Phoenix Getting into Phoenix on Wednesday morning, we went by the big church rally with Rev. Al Sharpton where many groups announced their pledges of opposition to the anti-immigrant, racial profiling bill, SB 1070. By the end of that evening 10000 had marched to the State Capitol in protest. This is an everyday event here. It was exciting. Talking to a number of people outside of the church, we could tell the crowd was diverse and this was a uniting of the forces to oppose something really immoral and frankly evil. But, I only really got the special sense that there as a deep movement building later on Thursday morning.
First after a lot of debriefing, meeting, venting, and arguing with Carlos Garcia, who is driving a lot of the program for the Puente coalition forces on the ground in Phoenix, and Chris Newman, the tireless legal direction and jack-of-all-arts-and-trades for NDLON out of Los Angeles, at Mary Rose Wilcox restaurant downtown, Chris and I got up to go, and I reached for my wallet, and he said, don’t bother. Huh? Mary Rose was now a legendary politician who has led the fight against Sheriff Arapio, but I didn’t get it. Chris then said simply, “hey, she comps us for breakfast here to appreciate the work.” That’s the heartbeat of a movement, my friends!
The same spark was alive as I sat in as a guest at the Puente staff meeting at the offices of big worker center downtown. Salvador Reza opened the meeting with grace, thanking whoever brought in breakfast for everyone and then insisting that the 20 or so folks around the table introduce themselves and what they were hoping to accomplish. What a diverse crowd! Young and old, anglo and latino, local and from wherever. This was not some high financed national campaign effort, but a collection of folks from various local organizations as well as people who had either come, as one guy had because he had some skills to offer and was “from Phoenix,” or from sister organizations like the Miami Worker Center or the New Orleans Worker Center (hey, New Orleans, props to us!) and other odd volunteers from Los Angeles and the Midwest were there to “do whatever helped.” This was not a DC-crowd. This was a low-maintenance, high energy, work-to-the-bone group. I was heartened about the prospects for victory, just sitting in their midst.
Salvador turned the meeting over to Carlos to move through the long, 1 ½ page agenda that covered everything from pushing the local school district about non-compliance and the student boycotts to news and skepticism of the national announcements on a boycott, even as everyone embraced the tactic and scratched their heads at Danny Glover’s weird opposition to it earlier in the week. Another huge mobilization was planned for May 29th so planning was in earnest there. This was a newly emerging team that was ready and able, but naturally outmatched by the pure length of the list that Carlos was driving through, item by item. The Puente team was also working with chewing gum and duct tape to put these pieces together rather than the resources of the national campaign and other organizations. Samples of 10,000 boycott and oppose 1070 stickers produced in Los Angeles, were scarfed, but figuring out how to get more of them into Phoenix to plaster everywhere downtown was a harder lift even if it was only a dime for each one. Carlos and Salvador didn’t let anyone get bogged down on the money, and moved on, but even as they moved on, it was with the spirit of a movement rather than the fine oiled engine of a machine.
This is a righteous fight in Arizona. The moral issues are clear. Victory should be certain, and the fight is in good hands around this table and others like it (I hope!), but winning will remain out of grasp until they are allowed to build the very movement that folks like these have been pushing forward from Arpaio in the past to 1070 now right here in Phoenix.
As I silently left the meeting, still moving and steadily ticking off items on the list after more than an hour, I wondered if the whole fate of real immigration reform and the movement to propel it might not be sparked right here in the hot, unforgiving desert of Arizona. It won’t be won or lost here, but the fight and spirit alone might be enough to light the prairie fire of change to sweep through the country and inspire the thousands of other struggles, big and small, that could create lasting social change for immigrants trying to find a place in America.
I was hopeful.