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Cosecha takes new tack on immigration advocacy by focusing on the people

Movement zeros in on opinions of public, not politicians

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Cosecha takes new tack on immigration advocacy by focusing on the people
Dorotea Manuela of the Boston May Day Coalition, an alliance of immigrant rights groups, spoke during a rally on the State House Steps, flanked by Sen. Jamie Eldridge (left) and Roxana Rivera, 32BJ SEIU vice president. The coalition has scheduled marches on May 1 to promote legislation to protect immigrants and other workers.

When President Donald Trump’s first travel ban stranded four families at Logan airport, members of Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrant rights movement with a distinct strategy, rapidly rose to respond. Activists arranged an airport-site rally that drew politicians such as Mayor Martin Walsh and state Sen. Elizabeth Warren and provided lawyers leverage to win the families’ release, one of the activists, Rodrigo Saavedra, told the Banner previously.

Members of Movimiento Cosecha danced in a Jackson Square, Jamaica Plain Stop & Shop as part of a demonstration raising attention to the movement’s plans for a May 1 general strike.

On the web

May First Coalition actions:

Moviemiento Cosecha May 1 strike:

That protest was arranged in about an hour and a half. On that Saturday, Cosecha members decided at 4 p.m. that they needed to respond with a protest. Their 5:30 p.m. Facebook announcement ultimately drew about 1,500 people by the demonstration’s 10:30 p.m. ending, Saavedra said.

Saavedra and others active in Cosecha have been generating attention via actions that focus on tapping into and leveraging existing energy in activist and immigrant communities. The movement focuses on shifting public opinion, rather than advocating specific legislation to policymakers.

“[With Logan,] Cosecha sent out the call and the response was big,” Gloribell Mota, an organizer with Cosecha, said during a Banner phone interview. “One of our principles is that what we need for this movement already exists in our communities. We have faith that the community will respond when it gets the call.”

Moviemiento Cosecha

Founded in 2015 by DREAMers —undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. wjen they were children and — and immigrant rights activists, Cosecha is a nationwide network that calls upon many community members who also are involved in other immigrant rights groups.

The movement’s strength comes from its decentralized structure, Andrea Carceres, a union organizer, told the Banner.

“Each community, each circle, comes up with actions that make sense for them,” she says. “People can collectively become a movement that represents to interests of their own communities. What makes sense in Boston doesn’t make sense in other communities. Respecting that is important.”

The movement says it is volunteer-run and includes hundreds of part-time volunteers and more than 50 trainers engaged in more than 30 municipalities and campuses nationwide. It is active in ten states.

Members say their goal is to secure “permanent protection” for all immigrants in the U.S., creating a society that regards immigrants as integral members and which is free from the specter of deportation.

“We visualize a future where immigrants are able to work and travel freely without risk or fear of deportation,” Cosecha’s website states. “A future where we can walk with the rest of this country with the recognition that we are a part of it. A future where we are not treated as outsiders.”

Last Saturday, Cosecha activists drew attention to their work with a high-energy protest in Jamaica Plain. After gathering on the steps of the shuttered Blessed Sacrament Church, activists walked in pairs toward the Stop & Shop near Jackson Square. Arriving in intervals, each couple picked up a shopping basket, some even going through the motion of placing in groceries. But when Gloribell Mota rolled up with a two-wheeled shopping cart that hid an amplified speaker underneath a towel and started blasting merengue tunes, the demonstrators dropped their baskets to the floor and paired up into dance couples.

Four of them unfurled a 12-foot-long banner with the words “A day without immigrants” in Spanish, printed in block letters.

As the activists danced, Mota urged shoppers to join Cosecha for a planned May 1 general strike and school walk out. Others passed out cards in English and Spanish explaining the May 1 action. After a spirited ten minutes of dance, and seconds before a group of Area C police officers entered the Stop & Shop, the protesters headed outside, marching back toward Centre Street.

Two May Firsts

Cosecha’s planned action for May 1 — International Workers Day — reveals a major departure between it and other immigrant rights advocacy groups. The May First Coalition, an alliance of groups such as La Comunidad and the Chelsea Collaborative, also is focusing on the date, but brings a more traditional activist approach.

The May First Coalition announced at the State House last week that it will hold an array of early evening marches in Everett, Lynn, East Boston, Springfield, Worcester, Fitchburg, Framingham and Brockton. Through these demonstrations, members seek to bring attention to a set of legislative agenda items and policy priorities. These include passage of the Safe Communities Act, workers protection measures, a $15 minimum wage and measures to make immigrants feel safer in their neighborhoods and opposition to a taxpayer-funded wall against Mexico. The May First Coalition’s marches — starting largely between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. — are scheduled for minimal interference with work schedules and students’ extracurricular activities, Yessenia Alfaro of the Chelsea Collaborative, told the Banner.

Cosecha, meanwhile, aims to demonstrate the societal impact and economic power of immigrants by modeling on May 1 what an American without immigrants would look like. To achieve this, the movement is asking immigrants to stay home from work and school and to avoid spending money.

“We are striking because our fight is not in D.C. — it’s in every home, business, and industry that takes advantage of our labor and consumption. By striking, we make it clear that this country cannot function without immigrants,” the organization states.

Alfaro told the Banner that while the May First Coalition supports the message of Cosecha, coalition members would not replicate the call to stay at home. Alfaro said the coalition fears that spotty attendance records could damage students’ chances at jobs later on and understands that many day laborers lack the job security to skip work without risking their jobs. As such, the coalition regards absenteeism as a personal choice that they would not request of anyone.

“As the May First Coalition the only thing we are not in agreement with [Cosecha] with to have kids not go to school…[and adults to miss work.],” Alfaro said.

Another significant strategy divergence between the two groups is that Cosecha eschews specific policy asks or direct appeals to politicians. Citing disillusionment with public officials who have failed to bring promised reforms, Cosecha members say they instead are putting their weight behind reshaping public opinion through acts of nonviolent non-cooperation.

“There’s been policies and policies. We’ve seen anti-Muslim bans — that’s the legislation coming out. There’s tons of policy and a lot of policymakers,” Mota said.

“[The movement was] developed by organizers who watched immigration reform stall in Congress for over a decades,” the group’s website states. The movement seeks to generate popular support for Cosecha’s outlook and let policymakers develop measures to achieve it.

“How do they create a policy to ensure permanent protections for all immigrants?” Mota asked. “That’s what the electeds’ and policymakers’ role is to do. And that’s what we expect them to do. Were just telling them what we want.”

Cosecha has announced intentions to hold a seven-day strike later this year.

Yawu Miller contributed to this story