Saturday, March 12, 2011

Navigating history as a blueprint for solidarity in the era of racialized policing, ecological destruction, and militarization

Four hundred copies of this flier were distributed during this morning's annual St. Patrick's day parade in central Phoenix. The flier was handed out by The Black Shamrock Society, an ad hoc group of 10 anti-authoritarians and anarchists, who marched in the parade with banners in support of migrants and regional indigenous struggles.

What does Irish-American solidarity look like?

“Irish-American Solidarity” is a contingent of Irish-Americans and allies dedicated to solidarity and support for the indigenous people of this region, as well as the Latino immigrant communities in the greater Phoenix area. We march in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day to honor the legacy of the San Patricio Battalion, a group of Irish immigrants who escaped the Irish potato famine to the US, and ultimately became the symbols of Irish-Mexican solidarity after deserting the US army during the Mexican-American war.

Like an all too familiar contemporary immigrant narrative, the conscripted Irish soldiers faced racism from their nativist commanding officers and soldier counter parts, including denying them Sunday mass. When these new immigrant soldiers were then given orders to attack Mexican forces, they refused and deserted, instead fighting alongside the Mexican army against the US invasion. After the end of the war, many of the San Patricio were executed by the US army as traitors, but the legacy of their friendship and sacrifices resonated with so many Mexican people that they were not soon forgotten. 150 years later, it was a group of activists from Ireland who made the English language translations of statements and news from the Zapatista indigenous peasant uprising available on the internet, forcing the Mexican government to stop any repression.

The dual ugliness of the occupation by England, and the Irish potato famine made life unbearable for many poor Irish. In 1847, at the height of the famine, the Irish received a great gesture of support from the Chocktaw people, who raised $170, no small amount of money in the mid 1800s, to help starving Irish men, women, and kids. That this donation was collected after the brutal and deadly forced relocation of the Chocktaw to Oklahoma, known as the Trail of Tears, speaks volumes of the generosity of native peoples who recognized the crisis that Irish people faced.

As Irish-Americans, almost all of us are in the US as the result of England’s (continuing)colonial occupation, and yet we are also standing by as colonial attacks continue on the O’odham people, indigenous to this land we are on. Right now the O’odham face the partial destruction of their holy mountain of this area, many of us call it South Mountain, for the planned 202 freeway extension. This is the desecration of a sacred site. It was just a few years ago that there was a similar campaign in Ireland against the construction of a motorway through the valley of Tara, a world heritage site containing ancient burial grounds. This too was a desecration, and although the highway was eventually constructed, people resisted this development with civil disobedience, protest marches, and sabotage of building equipment.

We don’t need another roadway, our relatives in Ireland knew it, and our O’odham neighbors in Gila River know it too. Once again, it’s the politicians and corporations who want more progress, but what’s progressing other than the destruction of the earth and our health while they look for more profit? Is knocking 25 minutes off of a semi truck’s drive by bypassing Phoenix worth destroying part of south mountain and putting another environmental health hazard in an area where indigenous people will be most effected?

We fully extend our solidarity to the O’odham people further south in Arizona as well, to the effect that we too want an end to the militarization of Tohono O’odham lands that are divided by the US/Mexico border wall and occupied by Border Patrol and US military. We also want an end to all racist anti-immigrant laws aimed at migrants fleeing political and economic hardships. Irish history is a proud history of resistance to colonialism and oppression, and as Irish-Americans we should all be glad to carry on this tradition of solidarity and resistance to oppression.