Jordan Flaherty : A Movement Rises in Arizona

Protest agains Arizona’s new immigration law April 25, 2010, in Phoenix. Photo from Getty Images.

Widespread struggle offers human rights vision:
A movement rises in Arizona

By Jordan Flaherty / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2010

PHOENIX — Three months ago, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law the notorious SB 1070, a bill that put her state at the forefront of a movement to intensify the criminalization of undocumented immigrants.

Since then activists have responded through legal challenges, political lobbying, grassroots organizing, and mass mobilizations. More than 100,000 people from across Arizona marched on the state capitol on May 29. Today, hundreds more have pledged to risk arrest through nonviolent direct action. These are the public manifestations of an inspiring and widespread struggle happening in this state. The organizations leading this fight offer a vision for people around the U.S. concerned with human rights.

A rogue state

Yesterday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction against sections of Arizona law SB 1070, which is scheduled to go into effect today. The judge put a hold on some of the most outrageous parts of the bill, such as language that mandates racial profiling by officers. However, Judge Bolton left much of the rest of the law intact, including sections that specifically target day laborers.

For Arizona activists, the legal ruling represents — at best — a small respite. “It’s not a victory, it’s a relief,” says Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “We’re putting a band-aid on a wound.”

Alvarado and the organizers with NDLON are part of a broad network of national organizations and volunteers who have joined with local organizers to fight not just against this unjust law, but also against a general climate of anti-immigrant hatred. “Arizona is a rogue state,” says Alvarado. “We’re going to use every single means that we have at our disposal to fight back.”

Puente Arizona, a Phoenix-based organization that describes itself as a human rights movement working to “resurrect our humanity,” has formed Barrio Defense Committees in neighborhoods across the city. Emulating the structure of groups founded by popular movements in El Salvador, the community-based structure work to both serve basic needs, and also build consciousness and help bring people together.

According to Puente activist Diana Perez Ramirez, the committees host regular “know your rights” trainings and ESL classes, and are organizing “Copwatch” projects. “We ask the community to unite and organize themselves,” says Ramirez. “And we are just there to support that.” More than 1,000 people have joined these neighborhood organizations so far, with more joining every day.

Puente has made use of volunteers from across the U.S., utilizing national support to help with local organizing, and initiating direct action with the support of out of town allies like the Ruckus Society, Catalyst Project, and various chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They have issued calls to action including a Human Rights Summer (modeled after the civil rights movements’ Freedom Summer) and “30 Days for Human Rights,” a month of actions culminating today, the day SB 1070 will become law.

Just after midnight, as the law took effect, the first protest of the day began, as nearly 80 people blocked the intersection at the entrance to the town of Guadalupe, a small (one square mile) Native American and Hispanic community just outside of Phoenix. The town has a long history of struggle against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been one of the main public faces of SB 1070, and most of the protesters (and all of the organizers) were from the community.

Holding signs declaring their opposition to the new law and leading chants against police brutality, activists declared that Arpaio’s officers are not welcome in their town. The stand off against police lasted more than an hour, before protest leaders in consultation with the town’s mayor decided to open the intersection. Several more actions are planned for today.

Working proactively

The Repeal Coalition, a Flagstaff- and Phoenix-based grassroots immigrants-rights organization, was formed in 2007. The group came together because they saw a vacuum in the immigrants’ rights movement in Arizona. “Some of the left here were not being very audacious,” explains Luis Fernandez of the Repeal Coalition. “The positions in the public debate ranged from ‘kick them all out,’ to ‘get their labor and then kick them out.’”

The Repeal Coalition has staked out a position of calling for the elimination of all anti-immigration laws, declaring, “We fight for the right for people to live, love, and work wherever they please.” With this call, says Fernandez, “Now we have a real debate.”

When the coalition was founded, organizers brought in labor activists to advise them on how to build an organization along similar models to those that have built strong unions, utilizing house calls, neighborhood mapping, and group meetings. Although they are an all-volunteer group with little to no funding, they have developed a structure that has initiated large protests and provided direct service, and they are now strategizing more ways to take direct action in the post SB 1070 era.

Fernandez says that this struggle is ultimately about overcoming fear and moving from reaction to proactive action. “We’ve been in a crisis in Arizona for a long time,” he explains. “Even if SB 1070 weren’t implemented, it wouldn’t matter. The political crisis would continue.”

To address this crisis, Fernandez believes organizations must build unity across race and class. “Traditionally in America, when the working class starts suffering, instead of connecting together and looking upwards at the cause of the problem, they look sideways or downwards for who to blame.” Most important, he believes activists must take action to seize the initiative.

In this vision, he has been inspired by young organizers working on the federal DREAM ACT, a federal law that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented youth. “They came to Arizona and said, ‘we’re undocumented and we’re going to commit acts of civil disobedience.’” At first, Repeal Coalition members tried to talk them out of this action, but the youth explained, “We are going to lose our fear because it is the fear of being arrested or the fear of being deported that fuels the inability of political action.”

The bravery and vision of these youth has inspired Fernandez to continue to search for new and bold ways to take action, rather than just continually respond to right wing attacks. “We need to set the agenda,” explains Fernandez. “We have to say, ‘No, you’re going to react to us.’”

Despite a range of tactics and philosophies, one thing organizers here have in common is a dedication to exporting the lessons of their struggle. While Arizona’s law is the first and most draconian, similar laws are pending across the country. And during this current national economic crisis, more and more politicians have found that they can score political points by demonizing immigrants.

“The last two months we’ve had a lot of people calling us asking what they can do to help Arizona,” says Fernandez. “We say, organize in your own town. You don’t have to come to Arizona because Arizona is coming to you.”

[Jordan Flaherty is a journalist, an editor of Left Turn Magazine, and a staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute. He was the first writer to bring the story of the Jena Six to a national audience, and his award-winning reporting from the Gulf Coast has been featured in a range of outlets including The New York Times, Mother Jones, and Argentina’s Clarin newspaper. He has produced news segments for Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, and Democracy Now!. Haymarket Books has released his new book, FLOODLINES: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be reached at]

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17 Responses to Jordan Flaherty : A Movement Rises in Arizona

  1. Jordan is right.

    AZ is coming to us! And I am doing my part to bring it to Texas. The silly racist judge that allowed the injunction to stand will find her racist ruling overturned on appeal. Its coming, one way or another. Go Sheriff Joe!

  2. Anonymous says:

    As I cannot ever recall anyone describing a male judge (however purportedly flawed or mistaken) as “silly” the previous post sounds overtly sexist to me.

    Now that IS silly!

  3. I figured what the hell, why not join them if you cant convince them they are fools.

    Racist? Well, this judge is as racist as the law abiding middle american citizens that favor LEGAl immigration and are frequent pinatas of Thorne and his band of race baiters on the Rag Blog. That is to say, I doubt she is racist at all. But I will call her a racist anyway. It seems I can learn a thing or two from the Progressive offal that publish here. i.e. call everyone a racist that doesnt agree with you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You been drinkin’ again, dhs? There are support groups for that.

  5. Brother Jonah says:

    Hey, I’ve been harrassed, threatened, even at GUNPOINT for the “crime” of “looking Mex”. I’m enough Indian to have the dark good looks and a bunch of relatives. The Fort Worth Pigs once tried to lure me out of my brothers apartment, I was there setting up computers and the neighbors called nine-eleven on me. Seems in Ft Worth, like Phoenix, being dark skinned is considered a 9-1-1 emergency.

    The Pigs in Ft Worth invited me outside and one of them said I looked like Saddam Hussein. What a Silly Pig he was! I closed the door in their faces and went back to work.

    Other times the Border Patrol pulled guns on me for the unpardonable sin of “looking Mex”. I guess that doesn’t happen to Mr Extremist very often. Living in the Fourth Reich must be heavenly for those with the right White Pigmentation. Or lack thereof.

    Me, I’m really saddened by the thought that my nation, which never did have a big reputation for Racial Tolerance, is being pushed into a Fascist Hell by people who believe their skin tone makes them better than anybody else.
    My Indian ancestors include outposts of the Mayan Empire, who were reading and writing and building things while the English were still living in mud huts. And Illiterate. And refusing to bathe.

    So I really see no superiority in the English “race”, their society or the way they violently export that society and impose it on others.
    Certainly not anything that would merit the kind of semi-national conceit that would grant them the privilege of being able to harass, arrest or kill people for not conforming to their Arbitrary Appearance Standards.

    Which, Extremist, they probably don’t do in your neighborhood, unless a Mex or a Black fellow or a long-haired white boy shows up, but the harassment, beatings, arrests and murders still happen in Texas as well as Arizona.

    Making it not only officially permissible for the Jack-off Pigs to do such things, with even less fear of judicial retribution than they already enjoy, but Officially Mandated, that’s a spectacularly bad idea. Somewhere between Tickling Rattlesnakes and skydiving without a parachute on the scale of Bad Ideas.

    Those of us who weren’t born to privilege and Whiteness understand such things. The Prince Siddhartha types don’t. But even Siddhartha was enlightened to the point that now he’s known as The Enlightened One rather than his former Royal name and title.

    That, and I don’t see much of a future in an outnumbered and steadily decreasing supply of White Anglo Saxon Protestants having the power to pull that off for very long. Might doesn’t even make Right when you actually HAVE might.

    Perhaps if they practiced being nice and courteous to the Other People. Instead of trying to re-establish the Holy English Empire through the use of terroristic force.

    Murder is Illegal, Rape is Illegal, Theft is Illegal.

    People aren’t Illegal.

  6. Brother Jonah says:

    Briseña Flores was an AMERICAN, as American as any of the Lily White Cowards who murdered her. In Arizona. The Arizona cops and Judicial system are still working on a way to let her murderers go scot-free. Like the Oakland PIG who forced Oscar Grant to lay face down on the pavement then “accidentally” shot him in the back, or the Dallas PIGS who shot octogenarian Etta Collins through her very opaque wooden door, then claimed they had seen a gun through that same door. Dallas PD hires Supermen, you know, Xray vision. They got away with murder too. Of course it’s a coincidence that the killers were Light complected and the Americans they murdered were somewhat darker. Nope, no racism to be had there! The Killer Kop Klub tell us there isn’t anything racist about that.
    Just like they say the Stop Anybody Who Looks Mex law isn’t racist.
    And a quick shout out to our homie Joe Arpaio. Hey, Joe. You know that thing you do, dressing boy prisoners up in girl clothes… you know, there’s some bars I can think of that have a clientele who might be able to help you with your repressed fantasies about being chained up and forced to wear pink panties.

  7. Brother Jonah, I think a more likely explanation is that you give off bad vibes around cops. You know, anger, hatred, anger, distrust, anger. Did I mention anger?

    Cops pick up on your anger and your body language and demeanor and that raises their cop suspicion. Frankly, given all the animosity towards cops that you have expressed over your many comments here, they would be pretty clueless cops if they didnt have their suspicions aroused and investigate a little. You are like a little dark cloud when it comes to cops.

    There seems to be an abundance of folks here who are into healing energies and activities. Perhaps the Rag Bloggers can do something to channel positive energy to Brother Jonah. Perform some healing rituals or exercises maybe?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Better worth to save our (positive) energy to kick your ass, dhs

  9. Mike Hanks says:

    While I’m in sympathy with the humanitarian component of the issue, the visage of an angry demonstrator carrying a “Stop the Hate” sign seems somewhat incongruous.

    With apologies to my dearest editor, someday I may learn to keep my observations to myself. But, as St. Augustine said about becoming holy, not today, Lord, not today.

  10. Using “positive” energy for ass kicking … that irony is priceless. But not quite as good as some others.
    * People who favor legal immigration are racists, while the hispanics who break the law and steal money from the taxpayers for social services are victims.
    * Corporate greed victimizes the helpless of today. But social greed that piles a massive debt on future generations is “economic justice”
    * Seperation of Federal and state power matters in SB1070, but not in OblamaCare.

    I see many of you on other blogs and websites and groups, so its not just here that some left wingers live in a “logic free zone”. It must be a cultural thing.

  11. Anonymous says:

    think bull conner, and how he helped civil rights. these arizona thugs do the same. give em lots of rope.

  12. Pollyanna says:

    DHS, Mike, the USA claims to have always fought its wars to bring peace. So, what do you find incongruous here?? Fight for peace, it’s the American way!!

  13. Pollyanna, I can think of very few wars that we have fought which were necessary or even beneficial. I think our military should be for defending the home LAND, not empire building. No argument here.

  14. Pollyanna says:

    ah, there, you see; we do have so much in common! but defending the homeland from What?? and for Whom?? aye, there's the rub…

    It's being "defended" right now for the benefit of multinational corporations who increasingly use us as a dumping ground for inferior products and employment opportunities.

    Whenever the people begin seriously to organize to

  15. Anonymous says:

    I consider myself a Liberal or Left leaning American. But for the life of me I cannot understand why the Progressive blogs and Left leaning sites I read do not understand that Illegal Immigrants are a cudgel used by corporations to force down the wages Americans need just to survive, forget about getting ahead we only tread water year to year in hopes we don't sink.

    And the push to

  16. Anonymous says:

    I too consider myself a liberal and agree 100%. As a union carpenter in chicago I've seen young black carpenters looking for work literally told to %#*@ off, while I knew of my co-workers were illegal and making 40$ an hour but were cousins of the foreman.
    I don't understand how these people who call themselves liberal can ignore the extreme poverty that exists in gary, indiana flint

  17. Anonymous says:

    I like Michael Moore, but I am tired of him calling people like me “immigrants”. I was born in America, so I am a Native! To call aboriginals the only true natives (Native Americans) is slander. Their ancestors walked in 20,000 years ago. The only way to fit Moore’s terminology of a true “native” is to arrive by evolution or Creation.

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