Monday, December 21, 2009

Arizona: A State of Emergency

Below is a draft of a text that was originally written for an anti-racist blog. I was approached and asked to contribute a piece about the dire situation in Arizona for a national audience, unfortunately this never saw the light of day due to their objections over the centrality of the border and indigenous struggles to the immigrant movement.

By Jon Riley
Phoenix Class War Council

What’s left to be said about Maricopa County? What can I tell you that you don’t already know? Need I mention the racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), the “crime suppression” sweeps targeting immigrants and communities of color, the living conditions in tent city jail, the harassment of rival political figures, the courting of radical anti-immigrant groups, and, of course, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s appetite for the limelight?

You’ve read the condemnation from national news sources, such as the New York Times editorials, and in the constant stream of articles on anti-racist websites and blogs. It is clear that the situation in Maricopa County, and throughout the state, is increasingly hellish for anyone concerned with human freedom. We recognize that the situation on the ground is untenable for organizing. Communities are constantly on the defensive, racist lawmakers are on the legal offensive, and our movement is tired of losing.

For us to resist this state of emergency the movement will have to change.

The desperation is ever present in Maricopa County. Local activists devoted to challenging the racism oozing from the local state legislature and county sheriff are exhausted. The years of symbolic protest and moral appeals to the white citizen majority have failed. Even when Arpaio’s numbers slipped in the polls (he currently is seeing some of his highest poll numbers state wide), support for anti-immigrant ballot initiatives remained at 80%. Other activists and lawyers have sought the intervention of the federal government, and while the Department of Justice has sent a handful of observers to the county to little affect during their 20 month stay. The situation has only grown worse, more families are broken up by MCSO workplace raids, more immigrant workers have been deported, and even more have “self-deported,” fleeing the state that was their home.

Was it just four years ago that we saw the “huelga general,” a real general strike that happened here in Maricopa County. In downtown Phoenix hundreds of thousands of workers marched and rallied for protection from the coming onslaught of anti-immigrant legislation and popular white hysteria that was reaching a fever pitch. Now we’re lucky to see a few thousand marching for immigrants and calling for the end of the era of racialized policing. The dwindling numbers are of no surprise to many of us, for years organizers have stonewalled and marginalized radical voices and tactics, preferring symbolic and moral appeals to power, especially as the demands of the movement are in retreat. Gone are the “somos America, we are America” slogans, now the signs read “We are human,” a plea to the white citizenry to recognize, at the very least, that immigrants are also human beings.

Anarchists in the valley- and more specifically those who have for years resisted and organized against the Sheriff, state politicians, and local laws- are trying new methods in this struggle. We’ve seen the failure of the movement's moral appeal to white citizens, whites are engaged in a political alliance with the elite, one that rewards them with white skin privilege, over solidarity with other working class people of color. Why don’t we redefine the debate by hitting at the system’s contradictions instead? The same Sheriff deputies white people believe protect them from the “evils of illegal immigration” will also be the same agents of the state evicting them from their foreclosed home. Indeed, indigenous people are also facing forced relocation from their traditional lands, in northern Arizona the Diné resist the corporations seizing the land for resource extraction, while down south the Tohono O’odham are harassed by the Border Patrol, and removed from their lands for the construction of the border wall. The state dislocates immigrants, American families, and indigenous people from their homes, why aren’t we building a movement that addresses this?

Like the mainstream movement, we too want an end to the racial profiling and the attacks on immigrant communities, but we don’t want to enter a one sided debate with those in power over who can come, who can go, and who stays. Free people, need to move and live freely, we say no deportations, no foreclosures, no relocations!


chaparral said...

i'm really disappointed that they wouldn't put it up on the site untouched.
i can't get over the whole focus-on-arpaio thing. it's so myopic. and perhaps a bit dangerous.

Phoenix Insurgent said...

The following comment was posted to the imagine 2050 website but it was not approved. I'm reposting it here because it goes into some of those political disagreements that are referenced above. I'll break it up into a few parts because blogger demands it, not because that's how it was originally.

I think now is indeed the time for stepped up tactics. The movement here in Phoenix has largely been pursuing a failed strategy rooted in bearing moral witness, self-sacrifice and monotonous marches. A big dose of creativity, like that being pursued by the local anarchists in town, is precisely what is needed, and their recent actions along these lines have been quite successful (recently shutting down an Arpaio talk at ASU, for instance). Unfortunately, the leadership of the movement is committed to the above mentioned strategy and has openly condemned the anarchists and others in the movement who seek to develop and deploy tactics beyond the limits policed by movement movers and shakers.

But where you're correct there, I think you're wrong on a couple other counts. First, as someone who has lived in Phoenix all my life and likewise as someone who has been involved in the struggle around immigration, I have to say that the call to a united, anti-Arpaio front is incorrect. To begin with, Arpaio is a county official, not a statewide official and our problems here are not limited to the Maricopa County. The problem is a white population that acts in overwhelming numbers against immigrants at every opportunity. They vote in overwhelming numbers for every anti-immigrant ballot iniative and return outright racists like state Senator Russell Pearce to office with large majorities. Sheriff Joe is drawing mainly on the authority given to him by the state legislature and the people of Arizona.

Indeed, here in Phoenix, where the Sheriff also has jurisdiction, it actually turns out that local cops like the PPD are responsible for more deportations than Joe. Sure, Joe does some outrageous and despicable maneuvers, and the tent city jail is an embarrassment for sure, but most deportations in the county lockup happen because he runs their info after they've been turned over by other police agencies. Most deportations do not occur because of the raids. Indeed, focusing on Joe (as the movement currently does, which makes me wonder why you characterize the position as a change in strategy) has only made him stronger. Consider a year and a half ago when as part of their united front against Arpaio, local movement leaders endorsed city of Mesa top cop Gascon, who was engaged in a turf war with Arpaio. Meanwhile, it turned out that Gascon was using his anti-gang task force to round up people leaving anti-Joe rallies. A problematic alliance to say the least.

Likewise now, movement leaders have formed an alliance with County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, interestingly, someone much-despised even amongst whites because she backed the public funding of a local sports stadium -- she was actually shot in the ass by an angry constituent after that boondoggle! Beyond the usual politricks, though, Wilcox also supports the building of a new freeway on the Gila River Indian Community, which will cause no end of problems for them, including health issues and the walling off of the reservation from the rest of the city. Another complication amongst many that arise from this strategy.

Phoenix Insurgent said...

Pt. 2

In fact, the problem isn't that we do NOT have an anti-Joe strategy here in Phoenix. It's the fact that we DO have an anti-Joe strategy. We need a new strategy but the one you propose is not a new one. That one has already failed. Sal Reza, one of the leaders of the anti-immigration movement, has sat outside Joe's Wells Fargo office for more than a year in protest, he has marched to his jails, etc., to no effect but boosting Joe's status as a defender of the common man. So, there is no shortage of anti-Joe stuff. The thing is, orientating that way first of all only empowers Joe, who gets off on the conflict. In turn, it increases his popularity, which is now higher than any time that I can remember. The more Joe is framed as the bad guy going after immigrants, the more the white people in Az love him for it.

So, what I advocate, and what the Phoenix Class War Council advocates, is a change in both tactics, but also a change in debate. We think that we need to reframe the discussion to one around freedom of movement and dislocation. Since we've been pursuing this argument we have seen much success in terms of our actions and the way that people orient towards it. Sheriff Joe also does the foreclosures (and his office is in the Wells Fargo building!). Changing the debate from one that is inherently, essentially, "illegal Mexican versus hard working white people" (as it is seen in most people's eyes here) to one that brings white people into the conversation and allows them to see common connections to other peoples' struggles has tremendous potential to remake alliances. Secondly, we need to denounce all alliances with politicians. These only lead to problems and these scumbags just ride the movement and limit the tactics we can engage in.

Another problem with the anti-fascist (as in singularly anti-fascist -- against only one fascist in particular) strategy that you are suggesting (and, as I said, is already being pursued here) is the historical problem of the common front strategy. It calls for the subsuming of allgeded differences to advance struggle. This always seems good on paper, but in reality its a different story. AMong the problems with that is that movements have leaders, and they have organizations and they have agendas. The common front pretends that they don't. Usually the ones who wind up being forced to abandon their politics in such circumstances are the more radical voices. This is no good for debate and the health of a movement, but it also is bad for revolutionaries who want to push the struggle beyond the limitations that currently exist. A common front will necessarily benefit the current movement leadership, and yet they are the least qualified to have it. Further, a call for a common front and a call for fresh ideas are contradictory. The new ideas will have to come from the very militants who will likely be forced to shut up about their radical politics in the common front. It doesn't make sense. As it is, the movement leaders have taken their most dedicated youth and turned them into protest and movement cops, policing the militants at events. We'll only get more of this if we continue the strategy you advoacte.

The fact is, the movement here has failed. And it has failed because it is pursuing the strategy that you advocate here (with the noted exception of the call for new tactics, which I support). It's time to have the funeral and build a new one on different terms. The immigrant movement is dead! Long live the immigrant movement!

Term Papers said...
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