Revisiting “Networking the Networks”

Published back in September 2001 was a Ford Foundation-sponsored project titled “Networking the Networks:  Improving Information Flows in the Immigration Field,” by Suzette Brooks Masters and Ted Perlmutter.  This research explores how immigration networks use technology to improve communication, share knowledge, and coordinate action.   The research surveyed many different immigration-related groups, including advocacy, technical assistance, full service, and legal groups.  I had the opportunity to work with several advocacy groups, and would like to revisit this research 12 years later from the advocacy perspective.  What has changed?  And what has stayed the same?

One of the biggest changes was the rise in social media and mobile technology.  These tools have significantly lowered the barriers to communication and have facilitated networking within the field.  The research found that 80% of the organizations they surveyed had a list serv and 75% had a website.  I would say this may have increased, but some groups still use neither because instead of costly services to maintain a website and list serv, they can utilize free tools like a wordpress blog, facebook page, and twitter profile.  “Google groups” is a free tool that can also serve in place of a list serve.  All of the email addresses are entered into the group list and an email can be sent out to everyone at once.  Privacy is still maintained and only an administrator can email the group to avoid the “reply all” issues.  Google groups lists can’t be manipulated like email list servs, targeting certain groups and individuals.  Yet for a low budget, donation based, grassroots organization, google groups will do the trick.  Recently list servs services like Mail Chimp are free up to the first 2,000 subscribers, and it includes templates.  This is perfect for local groups just starting up.  Once they gain more than 2,000 subscribers, they will also have more fundraising options which could help them pay for the increase in fees from a list serv service like Mail Chimp.  The research report indicated that “immigration groups rely heavily on group email (list servs), to obtain new information and disseminate time-sensitive information.”  Groups still rely on these tools, but now they are more accessible.

The report also cited that most groups do not have a dedicated technology staff person.  I believe this has definitely changed.  Most groups now have at least one, if not more, staff members or volunteers working on building the organizations presence on social media or other online platforms.  These services are much easier to maintain than a full website, so it is much easier to find someone with the necessary skills.  

With the spread of these technologies, immigrant groups have formed better networks, can communicate and coordinate much more easily with less time and money, and can strategically integrate communication technologies into their operations — all of which are updates since the 2001 report.

Not only have these technologies dramatically improved immigration networks from a local community level to the national level, but these new technologies have also had the revolutionary effect of changing the way flows of information are structured in the immigration advocacy networks.  Previously, back in 2001, only a handful of groups dominated the role of disseminating important information to the field.  These mostly likely high budget, well organized, national organizations can now have just as much coverage and influence as local coalitions.  For example, recently the leader of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition’s work was highlighted by placing her on the Time 100 List of Most Influential People.  The ADAC is a Phoenix-based organization, but its work and the persistence of their groups leader pushed them into the national spotlight.  Many groups like ADAC are also now well networked with other local coalitions in the Phoenix immigration advocacy community, as well as through national organizations like the United We Dream Network.  UWD coordinates the actions of 52 local organizations around the country.  These network structures and new coalitions were facilitated by improvements in communications technologies have had a profound impact on the structure and density of the immigration advocacy networks.  Now instead of a few national organizations controlling the agenda through a top down approach, national coordinating bodies receive their information from the local organizations and can make decisions and strategies that are much more responsive to the local communities.

What is most exciting about these changes is knowing that with each passing year, there will be more changes.  As communication and information technologies improve, so will networks.  As networks improve, the voices of these advocacy groups grow louder, and they want change.  I look forward to the day when their voices are deafening, change becomes inevitable, and a responsive and responsible CIR plan is passed.  And with another year full of new technology down, we are that much closer.  Happy New Year everyone!


Blast from the Past

Today I was “googleing” myself after a long conversation with a co-worker about what information is available about myself and others online, and I stumbled across this old gem:

This was the first blog post I ever wrote.  I published it a couple years ago on the Arizona Dream Act Coalition’s blog before I moved to New York.  I the post I wrote about SB1070 and how it paralleled my experience in Arizona.  I was especially surprised to see that my post had comments!  Those were very encouraging to read.  I think that was actually the most exciting part, in addition to re-reading what I had written and remembering my experiences with Dreamers in Arizona.  So to my classmates – if you used your name on your blog project, it can serve as a time capsule later on if you look back on your posts.

Anyway, just wanted to share.  Its a fun post, worth a read.

ICT4Peace: Peace Net in Kenya, Preventing Violence & Building Peace through Networks

My usual posts relate to how local and national immigrant advocacy organizations use social media and other communications technologies to advocate for immigration reform.  However this week I had the unique pleasure of having tea with Absolom “Abbie” Shalakha of Peace Net in Kenya, and so I would like to take a moment to share how the grassroots peacebuilding network organization Peace Net uses technology to promote peace, communication, and cooperation.


Abbie’s visit to the US was to fundraise for Peace Net and to take part in the Human Rights Advocates Program at Columbia, where Human Rights Advocates from all over the globe meet in NYC to take classes at SIPA and meet with international NGOs and the United Nations in order to “provide grassroots leaders the tools, knowledge, access, and networks to promote the realization of human rights and strengthen their respective organizations.”

Abbie’s grassroots-based organization Peace Net has developed into a country wide cooperative network and information hub.  Peace Net builds connections with local CSOs across Kenya in an effort to develop an early warning and response network.  These organizations alert Peace Net when there is an emerging threat of violence.  Local citizens can also alert Peace Net through SMS and email.  Abbie reported that sometimes Peace Net can receive 2,000 messages a day!  That is a lot of data to verify, so it keeps their team of three analysts and 1 IT person busy.

Once the information is verified, Peace Net reaches out to its vast network of CSOs and sometimes police forces in order to respond to the threats of violence.  Abbie provided one example where a man from one group in Kenya killed his wife from another group.  The community where this couple lived began to turn this domestic dispute into a group dispute, but when Peace Net mobilized the CSOs to respond to the threat, the local CSOs reached out to their community to provide information and reassurance that this matter was a domestic dispute and that no further violence needed to be feared.  In other more threatening instances, such as gender based violence or election violence, Peace Net may need to call upon the police for support.  If Peace Net mobilized the police, it would be to monitor a situation rather than for enforcement.  It seems that many times just the police’s presence in the area can prevent violence.

Peace Net does communicate and coordinate with the Kenyan government, though they do not share all of their information with the government.  Their independence from the government is important for gaining the trust of the local communities and CSOs.  At the same time, Peace Net does not share all of their data with the public either.  So they are strategic with what information they share.  Their main ties to the government comes through their partnership in the National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding & Conflict Management, which is a large group of stake holders – government officials, CSOs, & citizens – that meet to share resources and knowledge to prevent violence and build sustainable peace in Kenya.


Overall Peace Net is a truly impressive network that only continues to grow and expand.  A model like this may be able to work in another country, but Abbie mentions that a lot of the success of Peace Net is due in part to Kenya’s thriving CSO sector.  I am looking forward to see what comes next for Abbie and Peace Net!

AZ2DC Team Update: Prayers for CIR

The AZ2DC Team made it to Washington DC after a 43 hour cross country bus ride and immediately hit the ground running!  Snow in D.C. didn’t even slow down this Arizona desert-based, dedicated team from working towards their mission.

Here are some great pictures and an article on the bus ride and pre-departure planning meetings.

Since the team arrived, they have been holding nonstop vigils of prayer outside of Speaker Boehner’s office, hoping just for ten minutes of his time to share their stories and to advocate for a vote on CIR.  Watch this instagram video posted last week of a scan of the hallway outside Boenher’s office:

Supporters on the team have also stopped by the #Fast4Families tent to support those fasting for a vote on immigration reform.  Dulce Matuz, leader of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, supports her mother in the tweet below who has already fasted for 8 days!


Congress closes at the end of the week.  Will this group’s prayers be heard? 


Undoculife Simulation Game


During the Hackathon featured in an earlier post, DREAMers had 24 hours to develop a product to help other DREAMers and immigrants in this difficult situation.  All of the DREAMer teams submitted amazing designs, especially considering the time limit, yet one team stood out to with the Best Storytelling App award.  

This team developed an interactive simulation game called Undoculife (#Undoculife) to educate the undocumented community about their rights in a virtual world with real life scenarios.  I just got a chance to play the game and it is such an amazing tool!  Complete with harassment and threats from managers and police approaching the undocumented avatar in the street, this game is an important tool to teach immigrants about their rights.

Other groups like Puente Arizona lead “Know Your Rights” trainings for undocumented immigrants in Arizona, where rights violations happen often because people don’t know that they have them.  These trainings are led by volunteers and take a good amount of planning and organization.  This simulation could break through that.  By simply providing someone with the link to the game, they will have a fun way to learn about their rights.

The team was led by Celso Mireles, Eric Garcia, and Carlos Vargas.  Celso Mireles is an ongoing activist in the community, and since the Hackathon is now planning to launch a “Coding for Progress” training for other DREAMers looking to develop their skills to build similar products for the community.

To read more on this story, check out the Storify that made and posted on their blog:

And to try out the new #Undoculife Game, use this link:


TODAY: “AZ2DC” Bus Rolls out of Phoenix towards the Capitol!

DREAMers, members of families separated by deportations, undocumented immigrant activists, and allies all join together today to set out on a 40+ hour, 3 day bus ride from Phoenix, AZ to Washington D.C.  Their goal is to pass immigration reform before the Congress recesses for the end of the year on December 13th, just two weeks away.  For real time updates on the trip, follow the hashtag #AZ2DC or the handle @USA2DC.  

Once the group of activists arrive, they will join back in with the ongoing #Pray4Boehner action that was started on their first bus trip last month.  Through the action, activists stood outside Boehner’s office, engaging in ongoing prayer and singing that communicated their hope that there will be immigration reform before the end of the year.  This was and is a very different action than the usual hard-headed, get-things-done protests the capital sees everyday.  This action communicates urgency through peaceful prayer, and act of grace.  Speaker Boehner is their main target, but any politician that passes in the hallway activists will stop or walk alongside to share their own personal story of how the broken immigration system has affected them and their families.  By putting an actual face to the consequences of poor legislation, it makes the cause even harder to deny.  

The last group also made a stop at Speaker Boehner’s home in Ohio, praying from the sidewalk.  Neighbors of the Speaker supported the activists in prayer with words of encouragement and by even bringing them snacks!

A photo of activists ringing the doorbell, posted by @detialsdom:


Because their last trip was such a success, I am looking forward to reading the tweets of what this next trip’s actions will bring.  Follow along with me at #AZ2DC and #Pray4Boehner, and join in by tweeting words of encouragement!  A sample tweet:  “My thoughts and prayers are with #AZ2DC activists today. Wishing you safe travels to the capitol!” or a more secular post “Good luck today to @USA2DC as they head out on their trip. #Timeisnow to pass #CIR!”  Thank you for your support!