Code Orange, Meet Green Card

06/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

True confessions: my ghostly second life began in 1980, when CNN, as the spanking new cable news network, frantically tried to fill 24 hours with news. Prior to that, millions of Americans watched the same three networks' evening broadcasts or PBS, then dispersed. No news updates came until 11PM, no words scrolled across our screens.

How quaint. Before there were blogs, though, there were commentaries. Back then, I wrote over 500 such TV spots for former Congresswoman Bella Abzug. The topics ranged widely, from women in business (or as I put it then, women mean business) to the Iranian hostages. I pawed through several papers a day, clipping what I thought were each day's top stories worthy of comment. The only spot I recall being kept off the air was a mischievous nod to the Atlanta Braves' players' union.

In 1986, when I founded Pro-Media Communications, now a bicoastal social issue communications firm, I shifted gears, to edit the voices of hundreds of other social change agents and help spread their words far and wide. Finally, it's my turn.

So here goes. I'll be posting about living in code orange, that uneasy state of heightened vigilance, from our airports to our border crossings, throughout our pink-slip economy.

What does it mean to live with that level of tension? How does it shadow our lives and color our choices, personal and political? And what could make a difference? That's what I intend to explore through the lens of communication, starting with immigration.

Three years ago this week, I stood on the corner of Mission Street, outside the San Francisco Chronicle, watching waves of immigrants and their supporters slowly march by in a moving show of strength. Emerge from the shadows. Don't let fears of deportation steal your dignity or your voice. We're all alike, really, chasing dreams of a better life.

Back in 2006, social change commentator Allison Fine (author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age) and I were struck by the new, wired ways that millions were mobilized in San Francisco and around the U.S. Unions and advocacy groups reached out. But traditional flyers, pricey TV ads and phone banks had been overshadowed by eleventh hour texting ("C'mon down, we're five minutes away") and the powerful, "out of earshot for Anglos" Spanish language radio.

Today, three years and an eternity later, there will be another march. What will set it in motion? What will result? Tweets may outnumber texts. Swine flu fears may depress the crowds. The editor we met in 2006 is long gone; his paper, like many, is on life support. New media have emerged.

At his press conference this week, President Obama repeated his intent to reform immigration. Who will march this time and hold him to it? Will men and women born in the USA step out, hang back or lash back? How, amidst so many crises, could we redefine homeland security to include health insurance, good jobs, world class education and a path to citizenship with opportunity for newcomers and old timers alike? In these code orange times, how can 21st century immigrants prove they offer more of a promise than a threat?