In one of the boldest acts of civil disobedience of late, a group of Native American, Mexican-American, and white activists occupied U.S. Border Patrol offices at Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on May 21, locking themselves around a pillar in a lobby that was soon filled with shocked Border Patrol agents.
Six of the demonstrators bound themselves together using pieces of PVC pipe around their arms and u-shaped bicycle locks around their necks. A banner was hoisted in front of the lobby's desk reading "Stop Militarization on Indigenous Lands Now."
The protesters had decorated the PVC with slogans such as, "No Militarization of the Border," and "Stop SB 1070." They chanted, sang songs, prayed, and even did freestyle raps, as befuddled BP agents tried to figure out what to do with them.
"It's very empowering to be in a room with 30 officers and know they can't do shit to you," Alex Soto, a Tohono O'odham tribesman and Phoenix group member told me after the action. "It was definitely going to take some force to get us out of there. Force they did not want to use."
Ultimately, the Border Patrol called the Tucson Police Department, and a settlement was negotiated. The demonstrators agreed to leave after 3 1/2 hours. They were arrested, cited for trespassing and disorderly conduct, then released.
Soto, who's working on a degree in American Indian studies at ASU, is originally from Sells, the O'odham Nation's capital, where much of his family still lives. He said this act of "peaceful resistance" was meant to broaden the debate over what's been going on in Arizona in the wake of Governor Jan Brewer's signing Sand Land's new "papers, please" legislation.
"It's not just about one bill or one sheriff," Soto told me, making reference to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "Our voices are always being marginalized. So we felt the need to take action."
The occupation of the Border Patrol HQ was meant as a challenge not only to Secretary Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security, of which the Border Patrol is a part, but also to the immigration-reform movement itself.
Soto decried what he insists is a trade-off that reform activists are willing to make: increased border security and a border wall in return for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented residing in the United States.
"We want no walls, no racist, colonial laws that affect people of color, people who come here out of forced migration because of [economics]," he said.
The 24-year-old aspiring hip-hop artist also questioned the Border Patrol's heavy hand on the O'odham Nation, where thousands of migrants cross regularly, and where Border Patrol agents — with their checkpoints in and out of the reservation and their seemingly ever-present vehicles — make O'odham tribal land resemble a police state.
"How are we a sovereign nation when we have an occupying army patrolling our lands, while we're just trying to live?" wondered Soto.
That's a good question, one with no ready answer.
I would also note that it's highly ironic that an agency such as the Border Patrol, which supposedly guards the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border using barriers, helicopters, nighttime cameras, and watchtowers has little or no security vetting access to their own offices on a freaking U.S. Air Force base.
ARIZONA BRUSH FIRE
"Hopefully what we did will inspire other O'odhams and other races to take action," said Alex Soto.
I have no doubt that it will. Indeed, in the wake of SB 1070, the recent ban on ethnic studies, and the declared intent of state Senator Russell Pearce to push the Legislature to deny birth certificates to American-citizen children born to undocumented parents, a brush fire of pro-immigrant activism has swept the state.
On May 17, four students pushing for the DREAM Act were arrested after a sit-down strike in the Tucson offices of U.S. Senator John McCain. The DREAM Act is proposed federal legislation that would allow undocumented students brought to this country as kids to normalize their status.
Three of those young activists were undocumented, and they were held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after hearings before a judge in Tucson. ICE later released them on their own recognizance, but they now face deportation hearings.
Though the three came here from other states, they have vowed to remain in Arizona to organize and agitate on behalf of the DREAM Act.
Fifteen students were arrested days earlier, also in Tucson, in a protest over a ban on classes that promote "ethnic solidarity." The ban is the lame brainchild of Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne, who is beating the nativist drum as he seeks to become our state's next attorney general.
And before that, on April 20, nine college-age men and women chained themselves to the door of the state Capitol in protest of SB 1070, forcing Capitol police to use bolt-cutters to free the activists before they were arrested and shipped to the Fourth Avenue Jail for this display of civil disobedience.
One of the Capitol Nine, as they're now called, was Leilani Clark, a 21-year-old student at Pima Community College whose defiant expression, radical outlook, and massive hair all combine to remind me of a young Angela Davis, the California history professor and political activist whose face was emblazoned on many a poster during the 1970s.
In a sort of echo of those times, an image of Clark getting arrested is now part of a billboard-size digital work of art that's being exhibited on the outside wall of Galeria de la Raza, a gallery in San Francisco's Mission District.
Clark is not Hispanic. Her father is African-American. Her mother is Native American. And she proudly touts herself as the product of the Tucson Unified School District's ethnic studies program. The very one Tom Horne's intent on destroying.
"It's very deep political consciousness that they give you," she told me over lunch in Tucson, referring to her ethnic studies. "So you can see the root factors of things.
"This is not just an immigration problem, it's an economic problem. Because all of the people coming up to the U.S. are economic refugees. They've lost their work, they've lost their livelihood down in Mexico because of U.S. trade policies."
Like many on the left, Clark points an accusing finger at the North American Free Trade Agreement, which critics say has devalued the price of corn in Mexico and helped impoverish many Mexicans, thus forcing them to flee north for work.
The ethnic studies program did not teach her this, per se, rather it taught her how to think critically. At age 16, she was already reading Howard Zinn's influential A People's History of the Unites States and comparing it to other U.S. histories. Pretty advanced stuff for a 16-year-old.
Anglos are not excluded from the classes, according to Clark. She told me that students read Chicano literature, African-American literature, and Native American literature, among other writings.
"It's very diverse," she said. "And it teaches you to have self-consciousness about other cultures. A lot of the students end up studying anthropology in higher education."
It is, in fact, that very diversity and independence of thought that Horne and the racist white Arizona power structure want to eradicate. Indeed, the Arizona Republican Party, in particular, wants to rip it up by the roots, all in a futile attempt to maintain Arizona as a white man's state.
I say futile because in 10 or 15 years' time, young people like Clark will have moved from the barricades to hold positions of influence themselves. And that terrifies the likes of bigots and opportunists such as Horne, state GOP Chairman Randy Pullen, Russell Pearce, and apparently Jan Brewer, as well as the fearful Caucasian community these leaders represent.
That's why these politicians are behind a law like 1070 that declares "attrition through enforcement" to be the policy of Arizona. When I asked Brewer what that meant during her recent press conference with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to promote a push-back to the boycott of Arizona, she tried to tell me it was about people coming here "legally."
Not at all, I shot back. It's about pushing people out — legal and illegal, as many brown people as they can get to leave the state as possible.
The bad news for them is that brilliant young men and women such as Clark are not leaving. They've opted to stay and fight.
"Civil disobedience is the next tactic in the escalation of the immigrant rights movement," Leilani Clark said. "We've exhausted every other resource. We've tried to call our senators, set up meetings with the governor. We've done our vigils, done our rallies, our prayers. We've fasted and marched. Our voices are not getting heard. We don't even count."
So Sand Landers can expect more civil disobedience, more passive resistance, and more demonstrations as the war over 1070 goes into a new phase. Unless, perhaps, 1070 is struck down by the courts.
Sigmund Freud had a concept that psychoanalysts call "the return of the repressed," wherein ideas and elements pushed down into the depths of the unconscious will inevitably reappear.
The anti-SB 1070 march to the Arizona state Capitol from Steele Indian School Park on Saturday, May 29, will be part of that return. (Check out www.AltoArizona.com for details.)
So, too, will be the acts of defiance that precede, follow, and accompany the march.
Because the more Arizona's leaders attempt to suppress the state's minority population, the greater the reaction will be, both within the state, and from without.
Long before Freud posited his theory, the American romantic poet William Cullen Bryant put it in more spiritual terms, in a passage the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was fond of quoting:
"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again."