Erika Andiola's foray into organizing and activism began with the DREAMer movement, fighting for legislative changes that would grant her and her Mexican-American family the freedom of citizenship. She quickly emerged as a prominent voice pushing for radical — and necessary —immigration reform. Soon after, she joined Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign as press secretary for Hispanic media and, following his defeat in the Democratic primaries, joined Our Revolution, the organization tasked with furthering his campaign's political agenda. The day before the presidential election, we spoke with Erika over the phone from Washington, D.C.
It’s been an intense few days. How are you feeling?
Yes! You know, I think we should be expecting some positive news. And “positive” means that we're not gonna have someone like Donald Trump as the next president. But we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
Since Bernie’s campaign ended, you’ve been working with Our Revolution. What is it exactly and what kind of work are you guys doing?
There was always the message that Bernie was talking about, which was the fact that his entire campaign wasn't just about a presidential campaign. It was really about building a movement and there were issues that we need to push to the left — things like a $15 minimum wage, education, immigration. Now that the presidential campaign is over, we’ve turned it into an organization that is going to push for those different issues that he always talked about.
We’re building leadership at the local and national level. So we're helping candidates ranging from school board members to the Senate of the United States; people from every level of government who are like Bernie, who have the same values, who are progressive. And who are wanting to run not necessarily for a party but for the people, not just in campaigns that are funded by the millionaire class but by the working classes and by small donations. We endorsed about 104 candidates this time around and helped raise funds for them, using the tools from the Bernie campaign. For us, the other important track is issue-based campaigns. Right now we're collaborating on things like the #NoDAPL movement and we are continuing to create coalitions and partnerships with different groups that are pushing for the things that Bernie advocated for.
For people who may be voting today, what's the importance of casting ballots on the local level?
It was something the senator always said: change happens from the bottom up. We are all very focused on the presidential campaign. It feels like a reality show for many people, right? But the fact is that there are a lot of policies that happen at the local level and that were pushed back in 2010. Around that time, there was a huge movement on the right — the Tea Party movement. A lot of those folks were basically making a lot of changes through the local level and introducing legislation that was very, very harmful to our communities. Nobody was paying much attention because we were all so focused on the federal races.
So for us it's crucial that we also have people at the local level who are pushing for things. Like, minimum wage sometimes can happen at the city level or at the state level. And in education, there's so many things we can do through our school boards. Every single election, we have to get in more and more leaders that are not being funded, that are not being motivated by the interests of money. And by funding with small donations, at the grassroots level we are going to diminish the impact that millionaires have had throughout the history of our government.
Revolution is a very big word. How do you reconcile those ambitions with the reality that the system you’re relying on is broken and has proven itself to be broken for a very long time?
Well, the meaning of revolution is change. There's a lot of different ways to talk about a revolution but what was pushed by the campaign that we ran with the senator is the concept of the political revolution. That's basically changing the way politics runs in this country. And the way in which we change that is by changing the power dynamic. If you start turning power from those at the top to those at the bottom, we're gonna start seeing a lot more policies that are reflective of the people who are the most disadvantaged, whether it's working class people, whether it's people with no jobs or youth or communities of color or immigrants. We are not the ones that have a seat at the table, we're not the ones who are elected officials. We want to change that. It's a constant movement that we need to build and nourish in order for us to get to that long-term goal of a political revolution. It's not gonna happen overnight, it's not gonna happen tomorrow.
“Those of us who are regular working people, who don’t have the same amount of power as the people on Wall Street, we’re the ones who have to push things forward.”
You started out as an organizer and an activist within the DREAMer movement, pushing for immigration reform. Tell me a little bit about where you think the country is at now, in terms of immigration.
It's one of those issues that has been of the forefront of the entire electoral campaign, with somebody like Trump. It’s not necessarily that the Democratic Party or Hillary Clinton needed to talk about immigration more. It’s more that the other side is continuing to use us as a subject of attack in every single speech. That's unfortunately been the context of the entire conversation: that immigrants are to blame for crime, that immigrants are to blame for everything. We have to hope that Hillary Clinton will end up winning, but at the same time we have to make sure that she doesn’t end up making the same mistakes that were made by the Obama administration.
And I think part of that means starting to shift the conversation about immigration away from the deserving versus the undeserving, or the bad ones versus the good ones, or the families versus the felons. That's been always the narrative and it was strengthened even more by the deportation machine that the Obama administration created. How do we go into this new administration changing that narrative and understanding that criminal justice and immigration reform basically go hand-in-hand in many ways? We can’t really talk about one without talking about the other. We need to fix both but at the same time, we can’t just wait for a bill to happen in Congress. We have to make sure that anything that can be done to change policies in the meantime. Local police collaborating with immigration services, detention centers, all these harmful programs — they need to be dismantled. They need to be changed as we work towards something permanent.
When we spoke earlier in the year, your mom was in deportation proceedings. Is that still her status?
Yeah. She's going back to immigration in a month. She has to go back every year. It’s part of an ongoing battle with her deportation case until there’s something in place that would give her citizenship. People continue to believe that this perfect bill is gonna come out of the House and the Senate that's gonna help everyone who's here undocumented. But that's usually not the case. People like my mom would probably not qualify for the sort of bill [that would be passed]. That’s what happened last time, [with the program announced by President Obama in 2014]. Many undocumented people who have fallen through the tracks wouldn't qualify. My mom is still in limbo, my siblings are still undocumented. We have to continue to fight in the meantime so that people who are in limbo aren't living in fear. And that's not the case right now: people are living in fear.
Of course. That’s a heavy weight to be carrying on your shoulders, to try to breathe through.
Believe me, there's a lot of interest in having more and more immigrants detained. There’s a lot of interest in having more and more immigrants deported. One of the biggest lessons that I learned from working in the campaign, and working with people who are pushing against corporate interests, is that a lot of people who have been pushing for very, very strict immigration policies and who pushed the administration to vote strong on detention and deportation are private prison companies. I think a lot of people don't necessarily understand that there are always self-interested people out there who see people of color as a way to continue to build their wealth.
What kind of action should people be taking to help us get to an immigration scenario that makes a little more sense?
One of the things that we did a little differently when the DREAMer movement emerged is that we were starting to get focused on people and their stories. We were bringing the most vulnerable to come out of the shadows, to be less afraid, to tell their stories. Unfortunately, as a DREAMer, I understand and I acknowledge that we helped create this bad versus good narrative. And I feel like because I acknowledge that I also feel a responsibility of continuing to mobilize for people who are not necessarily a valedictorian or the cute mom who has never done anything wrong in her life. I mean, there are people out there who may have D.U.I.s or who have fallen into this horrible criminal justice system and they're fighting for their families, too. And there’s people who are right now in a detention center, or people who have already been deported. I think bringing these stories to the public is important. I also really and truly believe that we need to start seeing this from the lens of, How do we stop the criminalization of people of color and people in the immigrant community?
Right. You don't have to be a valedictorian to be a human being.
Once you start seeing somebody as a fellow human being rather than just a felon or an illegal or a criminal or whatever labels have come out of this election, that really changes the way in which we start perceiving each other. It's the same thing with many issues — think about the LGBT community, who did something similar with the coming out movement. There's a lot of work to do but I think we need to take some time after the election and come together and push this entire agenda to the left.
How hopeful are you about the future?
I'm very grateful that we did this. It wasn't a great feeling when we lost the primary. It took me some time. It took me a couple of weeks to come back to my senses and realize that, since the very beginning, one of the reasons that Bernie ran was because he wanted to push [Hillary]. And I think we accomplished some of the things that we wanted. If it wasn't for the movement that Bernie inspired, we wouldn't have had this Democratic agenda to push. As we say, it's a matter of not seeing this as a moment but as a movement. Those of us who are regular working people, who don’t have the same amount of power as the people on Wall Street, we're the ones who have to push things forward.