As evidenced in the previous chapters, participatory culture has become increasingly important to understanding patterns of civic, social, cultural and political engagement among youth. Yet, with some notable exceptions, there has been little attention focused on bridging insights from the theory of participatory culture with literature on social movements. Seeking to better understand how digital media platforms and practices may be impacting social movements, this chapter draws on insights from a case study with undocumented youth commonly referred to as the Dreamers, who are engaged in immigrant rights organizing and activism. We draw primarily on interview data and media artifacts related to DreamActivist.org (no longer active). Much like the American Muslim youth in the previous chapter, the Dreamers have engaged in acts of personal and collective storytelling, but they have done so in the context of a larger social movement, where tactics also seek to dramatize and publicize struggles over power. Dreamers, who originally coalesced around the federal DREAM Act legislation in 2010, have leveraged their familiarity with digital media practices and networked culture to create ad hoc Dreamer organizations, circumventing top-down organizational structures to become critical actors within the broader movement for immigrant rights.
This chapter does not aim to account for all characteristics of the DREAM movement systematically. Rather, our aim here is more modest--to identify ways that undocumented youth have used digital media tools to represent their voices, stories, and interests. In doing so, we will also explore what lessons can be drawn from Dreamers in understanding how other marginalized communities can use digital media to create pathways toward greater social and political empowerment. During our research, we met many individuals who defied popular presumptions about civically and politically disengaged youth. These were not “the usual suspects”, not “digital natives.” Rather, they were youth who were finding ways to connect against great political, legal, economic and technological barriers.
This chapter draws on the case of DREAM activism to explore how undocumented youth have used transmedia strategies to mobilize for immigrant rights. While DREAMers engage in a wide range of activist tactics, from traditional protest marches to staged "graduations,” we focus on how DREAMers have used new media challenge the "illegal" identity by sharing "coming out" stories. Specifically, we show how undocumented youth activists have used digital media to meet individual affective/therapeutic ends, create an archive of DREAMer stories and experiences, and engage in movement tactics that bridge to on-the-ground action. We argue that DREAMer coming out stories, which are largely produced and circulated via new media, serve four key functions with regard to participatory politics, which fall in various locations on the trajectory from voice to influence. Coming out stories:
- Serve as a psychic survival mechanism, providing an outlet for affective sharing and release on individual and communal levels
- Create a visible archive of collective sentiment around the shared struggles and experiences of undocumented youth
- Harness the power of collective identity to create vital communities of support for undocumented youth
- Help spur involvement in other forms of activism and collective action, even in the face of personal and political risk
We also describe the emergence of the DREAMer movement, its recent adoption of more radical tactics, and it’s relationship to other movements that have embraced the rhetorical strategy of “coming out” to illustrate how DREAMers offer a unique perspective on immigrant rights and social change.
Our research shows that transmedia strategies have served the Dreamers well in their quest, not only to move immigrant rights legislation forward, but also in their efforts to shed light on the struggles of undocumented youth more broadly. Thus, we argue that the rise in digital media, and by extension participatory cultures, has opened up other avenues beyond what Harris-Lacewell (2004) calls "information networks" to create pathways toward participation. Following from this, we demonstrate that undocumented youth have used digital media to create spaces of citizenship, collective identity, belonging, and political participation.