Friday, August 19, 2022

Kathryn Abrams's "Open Hand, Closed Fist"

Kathryn Abrams is Herma Hill Kay Distinguished Professor of Law at University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

She applied the Page 99 Test to her new book, Open Hand, Closed Fist: Practices of Undocumented Organizing in a Hostile State, and reported the following:
Open Hand, Closed Fist explores the emergence and trajectory of a surprising political movement: a movement populated and led by undocumented immigrants, organizing against Arizona’s fierce campaign of anti-immigrant legislation and enforcement. Based on five years of observation and interviews with activists, the book asks how it was possible to organize and empower a group of participants who lacked any form of legal status, in the face of such concerted state hostility. It identifies three practices used by organizations to achieve these results: experiential storytelling; organizational “emotion cultures,”; and “performative citizenship” (mobilizing undocumented participants through actions or roles culturally associated with citizenship). The book shows how these practices allowed undocumented immigrants to become confident, effective public participants, and enabled the movement to adapt and persist in the face of changing governmental policies.

Page 99 is located in a transitional passage: it comes at the beginning of chapter 4, which moves from the explication of the three practices, to the larger story of change and adaptation. It introduces two campaigns that connected Arizona activists to a national movement and inaugurated new patterns in undocumented organizing. One of these campaigns, the campaign of undocumented youth for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is more familiar; the other, the “Undocubus” – a six-week, cross-country “freedom ride” by a multi-generational group of undocumented activists -- is less well-known. Page 99 describes the national movement-building organizations that helped to connect Arizona activists with the national movement, and introduces a central theme of these campaigns: the increasingly oppositional stance of participants toward the federal government.

Taken at face value, page 99 is not an ideal window on the book: it is a stage-setting passage, awash in logistical detail, that lacks the activist voices that set the tone and carry the narrative for most of the book. But viewed conceptually, this page introduces a pivotal moment for the movement. In this moment, undocumented organizing shifted form and focus, from the cheerful, institutional activism of highly accomplished youth, to a more adversarial, extra-institutional activism that amplified the less familiar voices of undocumented adults, and embraced a posture of frank demand toward a government that had failed in its promises to immigrants.
Learn more about Open Hand, Closed Fist at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue