As an international student in Saratoga Springs, I have a vested interest in the welfare of my fellow immigrants in this city. However, living on campus at Skidmore College is rather its own bubble, separate from the town and the wider county, and so the opportunity to learn about the experiences of other immigrants was an important awakening.
Unfortunately, Saratoga is a town wherein not everyone is made to feel welcome. Just recently, in February 2018, KKK flyers were handed out to people and posted on cars in the city, recalling a similar incident from May last year. There is also the active presence of federal officers in the area, referred to by one local as a “shadow of ICE” that hangs over the town, that makes even legal immigrants feel unwelcome and targeted.
Fortunately, there are local groups that are taking action to make the Saratoga community a safe and welcoming community for all. This week, I had the opportunity to attend a Saratoga Immigration Coalition (SIC) meeting at the the New England Congregational Presbyterian Church. Their active measures against hostility towards immigrants draws on many of the tenets outlined by Erica Chenoweth as efficient tactics of nonviolent protest and community resistance.
In a case study co-authored by Maria J. Stephan, Chenoweth concludes that nonviolent resistance methods are likely to be more successful than violent methods in achieving strategic objectives. This is key for the work of SIC as their goals go beyond protest; they aim to make a positive and lasting change in the community, and to cultivate a culture of acceptance, equal opportunity and cohesion. Their efforts include community bonding activities and transparency from the local law enforcement about their protocols. I believe that this form of resistance–resistance through persistence–is the most effective form of nonviolent protest as it not only shows the discontent but also offers an alternative. Protest without a plan can only advance a movement so far, and strategies that are resistance through positive action are more likely to implement change. Chenoweth emphasises the importance of having a strategy and proper planning, so that movements are coordinated, have longevity, and are not easily disbanded. SIC have regular meetings, plan events months in advance, and consider seasonal events that they can coincide their action with (e.g. coordinating events for the Saratoga racetrack during the summer, or the Peace Week in September).
The group of volunteers are united in their efforts to promote community safety and cohesion. Although the meeting group was small, there were people there of different professions and experiences, adding to the diversity of the group; Chenoweth states that diversity within a movement is an indicator of its potential to succeed. A diverse group is important for making immigrants feel comfortable, and also the group is able to pool its skills and resources to be more effective. Participants at the SIC meeting included lawyers, counsellors, minority-rights volunteers, ministers, and concerned citizens. This range of people allowed for an attentive, thorough discussion that considered different points of view and advice.
Another positive aspect of SIC’s nonviolent solidarity campaign is the range and flexibility of their measures; they are able to appeal to a wide range of supporters as one can get involved with the group and its activities to varying degrees. Chenoweth comments that movements must be flexible and innovative with their techniques, and that reliance on a single method of protest is less likely to succeed. SIC offer lots of options to get involved and by accommodating their supporters’ personal lives, they are more likely to retain and grow their support base. People with more time may volunteer to run and contribute to events, such as a community potluck, and those that cannot commit hours can support the group by purchasing promotional t-shirts, or buying a welcome sign to display at their residence. These various symbols of solidarity are effective for the comfort of immigrants in the area, and for raising awareness of the group itself. They engage with local businesses to integrate their message into the wider community and ground it in other local interests, such as a flourishing economy, and showcase the positive impact and contribution of immigrants to the city.
Another conclusion of Chenoweth and Stephan’s research on nonviolent movement states that resistance campaigns that compel loyalty shifts among security forces and civilian bureaucrats are likely to succeed. SIC meet regularly with local officials for clarity and transparency on their policies, and to be a constant reminder of the civilian concern for the welfare of all Saratoga residents. They also pay close attention to Congress and national news reports, with particular focus on the work of local Senators, and “keep the pressure on with communications to members of Congress.” The efforts of these conscientious citizens are an example of effective, nonviolent resistance to hostility and intolerance, and they have shown commendable kindness and resilience in their fight for justice for everyone.
Nonviolent protests have been proven throughout history to be the most successful forms of resistance, and the Saratoga Immigration Coalition are continuing this work–and taking it further–with affirmative action to make our local community a better place for all our residents.