On Saturday, May 29th, while the hot Arizona sun seared with temperatures in the high 90s, Phoenix saw the largest demonstration against SB1070 since Gov. Brewer signed the controversial bill into law on April 23rd. Ten of thousands of protesters marched down a five mile stretch in central Phoenix, wearing white shirts, waving American flags, chanting, singing, beating drums and carrying umbrellas to shield them from the unrelenting sun.
The diverse crowd of marchers who had flown in from states as far as Rhode Island and Louisiana, as well as Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego, made do with whatever sleeping arrangements they could find. Justin Akers Chacon, for example, a college professor from San Diego who, with 100 other people, reached Phoenix on Friday night, slept on sleeping bags provided by the organizers at a warehouse in downtown Phoenix. “There is a seriousness and confidence that we’re all here for the right reasons,” he said.
Just before 10am on Saturday morning, the marchers set off from Steele Indian School Park, with the first group of protesters reaching the Capitol at 12. 30pm. Along the way, organizers handed out bottles of water while people chanted and held up signs that read “We are not criminals, we are humans,”"Si Se Puede,”"Heroes against racism,”"We are all Arizona,”"Legalization or no re-election,” and the ubiquitous “Do I look Illegal.”While a number of people took breaks along the way to get some shelter from the heat, there were no arrests or untoward encounters with the police. Although police declined to give an official estimate of the size of the march, organizer’s estimates ranged from 50,000 to a 100,000 people.
A Los Angeles Times article covering the May 29th National Day of Action mentions the diversity of the crowd of protesters that included families and people of all ages. 68 year old Dennis DuVall, a retired bus driver, drove 100 miles from Prescott, Arizona to be there and show his support. He said-
It’s my civic duty. It shows commitment. People are willing to come out and walk five miles in 100 degrees. It’s important.
The Baez family, including Juan and Guadalupe Baez, their six children between age 2 and 18, and Guadalupe’s mother had driven down from San Diego the previous night. They all wore T-shirts that said-
We are hard workers, not criminals! We believe in USA justice. Arizona’s SB 1070 is not justice.
At the rally, Rev. Warren Stewart of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix called upon President Obama saying, “”God put you in the White House. You are a person of color. Stand with us.” Echoing the basic asks that Alto Arizona had listed before the National Day of Action, most of the speeches at the rally were directed at President Obama, demanding that he reassert the Federal Government’s control over immigration law by revoking all partnerships between local law enforcement and ICE, and put an immediate end to Arizona’s law, SB1070, which effectively makes it a crime to be undocumented, and, by allowing police to question anyone who looks “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, effectively mandates racial profiling.
While the thousands of opponents of the harsh new law marched down Phoenix’s avenues in the height of the day’s heat, those in favor of the law waited till the sun had gone down to hold a smaller rally at a stadium in the suburbs. Predictably, this crowd was mostly middle-aged and white, holding signs saying “Illegals out of America,” while speakers repeatedly insisted that there was nothing racist about their rhetoric. This rally had been organized by Tea Party groups from St. Louis and Dallas who aimed to support the state against boycotts protesting the law by states like San Francisco and Seattle.
As it stands, the law is slated to come into effect on July 29th, unless it is overturned in the courts before that. At the moment, the state is expecting a possible litigation from the United States Justice Department, which, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, is considering challenging the law on the grounds that it has “pre-empted” Federal powers, and violated Federal civil rights statutes. In preparation for this, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has made it very clear that she does not want Arizona attorney general, Terry Goddard (who is a Democrat that has expressed his opposition to SB1070) to be defending the state in the event of the lawsuit from the Justice Department. She has made her decision to remove the attorney general from this case, and said that the legislature has given her the power to use outside counsel “because of its lack of confidence in the Attorney General’s willingness to vigorously defend” the law. Terry Goddard, who is a possible challenger in Gov. Brewer’s bid for re-election, told the New York Times that he was “definitely defending the state” in any legal challenges to the law.
We can only hope that the commitment and determination of all the students, workers, families and activists who showed up to protest the draconian SB1070, pays off, and that by channeling all our frustration and anger at the inhumanity of this law, the events on May 29th are translated into direct action against the implementation of such a harsh measure.
Photo courtesy of the New York Times