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!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Free Movement, Reaction and the Fascist State: Critical Questions for the Patriot Movement

By Phoenix Insurgent

Everywhere the right to free movement is under attack. Cameras now track our travels from our workplaces to our roads to our neighborhoods to our schools, stretching all the way from the border to the county jail. The cameras on public transportation and outside private businesses increasingly make free, anonymous travel – a fundamental ingredient to a free society – very difficult if not impossible.

Had these conditions prevailed in Revolutionary times, would the war have turned in Britain's favor instead? Would revolutionaries like Tom Paine have been able to agitate and organize? In slavery days, would such a surveillance state have prevented the Underground Railroad? If the Dixieland border had been as well spied on would the Abolitionists have been able to stage their anti-slavery raids into the authoritarian slavocracy? Whither then, John Brown and Harriet Tubman? What about Frederick Douglass and his daring escape to freedom in the North? If the border had been so well watched, would indigenous resistance have been able to hold out so long against white settlement? Where would Geronimo have gone when escaping the swords and bullets of the US Cavalry? Where would Ricardo Flores Magón have planned his Mexican insurrection?

At the same time an increasingly unaccountable and sophisticated (and automated) computer/police network accumulates and analyzes the data collected, without even the need for a human to directly oversee the emerging Panopticon. Computerization, generally immune from criticism in popular dialog, has shifted immense power into the hands of the elite under the cover of friends and family plans, YouTube hits and MySpace friend requests. This network increasingly permeates even our very social circles, using our cell phones, GPS systems and internet searches to compile vast amounts of data on our movements, our politics, our interests and our friends. The integration of police and elite power increases daily. As it grows, our ability to project our own autonomous power against their tyranny diminishes. And we become less free.

Before the Civil War, being a Black person headed North not only raised suspicion, but it was enough to get you rounded up and sent home if you didn't have the correct papers with you. If you were a slave, your owner (boss) had to provide you with written permission to travel –- a permission that you yourself probably couldn't read. What's more, white males were required in the South to serve on slave patrols, rounding up suspect Blacks. In exchange for serving on those patrols, whites in the South got certain privileges, including relative immunity from police harassment and, importantly, freedom from slavery. It was a devil's bargain, though, because the Southern slave system over all was a bad deal for all the poor of the South, whether Black or white (or Native). It kept vast tracts of lands centralized in a minority of very wealthy plantation owners' hands.

As the country expanded West, the systems for control of movement spread as well. The first ID's were issued to Chinese laborers. The first police fingerprint database was organized in San Francisco to regulate the movement and employment of these workers. Not long after, the bureaucracy began absorbing Indigenous people as well, despite their many centuries of resistance. It's worth remembering that for many Native fighters, the Mexican border served as a base from which to gather their energies as they planned the next wave of resistance to the controls of the growing centralized American state.

One wonders if the patriot movement (by which I mean that general conglomeration of Constitutionalist and Libertarian activists who take a position against American state & corporate power and its imperial interventions abroad) will soon rue the day it backed beefed up border enforcement, not least of all because those prisons and FEMA camps (and, yes, even Sheriff Joe's tents) can hold more than just immigrants, but also because they may in the not too far off future find themselves pining for the days of open borders and Mexican sanctuary from the fascist attacks of the US government. As we learn from the East German experience, those walls can just as easily keep people in. And as we saw in Eastern Europe in general, the euphoria of the attack on the walls and checkpoints was an integral part of the struggle that brought down the totalitarian communist bureaucracy. Here we are twenty years out from the collapse of those regimes, focused as they were on controlling movement, and yet the patriot movement has forgotten those lessons.

Repeating history in the segregated Arizona territory, poor immigrant whites – many fleeing the repressive dictatorships of Europe and often traveling thousands of miles in the process -- frequently sided with rich white landowners, expelling Mexican families and seizing their lands, some of which had been held for centuries. This cross-class alliance is a hallmark of American history. Not all whites followed this pattern though. The Saint Patrick Battalion, for instance, famously switched sides during the Mexican-American War, opposing the imperialist expansion into the Southwest and joining the Mexican side.

Likewise, as mentioned before, Abolitionists of all colors supported free movement for escaping slaves as a way to attack the corrupt slave society of the South. It would have been absurd to think that the fight against slavery would have been aided by returning Douglass to the tyranny of the Southern slave dictatorship merely to satisfy the demands of the laws that regulated movement in those days. Indeed, it wasn't the deported slave, sent back in chains to her master that toppled the Southern slave system; it was the returning freedman, armed and marching home, combining with the general strike of slaves deserting their posts, that sounded the death knell for the slavocracy. In that context, it says a lot that so many anti-immigrant activists today suggest closing the border as a means of attacking the corrupt Mexican state, rather than seeking a free movement of people and revolutionary ideas between the two countries.

Indeed, the patriot movement has a real solidarity problem in general, and it tends to founder precisely on the shores of the whiteness. Where are the patriots when the cops or the sheriff's deputies shoot yet another unarmed black person or detain a poor, Mexican worker? Where is the outrage of the patriot movement as the settler government imposes a police state on Tohono O'odham land where, under the very same excuse of the patriot movement's desired expansion of border control, all brown people are suspect and must run the gauntlet of border patrol checkpoints? The same multi-nationals that the patriot justly denounces likewise displace and extract in Indian Country, but where is the outrage? Wackenhut and FEMA practice on immigrants, shipping them to and imprisoning them in private prisons, and yet the patriot movement is blind to the monster that they are creating. To think this apparatus of state oppression will not soon be used on all of us who oppose the increasingly fascist American empire is more than naive, it reflects the adherence of the patriot movement, perhaps unconscious in many cases, to the ideology of white privilege.

When it comes to the movement of people across the border, so many patriots, like so many Mexicans, demand change in Mexico. But if patriots want revolution in Mexico so badly, where is their material and financial support for such movements, many of which exist today to choose from. I'm reminded of one white patriot who I saw marching up and down a line of mostly Mexican protesters about four years ago aggressively yelling, “Not here! I'll march with you in Mexico City, but not here!” What made him think that he could march with them in Mexico City, for one thing? But what explained his myopia to the fact that perhaps they were marching not just for themselves in Phoenix, but also for him? Was he not to benefit from their demands for freedom from persecution and controls on movement as well?

This solidarity problem reveals the true contradiction: As it now stands, much of the patriot movement demands not an end to fascism, but an exemption from the fascism that it demands for others. This is typical of white populist movements in the US throughout history. As I have previously pointed out, for instance in the case of the anti-speed camera resistance in Arizona, we see this manifest in the ways that local patriot activists organize. Underlying the support for increased policing but abolition of cameras is an inherent recognition of the general immunity from policing that whiteness represents in general. That is, that some forms of policing of movement tend to come down harder on whites, because of their equal opportunity nature, than others. Given the choice, rather than challenge both the police AND the cameras, the white patriot movement would rather keep the tried and true thin blue line, just like the Southern whites preferred the slave patrols to the abolition of slavery.

In a real way, what we see in American history when it comes to movement is that it's okay for some, but not for others. And generally what we notice is that whites, even poor and working class whites, tend to feel entitled to free movement for themselves at the same time that they oppose it for others. Perhaps there exists no better example of this in Arizona politics than local rich daddy trust fund, working class poseur Rusty Childress, who for so long backed the anti-immigrant movement (financially as well as offering up his inherited car dealership as a place for organizing meetings) at the same time that he posted photos from his Mexican beach vacations on his personal web page. Anti-immigrant patriots falsely defended his inherited wealth as the result of hard work while justifying attacks on Mexicans of their own class who struggled under far worse conditions than the lucky sperm club that gifted Childress a life of privilege. This kind of class treason can only be explained by the cross-class alliance of whiteness.

But what is whiteness? Whiteness is not necessarily the color of your skin. It's a political relationship between rich people and other, largely European-descended, classes of society. In reality, it's a cross-class alliance in which people who are considered white agree that rather than upset the apple cart that is the disparity of wealth and power in the United States (think “Goldman Sachs”) that they will accept several privileges to the exclusion of others. So whites, as a result of taking this bargain, receive real benefits. This doesn't make them rich like Goldman Sachs, but it does give them a substantial leg up on others in terms of a whole host of social indicators, from decreased imprisonment to increased lifespan and family wealth. In addition, whites agree to accept those privileges in exchange for agreeing to the reduced status of other peoples not included in the deal. As part of that, whites further agree to police that status, whether through law enforcement or through paramilitary or vigilante organizations (the Klan, the White Caps, the Minutemen, etc). In attempting to defend their class position, they instead defend their racial privilege.

In this sense, without conscious action to the contrary, the political activity of whites tends to default to a distorted class war, manifesting in the defense of whiteness rather than an attack on the elite that controls wealth and power in the US. This is a problem not just because it grants one group of people a undeserved status above others, but even more importantly because it is a flawed strategy for going after the elites that own the lion's share of the country's wealth, to the exclusion of everyone else who produces it in the first place. Organizing in ways that reinforce white supremacy necessarily fractures the working class, and working class power is the way to attack the elite class. If the patriot movement ever truly wants to go after the big money bankers and capitalists that live lives of luxury at our expense, they need to fix their solidarity problem. They need to find common cause with peoples struggles in a way that attacks rather than reinforces white privilege.

The struggle for free movement is a defining characteristic of American history and, with few exceptions, that freedom has been defined by the politics of whiteness. Who can move and who cannot, and who will be displaced and who will not? When movements have defied this tendency, great things have happened. Slavery was abolished. The power of the bosses to force us into the factories was shaken at its core. Segregation was smashed. The domination of women was challenged and the sexual freedom that most Americans now take for granted proliferated. Our power to define our lives autonomously from the arbitrary power of Capital and the State grew in each of these instances.

Will the patriot movement learn these historical lessons? Will they realize that their future is tied up, not oppositional to, the futures of the rest of the working class, no matter from where they come, white or otherwise? Will they recognize that in order to get to Goldman Sachs we have to attack white supremacy? Given the continuing collapse of the economy, and the historical tendency of movements of reaction to emerge from whites under these kinds of conditions, this is precisely the dare that stands before them today.

As it is now, many in that movement have chosen the wrong side in the immigration debate, opting to attack the working class rather than uniting against the elite assault on it. But opportunities for solidarity that challenge this system of white privilege abound, so will the patriot movement recognize them for what they are and abandon the reactionary path that they have for the most part so far taken? Time will tell. But as it now stands, their contradictory position on free movement puts them in opposition to working class power and, therefore, in defense of the capitalist and bureaucratic elite. Regardless of how many Ron Paul evocations to "REVOLUTION" it chants, this puts the patriot movement firmly in a position much more like that of the undertaker of the revolution than those undertaking genuine revolutionary struggle. That has to change if they hope to put the undead society under which we all now suffer in its well-deserved grave.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Anarchists, students, and pissed off people come out swinging at Arpaio's ASU appearance

A handful of us from PCWC and O'odham Solidarity Across Borders, along with a couple anarchist pals, decided to hit up the protests planned against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's appearance at the downtown ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The counter-protest was against the "First Amendment Forum," billed as a discussion with esteemed journalists and scholars. Arpaio was already milking it, taking another opportunity to give his usual generic "The law is the law" spiel (and all of the variations on that theme).

For everyone other than the distinguished panelists, the only free speech taking place was on stage, as there was no scheduled Q&A with the audience, and, as if to further screen dissenting views, the forum was for ASU students only. In an attempt to placate non-students the university set up a large video screen and sound system in the plaza outside of the journalism school, the screen streamed a live feed, this effort went largely unnoticed.

Admittedly our expectations for the protest were low, we arrived a little late and a small crowd of 50 surrounded a line of Phoenix police, who in turn were lined around a tiny group of anti-immigrant and pro-Arpaio demonstrators. Security was posted at the door, and organizers had given verbal commitments to respect Arpaio's freedom of speech and not disrupt the event. As one rally organizer stated in an interview with the Downtown Devil:
“We’re not going to roll out the red carpet and allow him to walk on our campus like he does in our communities,” she said.

The protesters plan to rally throughout the event but not to disrupt the conversation, Castro added.

We are having the utmost respect as educated college students for him,” she said.

Face off! Freedom lovers argue with anti-immigrant Arpaio supporters

We were ready to abandon ship and head over to a nearby bar for some beers with comrades when it became clear that, aside from a plan some friends had to break out in song during the forum, we were trapped in another ritualized Phoenix protest. Unless... One of us took notice of open lobby and decided that if ASU would shut out those of us who were not students, or like others there who were students at one of the community colleges, or were too old, too young, or too poor, that we ought to just invite ourselves into the journalism lobby and take the damn thing over.

Anarchists taking the initiative.
We got a small crew together and entered the lobby, defying the orders of the university police, others soon followed and five bodies became thirty and then fifty, an intoxicating rush of energy followed as we screamed, clapped, and chanted "no borders, no nations, no police stations!" The lobby was packed, police officers formed a line defending the elevators and the hall to the first amendment forum, while some of the protest organizers stayed outside, but most eventually abandoned the former demonstration and came in to participate.

Inside anarchists initiated a speak out, asking anyone in the crowd with a story of racial profiling with any police agencies to come forward and share them, ten people did, including Yaqui and O'odham indigenous people. As the stories went on, a different scene played out in the First Amendment Forum, Latino student activists released a banner calling the MCSO out on racial profiling, and a group of anarchists prepared to intervene in an entirely different manner.

The lyrics sheet to Immigration Rhapsody

Back in the lobby, musicians from the The Haymarket Squares, the three piece radical bluegrass troupe, set up in the middle of the occupation and played a few songs, dancing and sing-a-longs followed.

While we partied downstairs, an affinity group put their plans into action and interrupted the Forum with their modified version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, prompting Arpaio to leave the stage. The group behind the singing has also put out a statement this week explaining their actions after there was some criticism over their use of "freedom of speech" silencing the Sheriff's voice. We at PCWC have had a good laugh at this hand wringing from these journalists, and we are so very proud of our comrades for shutting Arpaio down, we hope these escalations are a sign to come for those in the valley fighting for the freedom of movement for all.

Check out the video below from ASU's student news service, it's one of the few media outlets to acknowledge the lobby take over.

Protesters against Arpaio at the Cronkite School from Downtown Devil on Vimeo.