A grassroots rebellion against President Trump’s anti-immigration policies is taking shape in California and across the country, spearheaded by farmworkers, day laborers, immigrant domestic workers and their supporters.
One of its leaders is Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day-Laborer Organizing Network or NDLON, who is sometimes called the “Cesar Chavez of undocumented Day Laborers.”
I spoke to Alvarado after a strategy session that he had convened with staff and supporters in the immigrants’ rights movement in California and across the nation.
Dennis Bernstein: I know you just emerged from a national planning meeting in terms of beginning a series of proactive steps in response to Trump’s frontal assault on all immigrants and their supporters. I think you were calling it Alto Trump, Stop Trump. Could you outline what you all were talking about and planning in response to the Trump directives?
Pablo Alvarado: Sure. Well, during the electoral process … we saw and heard all of the incendiary and overheated rhetoric, and racist rhetoric, by the President, by President Trump. And people thought, “Maybe he doesn’t really mean it”. Then he won and people said “Well, maybe we gotta give him a chance. Maybe he’s not as bad as it appears.” Then he comes into power, and then by the fourth day of him being in power we know what he really is about.
The executive decisions that he has taken are decisions that will impact … the lives of many, not just undocumented immigrants, but all of the folks that he intended to attack, during the electoral campaign. We’re talking about Muslims, we’re talking about women, African-Americans, the disabled, members of the LGBTQ community, and, of course, the undocumented … community.
And now we’re seeing that he actually meant what he said. Now the question is what kind of resources he’s going to put into those initiatives that he wants to push for. It appears that he is serious about [increasing] the number of ICE agents from 5,000 to 15,000. He’s talked about an ICE force, an immigration enforcement force. They’re here. And with 15,000 officers across the country, the persecution is going to be unprecedented. He spoke about the wall, about reviewing NAFTA, it appears that he’s moving on all of those fronts. And it’s not going to be a good thing for us.
And so, it’s becoming more and more clear to us, that he meant what he said. So, now, for us, the first act of resistance that we need to put together is people knowing, understanding and exercising their rights.
The second level of that, the process of resistance, is coming together with neighbors and building these migrants defense collectives, across the country. Where, at this point, what we feel is that communities shouldn’t expect an organization to come and save them, or leaders to come and save them, or a political party to come and save them.
This is a moment for people who have been harmed by the policies of this President to stand up and organize themselves, and defend themselves. Oftentimes when I am talking to undocumented people I tell them, “Hey, there’s good news, and the good news is that Mr. Trump has stated that he’s only going to prosecute criminals and deport criminals. The bad news is that we’re all criminals, in his mind.”
And, in terms of the law, he is going to expand the definition of what a serious misdemeanor is, and what a serious felony is, to deport more people. He’s going to, obviously, in order for him to accomplish what he said he’s going to do, in terms of deporting two to three million people in the first years of his mandate, the only way that he can do that is by enlisting local police to enforce immigration law.
And, of course, you know we plan to put up a fight. If he thinks that we are going to go quietly into the night, without putting up a fight, he is fundamentally wrong. So, the struggle is going to be at all levels: defending ourselves in the neighborhoods, litigation – our legal team is rethinking and retooling, and finding the legal grounds that we’re going to need to challenge the measures that Mr. Trump implements against our community.
For example, in California we have introduced a legislation called the California Values Act, which actually would prohibit the state of California from investing any dime, any dollars, in the deportation, interrogation, detention of undocumented people. So, that bill is moving forward in the legislature.
So, this is the way that we’re going to resist. There are hundreds of municipalities who believe that migrants need to be protected, rather than persecuted. We’re going to go and keep supporting those so-called sanctuary cities. Making sure that they extend better protections for migrants, but also that they stem the attack from the Trump administration. So, we are definitely planning in all fronts. We’re preparing for the worst, and obviously, hoping for the best.
But one thing is for sure, we are not going to go quietly into the night, we’re not going to disappear, we’re not going to go down without a fight. And I think… I believe that this is, obviously four years of resistance, and it’s barely starting. And I can tell you that there is so much energy in our communities. People feel the fear, there is obviously fear, widespread fear, but at the same time there is courage.
If you think about, for example, the workers that I represent – they, everyday, in order to feed their loved ones, they defy all the odds: the weather, the rain, the hot sun, unscrupulous employers that fail to pay their wages, minute men in white supremacist organizations that come and harass them, security guards, police officers, ICE agents. They defy everybody, in order to make a living, and feed their loved ones. That is courage. That is the courage that politicians and activists and organizations need to match, as we fight back, as we resist President Trump and his policies.
Pablo Alvarado, I want to ask you more. Those… you talked initially about, sort of, local defense committees, which reminds me a lot of what began to happen in the south when the resistance to apartheid, Jim Crow, in the south. There began to be these black ministers’ defense committees. It seems like almost a… sort of an evolution of that idea for the 21st century and this, what could really turn into a brown revolution.
Well, look, I don’t think that at this point we have any other choice. And, yes, I mean these are experiences that other people have done in other places when they are under attack. People organize themselves to defend themselves. It’s very simply not another choice in terms of how we respond to the attacks.
And, by the way, it’s already happening. See, in Arizona, when SB1070 was introduced and created this human rights crisis in Arizona, the first thing that we did is we went to our communities and said, “What do you want to do?” And they laid out the strategy for us. Right in front of the capital of Phoenix, you know, we have about 10,000 people.
And we began asking people, “How do you want to fight back?” People said, “We’ve got to boycott the state.” That’s exactly what we did. People said, “We’ve got to organize block by block” – so the barrios in these communities emerged, in Arizona, around that time. People said, “We have to denounce SB1070, as a racist, as a fascist law and we need to have artists to come in and help us, define what we already know it’s about.” Then we brought in the lawyers, and we brought in organizers from all over the country. Massive civil disobedience. The fight we put together in Arizona is exactly what we need to replicate nationwide.
And, I believe that our communities are not only ready to do that, but we don’t have any other choice. See, when we began the campaign against Sheriff Arpaio, for instance, he enjoyed 85% of voter approval ratings. The man was untouchable. Anybody who dared to criticize Mr. Arpaio would end up under criminal investigation. One newspaper, actually, the Phoenix New Times, was raided because they dared to criticize Mr. Arpaio. The man was untouchable, at that time. And we knew that we couldn’t confront him in an open field, in an open battle. We knew that we had to draw him into another fight that we could control and that we could win.
So, we decided to boycott a furniture store that had hired six off-duty sheriff deputies to patrol the surroundings of the neighborhood, and arrest and turn over to ICE anybody who looked Mexican. We initiated the boycott [this was in 2007] and in a period of three months we had defeated the owner of the furniture store. And he ended up firing the six off-duty sheriff deputies. These were Arpaio’s sheriff deputies. That was actually the first defeat that Mr. Arpaio suffered. Ever since, people began taking him on, and lost their fear to go after Arpaio. That’s exactly what you do to bullies. You draw them into alley fights that you can control.
And we plan to have hundreds, if not thousands, of those alley fights, across the country. The struggle will not be a centralized struggle. It will be a de-centralized struggle. People doing whatever they can, from civil disobedience, to litigation, to educating, for example, Americans about the importance of defending migrants, and showing that those who employ nannies, defend their nannies. Ensuring that those who have a gardener, to keep their gardens green, that they defend the gardener. Because without that work force, Americans will not be able to do the kind of jobs that they do, and would not be able to have the kind of lifestyle that they have. So it’s in their best interest to protect our community, to protect our undocumented communities.
So that resistance is going to take different shapes across the country. In places where there is no infrastructure to defend migrants, in places where the political reality is too hostile, than in those particular places, like Alabama, Georgia, it will be pure resistance. It will be pure barrio, you know, community defense organizing so that people can protect each other.
And, in places where there are possibilities, to push for more proactive measures, like California, that’s exactly what we are going to do. But that struggle, again, is going to be decentralized and this time around, we want every community group, doesn’t matter how small or big, that group is to stand up, and organize.
And the way we’re going to win is by exposing, you know, the lies, by exposing the injustices that this precedent will undertake, and, during his administration, by showing the American people how ugly racism is, how ugly xenophobia is, and by putting our bodies on the line. This is the kind of resistance that’s going to take place, nationwide.
We’re speaking with Pablo Alvarado, he is the Executive Director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network. That network protects… has centers all over the country, in which day laborers are able to gather and organize and protect themselves as they do the hardest work in this country.
Now, Pablo Alvarado, I imagine that work of those day labor centers also takes on new meanings because who knows who’s going to show up and say, “Oh, we want to hire some workers”…and then all of a sudden you’re going to be facing some sort-of extreme right-wingers who want to take it upon themselves to fight for the new Breitbart white America. Are there special precautions, are their suggestions, are there ways that people are getting ready to protect themselves?
Sure, I mean we understand that… I mean look, it’s not the first time that day laborer, themselves, are under attack. In our community, day laborers are under attack every single day. And, you know, people talk about undocumented immigrants coming out of the shadows. For the day laborers, there is no shade. You know, they are there, exposed. And they are ready to fight.
The thing is that in 2006, that Immigrant Project targeted the day laborers. They came with cameras, they filmed them. And they said “I’m going to send this film”… they filmed their employers, to intimidate them, and they said “I’m going to send this film to ICE, so they can come and get you…” So, this is the kind of hatred that people confronted around that time. And guess what? People resisted in a beautiful way.
So even though they were provoked, they were lured into violence by some of them, the workers, by some of the minutemen, the workers remained peaceful. And we came in and claimed every single worker out of there. If you’re calm about… If they provoke you, that’s exactly what they want, because obviously that’s the kind of attention that they want, that’s the kind of tension that they want to create in the community. Because that way they get coverage by the media. But if you resist, if you don’t engage in any act of violence against them, if you peacefully, kind of prod us, then we’re going to win.
A popular anti-Trump slogan, “Respect my existence or expect my resistance”. Artwork by Victoria Garcia.
So, what we did instead of creating so much tension, screaming back and forth, when they came to prod us and what we did is we began putting cultural events in front of them. And they, of course, hated that because, you know, Mexican music was offensive to them… it was beautiful for us, but it was offensive to them, because for them anything that has to do with our culture… it’s a bad thing, you know? Except the food, because they do like Mexican food, and Latin American food. But anything that has the cultural background of Latino is something that they feel that is not American. So, we fought differently, and we defeated them.
So, this time around if they show up, which will actually happen, we’re going to defend ourselves, using the same strategy. I think the importance… what’s important here is that a resistance is going to be highly peaceful, but there will be a lot of tension. Even though it’s going to be peaceful.
Do you see any silver lining in the cloud that Trump anti-immigrant policies have cast over the communities you represent?
The good thing about what’s happening… nothing is good about what’s happening. But, what’s different is that it’s not just that Trump is not just attacking the Mexicans. He’s attacking women, and we’re going to be in solidarity with women. We’re going to be in solidarity with the Muslims, we’re going to be in solidarity with the indigenous communities. So we’re going to fight together. And we’re going to find the ways to align with each other, to resist. Because it’s the only way that we’re going to be able to stop the fears of attacks that Mr. Trump is unleashing. Not just on the people that he attacks, but I would say on the American people.
And, hopefully, those who voted for him will realize what they have done has cost a lot of harm to the country. And to those, the folks that voted for Mr. Trump, I want to be very clear, cause they might be listening, I want to tell them that we don’t have any hatred in our hearts towards them. But they also have to understand that we don’t fear them, and that we’re going to confront them, if necessary. Always, in a peaceful manner. And we’re going to fight back, as much as we can. So, we’re not going to just disappear, from one week to another. We work here, and we’re not going anywhere.