We All Live in Arizona

Todos Somos Arizona

“We Are All Arizona. No to the Law against Immigrants.”

Here, in the hands of this man at Saturday’s May Day march in Foley Square, opposite the New York State Courts, was a sign both to the hunted humanity of Arizona and to the rest of us. One part solidarity: an attack on immigrants is an attack on us all. One part sentinel warning: It’s not just Arizona brewing this lethal mix of ICE tea at its tea party.

With the adoption of SB 1070, the state’s government hasn’t exactly blazed this trail into the racial wilderness alone. No doubt, Sheriff (and would-be Governor) Arpaio and posse must be credited for their years of racial hatemongering – and Governor Brewer, for handing them the keys to the patrol car.

And yes, there’s a world of difference between New York County and Maricopa County. But that didn’t stop somebody from dispatching ICE agents with dogs to surround the protests at the end of Saturday’s march, or from orchestrating a campaign of harassment from 8 ICE offices nationwide against the NY-NJ Rapid Response Network, which runs a hotline for ICE victims.

Maybe Arizona ain’t as far away as we think. Saturday, as we know, was May Day (an immigrant workers’ tradition since 1886), and this May Day saw hundreds of thousands of Americanos of all ancestries, “legal” and “illegal,” workers and students, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spilling into the streets of 80 cities and towns in its largest show of force since May Day ’06 (“The Day without an Immigrant”).

With an estimated 20,000 marchers, New York City, alongside Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, and others, saw its largest immigration protests in years. The crowds – counted on news tickers as “disappointing,” on rightwing blogs as “insurrectionary” – must be taken in the context of what may be the largest round-up operation in U.S. history.

That operation, begun under President Bush in 2001 (remember “special detentions” and “special registrations”?) has actually surged under President Obama. Within his first year in office, deportations reached a record 388,000 (double what they were 10 years ago), thanks to new and higher quotas outlined in ICE memos. At least 90 people have died or been killed in immigration custody since 2003.

It’s in these police (read: paramilitary) practices that we see most vividly the application of one set of laws and practices to the white citizen, and another to the undocumented. But this dual state is experienced on a daily basis elsewhere, too, in workplaces, schools, clinics, and neighborhoods.

So we get one set of labor practices for the White worker, one set of practices for the Black worker, and another set of labor practices for the “illegal” worker: poverty wages, stolen paychecks, arbitrary firings, unsafe conditions, and ICE action in retaliation for union organizing.

We get one tuition for the in-state student with papers, and a dramatically higher tuition for the in-state student sans papers. 65,000 such students will graduate high school this year. Yet the DREAM Act, which would redress the disparity, is nowhere to be found in the draconian Schumer bill. (Immigrant students stormed Schumer’s office in DC on Saturday).

Finally, we get one standard of “American” defined over and against the Others of the day: In the 1920s, it was Blacks, Jews, and Reds; in the 2010s, it’s Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, and Reds.

For all the rhetoric of security, jobs, and so on, white power and class power are what’s really at stake.

And we will all suffer for it. The Bush era taught us that civil liberties start to disappear for everyone as soon as they disappear behind the walls of the detention center. The labor movement remains at historic lows, thanks in no small part to the repression of immigrant organizing. And we find our education system back in the good ol’ days of separate and unequal.

But there is another spirit afoot in our country and our city this spring. The feeling was palpable in the streets of Manhattan on May Day.

You heard it in the mingled chants of Latino laborers, African street vendors, Korean drummers, Irish carpenters, Jewish children, Muslim children, Catholic children, children of another America.

You saw it in the eyes and the hands of the thousands who defied threats of detention and deportation to march for legalization.

It’s been often repeated, in recent days, that the immigrant rights movement is a “sleeping giant.” But this movement never sleeps. Rather, it’s the rest of the country that’s been sleeping on it.

SB 1070 was a Mayday call for all of us. If we fail to heed it today, we may find ourselves waking up in Arizona tomorrow.