college.

But the most fascinating part of this story is that the individuals who have been driving the passage of this bill are undocumented youth fighting for their right to be recognized as fellow American citizens.

Facing risk of deportation, they have courageously come out of the shadows to tell their stories. In the beginning, the Dreamers engaged in the more traditional political tactics such as lobbying legislators, generating hundreds of thousands of calls, emails and faxes in support of the DREAM Act to members of Congress, and getting resolutions passed by local government.

However, over time, they began borrowing from the civil rights movement and engaging in a variety of actions to bring attention to their cause, such as:

Organizing political rallies and marches, including those held in the nation's capitol where they wear their caps and gowns and a mock graduation ceremony is performed.

Engaging in peaceful sit-ins at various federal legislators' offices, which have resulted in the arrest of a number of these youth activists.

Founding grassroots organizations such as United We Dream.

Collaborating with filmmakers Anne Galisky and Rebecca Shine to make the documentary film "Papers," which has been screened all over the country.

Using the Internet and social media (Facebook and Twitter) as organizing tools to build their youth movement (e.g.,

Walking across the country to raise awareness, as four students from Miami Dade College did. (They walked from Miami to Washington, D.C., and called their campaign, "The Trail of Dreams" (

Participating in hunger strikes, such as a November 2010 hunger strike by students at the University of Texas San Antonio who belong to a student organization called Dream Act Now.

Organizing Education Not Deportation (END) campaigns that focus on preventing the deportation of the young people that the DREAM Act is designed to assist.

Sadly, due to a lack of moral courage among Senate Republicans, last weekend the DREAM Act was defeated once again. It fell just a few votes short of being brought to the Senate floor for debate. Nevertheless, what the Dreamers have achieved in a short time is nothing short of amazing.

In 2010, the House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act for the first time. The plight of undocumented youth is now burned into our national consciousness.

They have successfully built a youth movement in a country short on political movements. They have gained the support and admiration of millions of Americans, including major newspaper editorial boards across the county, lawmakers and other prominent citizens.

The DREAM activists have learned to use their voices, and they are empowered. They are politically savvy and have honed their skills in advocacy and organizing. All of this will serve them very well when they become this country's leaders of tomorrow.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Jessica Ritter, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove. She is working on a soon-to-be-published book on political participation. Reach her at

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