"Balance" by Chicana Muralist Judy Baca (used by permission)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How the pro-Migrant Movement Stopped Fascism and How to Finish the Job

How the pro-Migrant Movement Stopped Fascism and How to Finish the Job

by Juan Santos

2006 marked a sea change in US politics, but the decisive moment was not election day, it was March 25th, the day that over a million Mexican and Central America migrants and their Chicana/o allies marched in the streets of Los Angeles, following a march of similar magnitude in Chicago.

The movement was on – someone – millions of someones - sent a shocking message to the ruling elites of the most powerful empire in world history: The Republican juggernaut toward Fascism would stop at our door, and it would not take a single step further. Brown people throughout the US were on red alert: the racists behind the rise of the shock troops called the Cazamigrantes (the Minutemen) were moving in Congress to make every migrant in the nation – everyone without papers, and everyone who “assisted” them – a felon.

They would have unleashed a new wave of mass repression in the nation’s barrios, repression like the Zoot Suit Riots and Operation Wetback, making everyone with Brown skin an automatic target, a suspect in a felony, vulnerable to mass roundups and detention camps. Brown skin would become the new yellow star, one worn by every person of native decent in the country. The “Americans” – who are not “Americans” at all, but the descendants of foreign colonizers and conquerors, meant to declare this land off limits to the descendants of its original inhabitants, who knew no borders.

We knew this much: Fascism always targets the Other; the dominant group, the “Aryans” or “Good Germans” would remain oblivious; for them, everything would seem normal.

Police state conditions in the ghetto, the barrio and on the reservations had already become “normal.” The system had crushed the rebellions of the 60s and replaced Jim Crow segregation with 25 years of mass incarceration for Red, Black and Brown people. The white response was silence. Even after the mass rebellion in Los Angeles that spread across the nation, the silence surrounding our deepening oppression was thick as death.

Here in the “land of the ‘free’” with its “free press,” almost no one could have told you that our rates of incarceration are the highest in the world. No one even knew; they weren’t supposed to know that, just like no one was supposed to know – or care - about the concentration camps in Germany. The “War on Drugs” was the first giant step toward a police state in the US. Hardly anyone breathed a word. White people were not the target, after all. The target was the old, comfortable target: us. Millions were felonized and incarcerated.

Sensenbrenner’s bill targeting migrants was round two of a massive effort to felonize peoples of color in the US. This time the target was the most vulnerable of the vulnerable – people who had carried the slur “illegal” on their backs for decades, people without papers, whose most fundamental rights could be violated with impunity, who, according to the colonizer, had no “legal” right to even be here. The Nazi state had done just the same thing; their first targets were not Jews or Gypsies or Slavs, they were so-called “stateless people.” They wore the blue triangle in the German camps.

In 2006 it was up to us to act, to defend ourselves, and we knew it. No one was coming to our rescue. And no one, not even the mainstream Spanish language media, had any illusions about it.

And act we did, in city after city across the nation, in our millions, tens and hundreds of thousands – everywhere. The “Sleeping Giant,” it was said, had awakened, and had sent an unmistakable message, one that even redneck liberals like talk show host Ed Schultz could understand. “They can make trouble,” he said.

The struggle of the Chicana/o people against the Minutemen proved the point.

We proved it in Los Angeles, in showdowns like the Battle of Baldwin Park, where Chicana/o protestors drove the Minutemen from the street, outnumbering them six to one; in the violent standoff in Garden Grove, where a Minuteman supporter ran down several Chicana/os with his car, to be met by a hail of stones, and in the desert outside Campo, California, where scores of resistors walked boldly and empty handed into a Minutemen encampment, facing down an armed throng of racists and disrupting their efforts to hunt down migrants on the border - all showed clearly what the system might face if Chicana/os and migrants forged a united front of resistance in the face of escalating mass repression.

Plans were afoot to organize migrant defense committees, and to get ready for mass civil disobedience.

These early fighters set the stage for the mass marches to come, and the tone of resistance they set is what the ruling elites most feared – not the promise that we would organize ourselves to ”vote.”

Many called it a “New Civil Rights Movement” – and they were both right and wrong about that. They were right, because of the massive outpourings and the spirit of determination to be free. Wrong, because our history is different from that of the Black nation in the US, and most of all, because the conditions we faced, and are still facing, are very different indeed.

The fifties and sixties were a time of worldwide anti-colonial rebellion and rising expectations around the globe; people expected to be free. The US and other colonial and neo-colonial powers were on the defensive around the world. Today, the US has its hands on the throat of the world, and with the Sensenbrenner bill they put their hands at our throats, too. War and repression abroad were mirrored by a growing mass repression at home: the nation was heading rapidly toward fascism. No one had a dream. The dreams had all been crushed, and the extreme Right was looking to make a decisive breakthrough in establishing a new kind of fascism here in the US.

We stopped them cold. This is very important to get. No one else had stood up, and once we were down, no one else would have or even could have stood up: the drive toward fascism would have all been downhill from there.

But the fascist juggernaut slammed into a Brown wall of resistance. Republican unity shattered, and the silence shattered with it. The Christian fascists had gone too far, and the nation turned on them, the way that school kids will turn on a bully when someone – finally – gives him a bloody nose.

Now, the Democrats – the Republican's silent partners in the “War on Drugs” and in fascistic legislation like the Patriot Act - have turned their gaze back our way, promising “comprehensive immigration reform.”

Their first priorities are a border sealed with guns, more raids like the recent attacks on Swift packing plants, and a “guest worker” program much like the infamous guest worker program in racist South Africa under Apartheid.

No matter what the Democrats say, no matter what they “promise,” this is no time to play by the rules. The whole premise of playing by the rules is drenched in racism and can lead nowhere but to a deepening oppression. Let’s look at the covert racism, and the openly imperialist perspective, in these remarks by liberal icon Ted Kenney:

“Mr. Kennedy, a Democrat of Massachusetts, said opponents ‘misleadingly categorize our efforts as an 'amnesty.' Legal status, he continued, "must be earned by proving past work contributions, making a substantial future work commitment, and paying monetary penalties. It is not a guarantee of citizenship, but an opportunity to continue working hard, start playing by the rules, and earn permanent residency."

Kennedy, here, would have us believe that migrants must “earn” the right to be here – he implies that migrants are freeloaders without a substantial commitment to work, that migrants are people who don’t “play by the rules,” and that they should be fined for failing to play by the rules.

But the rules are made by and for the ruler’s benefit, not ours. Kennedy is clearly in a position to know that millions of people in Mexico have been driven from the land in the vast capitalist conspiracy called NAFTA; he surely knows that the main beneficiaries of their dispossession have been the capitalist elites of the US, he surely knows that these people have been and continue to be driven here so that Kennedy’s own class might profit. He knows that the whole set up of the Mexican economy is rigged to maximize foreign profit and to minimize the ability of the Mexican people to accumulate capital within the borders of Mexico itself.

Kennedy cannot be ignorant of the recent history of his own government in sponsoring death squad regimes in El Salvador, or the US backed genocide in Guatemala, both of which produced waves of refugees heading North.

But Kennedy’s logic is to blame the migrants themselves for the causes and the effects of capitalist globalization and for mass state terror sponsored by the USA.

From Mexico to Panama to Venezuela to Guatemala to Nicaragua, Iraq and Iran, US capital and power routinely crosses third world borders to steal resources, gut economies, undermine or overthrow governments, and sponsor death squads and regimes of torture. Those responsible have the audacity to call someone crossing their border in search of something so innocent as a job “illegals” and “criminals” who must pay a price for their “crimes” and “rule breaking.”

This is where the scapegoating of migrants starts. It is meant to paper over the real crimes of the real criminals, while further persecuting their victims.

Kennedy’s logic is the same fundamental logic of racism and empire that permeates the arguments of extreme right wing elements like Congressmen Tom Tancredo, Jim Sensenbrenner, and their shock troops in the Minutemen and other racist vigilante groups like Southern California’s “Save Our State.” The problem isn’t – it “can’t be” - oppression – it’s Mexican and Central American “rule breakers,” an image that ultimately rests in the stereotype of the lawless, “savage,” brutal and drunken Mexican “bandito” and the “savage Indian.”

To acquiesce at any level to this base line logic is to surrender the battlefield to our enemies, and to turn ourselves into beggars, begging a heartless system – one that recognizes no “rules” or limits at all in the pursuit of profit - for our most basic human rights.

No: we are not in a situation analogous to the Civil Rights movement; our situation would be better compared to the onset of Jim Crow than to the period of its formal demise. It is better compared to the period of the Weimar Republic in pre-Nazi Germany than to the situation of the US in the 1960s.

In today’s atmosphere we cannot allow the system free reign to reinforce racist stereotypes against our people at any level, much less to enforce them against us at the point of the gun called law, however “comprehensive” their aim.

In the wake of our victory in 2006, the terrain has changed, new balances are being struck, and powerful elements are seeking to gain as much ground as they can in an effort to keep the door open for more measures like the Sensenbrenner bill in the future. Our strategic imperative is to slam that door on them, once and for all.

The Christian Right has regrouped in an anti-migrant coalition that is “bigger and broader than the Secure Border Coalition that dominated the debate on the right in the last go round” and they are now proposing their own “grand compromise” on migrants. Right Wing Watch notes that a coalition of 150 Christian Right groups “will support legalization of those already in this country – but only in exchange for doing away with the guarantee of birthright citizenship granted under the 14th Amendment.”

The Washington Times writes "Out of concern for keeping families together [sic], the religious leaders propose granting citizenship to any illegal aliens in the country who are related to U.S. citizens. This would include anyone who has had a child born here, often referred to as an 'anchor baby,'" the Washington Times reported. "In return, the federal government would end birthright citizenship, which automatically grants U.S. citizenship to anyone born here, regardless of his parents' legal status. The 14th Amendment says 'all persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States."

The 14th amendment also overturned the infamous Dred Scott decision, which had held that people of African descent could never be citizens of the US. Chief “Justice” Roger B. Taney wrote in the decision that Black people are "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

The 14th Amendment also includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. The Amendment is so fundamental to the rights of peoples of color in the US that Supreme Court Justice David Souter called it "the most significant structural provision adopted since the original framing" of the Constitution. It was the foundation on which Brown vs. Board of Education was determined, the decision that ended formal segregation in the US.

And now they want to uproot it, and use us – to use any spirit of “compromise” with racism on our part – advance their cause. There is at best a fine line between “sub-citizen” and sub-human. But however fine the line, it cuts just as deep, even deeper, than Sensenbrenner’s effort to declare us all “felons.”

Ostensibly, without the 14th amendment and the birthright of citizenship – the much-ignored provisions of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo aside – there would be no such thing as a Chicana/ o in the US: that’s how deep this could cut.

Our enemies will, of necessity, take advantage of anything that advances developments in the direction of an openly fascist state that targets and scapegoats the Other.

Nothing sets that tone like mass incarceration of peoples of color in the US, and the cutting edge of such potentials today is the continued militarization of the border, the mass detention camps being built for migrants by Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, and open, public roundups like the recent Swift raids. Democrats and Republicans alike promise more of the same. Even the so-called “guest worker” programs create a race- based subclass of workers without rights, workers held utterly hostage to their employers.

The “guest worker” program is being coupled with stiffening workplace repression and raids. Tonight in his 2006 State of the Union Address, President Bush bragged that workplace arrests are up 700% over their number in 2002. Even as Bush prepared to deliver his speech tonight, mass raids in Santa Ana California rounded up over 700 people from their homes and places of business. This is a clear cut example of what Bush really meant when he spoke this evening of targeting migrants “without animosity and without amnesty.”

Every one of us is needed now to stand strong. We are not sub-humans and must utterly refuse any scheme that might tend, however “benignly,” in that direction.

We should cut no deals now with powerful racists of any stripe. Each of us should support the calls for another Gran Boicot in May – and no matter what the mainstream Spanish speaking media does or fails to do to back us, we should march under four banners this Spring, banners that shatter the terms of the debate, that unfurl the truth of the matter and put that truth square in the sights of our oppressors, that reclaim our humanity in the face of all the ugly and vicious stereotypes:

“We came to Work”!

“We fled the Death Squads!”

“We fled Starvation!”

No Human Being is “Illegal!”

1 comment:

Ben said...

The Mexican govt seems to have pretty tough immigration laws?

Soberanes, "the Mexican government mistreats ‘indocumentados’ that cross its territory, it keeps them in jails, in overcrowded conditions, many times without food, without medical attention and overall, violating their human rights."

Jose Luis Soberanes put it this way

"We demand that they [Americans] treat us well, and we are incapable of treating Central Americans well."

[Exigimos que a nosotros nos traten bien, y somos incapaces de tratar bien a los centroamericanos.] (Presidente promete ‘pelear’ por los paisanos by Jose Luis Ruiz, Universal, March 29th, 2006)

In 2005, Mexico detained 240, 269 illegal aliens in its territory. Of that total, 42% were from Guatemala, 33% from Honduras, with most of the rest being from El Salvador.