A Movement Rises in Arizona

Three months ago, Arizona Governor Jan
Brewer signed into law the notorious SB 1070, a bill that put her state at the
forefront of a movement to intensify the criminalization of undocumented

Since then activists have responded
through legal challenges, political lobbying, grassroots organizing and mass
mobilizations. More than a hundred thousand people from across Arizona marched
on the state capitol on May 29. Today, hundreds more have pledged to risk
arrest through nonviolent direct action. These are the public manifestations of
an inspiring and widespread struggle happening in this state. The organizations
leading this fight offer a vision for people around the US concerned with human

Rogue State

Yesterday, Federal District Court Judge
Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction against sections of Arizona law SB
1070, which is scheduled to go into effect today. The judge put a hold on some
of the most outrageous parts of the bill, such as language that mandates racial
profiling by officers. However, Judge Bolton left much of the rest of the law
intact, including sections that specifically target day laborers.

For Arizona activists, the legal ruling
represents - at best - a small respite. "It's not a victory, it's a relief,"
says Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
"We're putting a band aid on a wound."

Alvarado and the organizers with NDLON
are part of a broad network of national organizations and volunteers who have
joined with local organizers to fight not just against this unjust law, but
also against a general climate of anti-immigrant hatred. "Arizona is a rogue
state," says Alvarado. "We're going to use every single means that we have at
our disposal to fight back."

Puente Arizona, a Phoenix-based
organization that describes itself as a human rights movement working to
"resurrect our humanity," has formed Barrio Defense Committees in neighborhoods
across the city. Emulating the structure of groups founded by popular movements
in El Salvador, the community-based structure work to both serve basic needs,
and also build consciousness and help bring people together. According to Puente
activist Diana Perez Ramirez, the committees host regular "know your rights"
trainings and ESL classes, and are organizing "Copwatch" projects. "We ask the
community to unite and organize themselves," says Ramirez. "And we are just
there to support that." More than one thousand people have joined these
neighborhood organizations so far, with more joining every day.

Puente has made use of volunteers from
across the US, utilizing national support to help with local organizing, and
initiating direct action with the support of out of town allies like the Ruckus
Society, Catalyst Project, and various chapters of Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS). They have issued calls to action including a Human Rights Summer
(modeled after the civil rights movements' Freedom Summer) and "30 Days for
Human Rights," a month of actions culminating today, the day SB 1070 will
become law.

Just after midnight, as the law took
effect, the first protest of the day began, as nearly 80 people blocked the
intersection at the entrance to the town of Guadelupe, a small (one square
mile) Native American and Hispanic community just outside of Phoenix. The town
has a long history of struggle against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who
has been one of the main public faces of SB 1070, and most of the protesters
(and all of the organizers) were from the community. Holding signs declaring
their opposition to the new law and leading chants against police brutality,
activists declared that Arpaio's officers are not welcome in their town. The
stand off against police lasted more than an hour, before protest leaders in
consultation with the town's mayor decided to open the intersection. Several
more actions are planned for today.


The Repeal Coalition, a Flagstaff- and
Phoenix-based grassroots immigrants-rights organization, was formed in 2007.
The group came together because they saw a vacuum in the immigrants' rights
movement in Arizona. "Some of the left here were not being very audacious,"
explains Luis Fernandez of the Repeal Coalition. "The positions in the public
debate ranged from 'kick them all out,' to 'get their labor and then kick them
out.'" The Repeal Coalition has staked out a position of calling for the
elimination of all anti immigration laws, declaring, "We fight for the right
for people to live, love, and work wherever they please." With this call, says
Fernandez, "Now we have a real debate."

When the coalition was founded, organizers
brought in labor activists to advise them on how to build an organization along
similar models to those that have built strong unions, utilizing house calls,
neighborhood mapping, and group meetings. Although they are an all-volunteer
group with little to no funding, they have developed a structure that has initiated
large protests and provided direct service, and they are now strategizing more
ways to take direct action in the post SB 1070 era.

Fernandez says that this struggle is
ultimately about overcoming fear and moving from reaction to proactive action. "We've
been in a crisis in Arizona for a long time," he explains. "Even if SB 1070
weren't implemented, it wouldn't matter. The political crisis would continue."
To address this crisis, Fernandez believes organizations must build unity
across race and class. "Traditionally in America, when the working class starts
suffering, instead of connecting together and looking upwards at the cause of
the problem, they look sideways or downwards for who to blame." Most
importantly, he believes activists must take action to seize the initiative.

In this vision, he has been inspired by
young organizers working on the federal DREAM ACT, a federal law that creates a
path to citizenship for undocumented youth. "They came to Arizona and said, 'we're
undocumented and we're going to commit acts of civil disobedience.'" At first, Repeal
Coalition members tried to talk them out of this action, but the youth
explained, "We are going to lose our fear because it is the fear of being
arrested or the fear of being deported that fuels the inability of political
action." The bravery and vision of these youth has inspired Fernandez to
continue to search for new and bold ways to take action, rather than just
continually respond to right wing attacks. "We need to set the agenda,"
explains Fernandez. "We have to say, 'No, you're going to react to us.'"

Despite a range of tactics and
philosophies, one thing organizers here have in common is a dedication to
exporting the lessons of their struggle. While Arizona's law is the first and
most draconian, similar laws are pending across the country. And during this
current national economic crisis, more and more politicians have found that
they can score political points by demonizing immigrants. "The last two months
we've had a lot of people calling us asking what they can do to help Arizona,"
says Fernandez. "We say, organize in your own town. You don't have to come to
Arizona because Arizona is coming to you."

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