Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day! Mayday!

Since Arizona seceded from the Union on April 23, the country has shown its true colors in populist organizations emerging to press efforts to persuade the territory’s leaders to return to the community of united states.

The blowback from territorial Gov. Jan Brewer’s signing of Senate Bill 1070 into law — ushering in a policy of interrogation and possible detention of residents of the Arizona Territory whose ethnic appearance fits a predetermined profile — has been loud and strong from all quarters. Since April 23, for example, various professional organizations have shelved or cancelled plans for meetings and conventions there. Simply put, they’re not going to the territory.

But yesterday across the country, Arizona heard from many of the rest of us when tens of thousands of Americans hit the streets to protest Arizona’s action. It was fitting, of course, that the rallies and demonstrations happened on May Day, recognized as International Workers’ Day.

But those marchers and protesters bent on overturning the Arizona law conveyed an urgency about the situation that connected May Day the observance with the other mayday, the widely recognized distress call — this time for a state whose stridently nativist immigration policies could be the bellwether of similar laws from other states in the months, maybe years, to come.

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Distilling the news from reports filed by The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times leaves you with nothing less than the impression that the full contours, the true scope of what’s really both a national and international story haven’t been determined yet.

From The AP:
“I want to thank the governor of Arizona because she's awakened a sleeping giant," said labor organizer John Delgado, who attended a rally in New York where authorities estimated 6,500 gathered.” ...

Police said 50,000 rallied in Los Angeles where singer Gloria Estefan kicked off a massive downtown march. Estefan spoke in Spanish and English, proclaiming the United States is a nation of immigrants.

"We're good people," the Cuban-born singer said atop a flatbed truck. "We've given a lot to this country. This country has given a lot to us." ...

At the White House, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, was among 35 people arrested in a demonstration of civil disobedience against the Arizona law.

In Dallas, police estimated at least 20,000 attended a Saturday rally. About a dozen people there carried signs depicting the Arizona governor as a Nazi and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tough illegal immigration stance, as a Klansman. Organizers were asking sign holders to discard those placards.

Juan Hernandez, the Hispanic outreach coordinator for Arizona Sen. John McCain's unsuccessful presidential run, attended the Dallas rally. He said Arizona was once considered by those south of the border to be a model state with particularly close ties to Mexico.

“It went beyond what most states do,” he said. “Now they are a state that goes beyond what the Constitution says you should do.”

Juan Haro, 80, was born and raised in Denver, where about 3,000 people rallied. He said he thinks Arizona's new law targets Mexicans.

“This country doesn't seem to be anti-immigrant,” said Haro, whose family is originally from Mexico. “It seems to be anti-Mexican.”

In downtown Miami, several hundred flag-waving demonstrators — many with Cuban and Honduran flags, but mostly American ones — called for reforms.

Elsewhere, an estimated 7,000 protesters rallied in Houston, about 5,000 gathered at the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta and at least 5,000 marched in Milwaukee. About 3,000 attended a Boston-area march.

And in Ann Arbor, Mich., more than 500 people held a mock graduation ceremony for undocumented immigrant students near the site of Obama's University of Michigan commencement speech.

In Arizona, police in Tucson said an immigration rights rally there drew at least 5,000 people. Several thousand people gathered in Phoenix for a demonstration Saturday evening.”
From the Los Angeles Times, at or pretty near the geographic epicenter of the emerging debate:
Cardinal Roger Mahony, an outspoken critic of the Arizona crackdown on illegal immigrants, had a message for Arizona officials.

“Thank you, Arizona,” he said Saturday during a May Day rally in downtown Los Angeles. “Thank you, Arizona.”

Mahony has emerged as one of the leading voices against the new law. Two weeks ago, he compared Arizona with Nazi Germany after the state passed a strict new law that allowed police to check the legal status of anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

But Mahony said the Arizona legislation might turn out to be a net positive, hastening the passage of federal immigration reform. ...

He also challenged Gov. Jan Brewer to release a set of clear criteria defining what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” that an individual might be undocumented.

“They can't,” he said. “Because you'd come up with ‘brown skin, black hair and listens to ranchera music.’”
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What’s striking in these and other reports is the actual grassroots dimension of what’s playing out on the streets of America. Unlike the Tea Party movement, which owes much of its genesis to conservative Washington lobbyists and their proxies and enablers in the conservative media, what took place yesterday across the nation was truly from the ground up.

You could tell by who was there. Not the drug runners and gangbangers Brewer and supporters of the Arizona law are focused on. Everyday people, with nary a suit and tie in the bunch. The people who pick your produce and mow your lawns. The ones who stock your grocery shelves and work construction in condo developments they can’t afford to live in. The people who take the early bus to work. The ones standing outside your Home Depot or Lowe’s stores right now, people who’d gladly take any bus to work. If only there was work.

One photograph synthesized the whole thing. While the governor of the Arizona Territory and her backers govern with the playbook of the past, employing the kind of paranoiac ethnic poison we’ve encountered more than once before in the nation’s history, a young man stood yesterday across the street from the Disney Concert Hall in the heart of Los Angeles, holding a sign whose message distilled where this is going, and what this is ultimately about:


Image credits: Top three rally images: Jim Stevenson, via The Huffington Post. Mahony at L.A. rally: Los Angeles Times. LEGALIZE sign: Jim Stevenson via HuffPost.

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