By MARK McDERMOTT
(Jan. 8, 2020) — I want to share hope and inspiration with you in these dark times. I see no need to obsess on describing the endless injustices of our time. My approach to injustice is that you and I cannot and must not yield to despair. Despair is demoralizing and a luxury that we cannot afford. For me, action is the antidote to despair, hopelessness and depression.
As legendary labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta said so eloquently, “Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”
To do so, we must inspire hope and courage. This year, we can and must crush Trump and his allies and put a pro-worker, pro-justice government in place.
I want to share two upbeat stories of recent great people’s victories in Arizona. The young heroes and heroines of these stories inspire me and give me great hope. Their stories prove we can overcome great challenges and move our country toward greater justice and a better future. I often say, “We are the people we have been waiting for. We need to act like it.”
Over the past 10 years, my wife, Diane, and I have developed a great affection and respect for the people and state of Arizona as we have visited there many times. Our visits always include taking action in support of the people’s struggles for justice there.
If these stories inspired and moved you, please pass them on.
Building permanent progressive political power in Arizona
As some of you may know, I have spent the past eight years traveling the country doing 430-plus economic justice and labor history speeches and trainings. I am blessed and lucky to have the opportunity to do this work. In doing so, I have met wonderful courageous activists who prove that we can win big in hard times.
On Feb. 14, 2015, I did a training at the IBEW hall in Tucson for the Pima Country Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. Some of the participants were fired up, hard-charging young Latinx activists who had driven more than 100 miles from Phoenix. They were leaders and members of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA). One of the attendees was Tomas Robles, co-Executive Director of LUCHA and its sister organization, Arizona Center for Empowerment (ACE).
The work of LUCHA and ACE is extraordinarily inspiring. Arizona is ground zero for the war against immigrants, voter suppression, longstanding repression of Latinx citizens and residents and worker abuses. LUCHA and ACE were created in response to these rising injustices.
Here is a quick synopsis of tremendous work and victories of these organizations and their many allies.
In 2010, Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the nation, known as the “Show Me Your Papers” law. Activists waged a 103-day vigil and conducted many mass mobilizations trying to defeat it. They failed.
The next year, LUCHA, ACE and other progressive organizations led a successful recall election of the prime sponsor of SB 1070, State Senate President Russell Pearce. This was the first time in the 99-year history of Arizona that a state lawmaker had been recalled.
In 2012, this growing movement attempted to defeat the infamous Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He was notorious for his racism, anti-immigrant hostility and brutal conditions in his jail system. He publicly bragged that his “Tent City” was a concentration camp. Arpaio denied his statement despite an online video of his comment. Arpaio was re-elected and later said,“But even if it was a concentration camp, what difference does it make? I still survived. I still kept getting re-elected.” Arpaio ruled with an iron hand until 2016.
In the next four years, LUCHA, ACE and other allied organizations registered tens of thousands of new voters, built an extensive voter education and get out the voter organization, and went on the attack. Between 2014 and 2018, Latino voter turnout leaped from 32% to 49%.
In 2016, Trump narrowly won Arizona by 3 percentage points. At the same time, the growing progressive movement won a successful statewide initiative with 58% of the votes. Their victory raised the state minimum wage to $12 per hour and won paid sick leave for millions of workers. They defeated Joe Arpaio with 56% of the vote. They also defeated the county recorder who was accused of championing voter suppression.
In 2018, they played a key role in defeating the right-wing, racist, anti-immigrant, Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally. The victor, Kristen Synema, is the first Democratic U.S. Senator from Arizona since 1988. Many progressives are critical of Synema, but her victory is still very important.
LUCHA, ACE and many other progressive organizations in Arizona are gearing up for the 2020 elections. They can help deliver Arizona for the Democratic presidential candidate and defeat Martha McSally again. She has been appointed U.S. Senator after John McCain died and his replacement, Jeff Flake, resigned.
Here is a great New York Times article that documents these victories. I hope you take the time to read it and are inspired like me. And if you are looking for organizations to support for the 2020 elections and build permanent progressive political power in a key swing state, give some money to LUCHA and ACE.
Building growing solidarity and support for migrants and asylum seekers in southern Arizona
The growing border wall and our nation’s increasingly harsh treatment of immigrants and political asylum seekers has created a horrific and deadly humanitarian crisis in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. The extremely harsh Sonoran Desert straddles the Arizona-Mexico border. It is a nightmare of death and repression. In the past 20 years, more than 3,000 dead migrants have been found in the desert in the jurisdiction of the Pima County (Tucson) Office of Medical Examiner. To date, two-thirds of them have not been identified. Who knows how many more have died but not been found?
This crisis has sparked the creation of many grassroots organizations in southern Arizona that are actively combating these horrific injustices including Tucson Samaritans; No More Deaths, an official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson; and Humane Borders. The Samaritans and No More Deaths are direct action groups that leave food and water in the desert near the border as acts of humanitarian compassion. The food and water can prevent needless and unjust deaths in temperatures up to 120 degrees.
Arizona’s growing movement for immigrant justice is under relentless attack from Trump’s Justice Department. In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to step up their enforcement of the harboring statute, telling them to pursue “any case involving the unlawful transportation or harboring of aliens.”
The Department has turned its attention to imprisoning humanitarian volunteers for felonies for allegedly aiding illegal immigration and misdemeanors for littering in the desert. Scott Warren is an Arizona State University professor and a member of No More Deaths. As The Intercept reports, he is one of the targets of the Trump repression and intimidation campaign.
“Warren and eight other No More Deaths volunteers were hit with federal misdemeanor littering charges in 2017 for leaving food, water, and other humanitarian aid supplies on a federal wildlife reserve outside Ajo, where migrants routinely die. The first trial in those cases, held in January, resulted in four No More Deaths volunteers convicted and sentenced to 15 months of probation and ordered to pay $250 in fines. A second group of volunteers facing misdemeanor charges accepted similar consequences days later, and the charges against them were formally dismissed.”
The repression and intimidation is growing. In June 2019, Scott Warren, was put on trial for three felony counts related to his humanitarian work with No More Deaths. He faced up to 20 years in prison. The jury was unable to reach a verdict with eight of the 12 jurors voting for acquittal and four for conviction.
In November 2019, Scott was tried again on two felony charges. Diane and I were in Tucson during the trial. Community organizing resulted in hundreds of yard signs declaring: “Humanitarian Aid is Not a Crime.” We joined the picket lines and solidarity actions in front of the Federal Courthouse and at Southside Presbyterian Church, a leading sanctuary church for migrants.
The day the trial went to the jury, leaders and members of many faith traditions and leaders and activists from many secular organizations held a rally in support of Scott. During the rally, a number of faith leaders stepped forward and blessed the gallons of water that they would be distributing in the desert that day. They announced their names publicly thereby making it easier for the Trump administration to arrest them on criminal charges. It was extremely moving and courageous. This is courage in action.
After the rally, the faith leaders silently filled the courtroom urging justice for Scott and all those courageous people who engage in humanitarian acts to stop the deaths.
Now the good news and the struggle continues
Later that day, the jury spent only two hours acquitting Scott Warren on both charges. These trials are our tax dollars at work.
That same day, the Trump administration called for more prosecutions. Michael Bailey, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, vowed to continue prosecuting people who harbor and smuggle migrants.
“We won’t distinguish between whether somebody is trafficking or harboring for money, or whether they’re doing it out of, you know, what I would say a misguided sense of social justice or belief in open borders or whatever,” Bailey told the Associated Press.
Gregory Kuykendall, Scott’s lawyer eloquently stated after the trial:
“This is a place where a humanitarian crisis of epidemic proportions is occurring. People who exercise the golden rule, people who are Samaritans, are not committing crimes. They are doing what all of us should aspire to.”
The struggle for justice continues in Arizona. The same day in the same courthouse, as reported in The Washington Post, ” former Border Patrol agent Matthew Bowen was sentenced to three years’ probation and supervised release. In a plea deal, Bowen admitted he had intentionally run over a Guatemalan migrant with his truck – and then lied about it.
This year, we must be the messengers and activists of hope and justice
In closing, I wish all of you a Happy New Year. These are my New Year’s resolutions:
- May we work hard to bring hope to the tens of millions of our fellow citizens and residents who want a more just and equitable today and future.
- May we make deep commitments to work hard and give generously to defeat Trump and rout his Republican supporters.
- May we fight hard to protect and expand our hard-won right to vote.
- May we fight hard to strengthen our democracy and build a better future.
- May we reaffirm that all people regardless of their race, creed, color, national origin, religion or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation and union affiliation should and must be treated fairly and equitably in our nation.
Mark McDermott is an economic justice educator and writer who has been a political activist for many years working on economic, racial and social justice. He welcomes your feedback about this column at Markmcdermott1@msn.com. Learn more about his work at markmmcdermott.com.