Arizona: Immigration Alamo or Selma?

Ideas and Issues Labor Organizing

Detroit Mark Brenner of Labor Notes hit the nail on the head in talking with me: they were doing great, he said, but the labor movement was doing terribly. The point is worth more thought and discussion, but it also made me think about other movements that are at a crossroads as well, and the situation in Arizona with the brazen political pandering of Governor Brewer in signing a horrific piece of anti-immigrant legislation in that state is a perfect example of challenge and opportunity.

Leading up to the refusal of the Governor to veto the bill, which even included a rare case of a sitting President speaking against a state legislative matter while it was still pending, there was a huge step up and all hands on board push in Arizona. Immigrants and students also rose up to challenge the racial profiling and apartheid practices that are now on the verge of implementation. Schools may still be vacated and rallying points when the bell rings on Monday. Thousands were on the street, in rallies, and on vigil outside of the State Capitol. More is expected today with a full plate of activities planned for Sunday.

Before the bill the national immigration reform movement also seemed to be stepping hard into the fight, though in talking to organizers in Arizona, it also seemed in some cases they were trying to muscle in from the top on what has been a grassroots and courageous effort with more lessons to teach than to learn. I was relieved to see this, especially because too often it has seemed that strong organizations with a Phoenix base have been isolated in a hand-to-hand struggle over the last several years while too many national operations with capacity have been too aloof from the battle with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose vigilante activies in Maricopa County are the predecessor of this new anti-immigrant outrage. This is a perfect organizing example of what happens when we don’t protect our own base and hope Hail Mary passes on the White House lawn or in Congress will save us from our own neighbors.

There is a crossroads here between whether this is another immigration movement Alamo or could be an immigration reform Selma. If organizers see Arizona as a “loss” now and try to change the narrative to another venue or an easier issue, they will lose the ability to continue to engage the issue at its most stark and, just as in Selma, use this as a huge lever for change. The elements are there. The rejection of the ex-Governor Napolitano’s strategy of vetoing similar legislation when she was Arizona governor and now hard handling immigrants to try a new posture as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. We already have the President’s attention, so we need to continue to push him to engage and not allow there to be a “beer summit” over tacos and guns at the border. We have John McCain who is in career meltdown having gone from alleged “man of principal” on immigration reform to political shill for anything that might win him a vote or two in his re-election drive.

We have everything but a full court press. We need to throw everything we have into Arizona and find somethings we didn’t know we had to put throw in on top of that. Whether we would have chosen this venue or not, it’s there, and we need to fully engage, hell or high water, at the full level of the potential of this great movement until there is either “death or glory,” as the song says.

It matters, and people are ready.