August 18, 2010

University of Minnesota SDS reports back on Arizona Freedom Summer

University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) Students for a Democratic Society stands in solidarity with the immigrants’ rights movement, the Chicano nation, and oppressed Latino communities from Minnesota to Arizona. We were proud to participate in the National Day of Non-Compliance demonstrations in Phoenix, AZ on July 29th, along with SDS chapters from University of California L.A., and Olympia, Washington. Three SDSers from the U of M and one SDSer from our neighboring college Macalester (St. Paul), carpooled down to Phoenix together, arriving July 28th. We met with organizers from Puente Arizona and learned more about the situation in Phoenix: the human rights violations committed by Sheriff Arpaio, the massive raids and deportations, the struggle to keep families together and to fight for the right to live. We were honored to meet these courageous activists. We were able to help make last minute signs and banners for the July 29th demonstrations, and our chapter was also present at a final logistics meeting that evening led by Puente. Chris Newman, an immigrant rights lawyer, rallied the activists, saying, “This struggle did not begin with SB1070 and it will not end with it. SB1070 is a manifestation of the racist cancer that is affecting our Latino communities.” This means that the struggle for Chicanos and immigrants in this country is far from over. On the morning of July 29, over 500 activists and organizers gathered in downtown Phoenix to protest SB1070 on the day the law was going into effect. The law has lost some of its teeth due to pressure from the immigrant rights movement, which resulted in the long overdue federal injunction. On July 28, a judge struck down the part of the law that required all Arizonans to carry their proof of legal status constantly, as well as the part that legalized and mandated racial profiling, declaring these parts unconstitutional. However, most of the law remains intact, including the parts that criminalize day laborers and target families with mixed immigration status. Protesters rallied in front of the office of Sheriff Arpaio, one of the main figureheads of the racist, anti-immigrant movement. Not only does Arpaio wrench thousands of families apart with his excessive raids and deportations, he also commits human rights violations with his humiliating treatment of undocumented prisoners. An estimated 20 activists were arrested in the street, including members of SDS, heroic local community organizers from Puente Arizona and others, as supporters chanted, “Arrest Arpaio” and “Down with 1070! We will not comply!” Later, protesters blockaded the county jail, forcing sheriff department deputies to remain inside for over an hour. As a result of this blockade, Sheriff Arpaio was forced to cancel his raids and deportations for today. The July 29 demonstrations were a victory for the oppressed peoples of Phoenix and the rallies will continue across Arizona and the nation. -Grace Kelley, member of University of Minnesota SDS As a newer member of Students for a Democratic Society, I was very excited to make the trip down to Arizona to stand up with the immigrant communities against this racist legislation. I was impressed by the amount of people who traveled across the country to show support or get arrested at the demonstration to make a statement of non-compliance. Puente took good care of everyone and we were offered comfortable housing. Other organizations, like Food Not Bombs, gave food support to protesters outside the jail. I felt a huge sense of warmth and community by the collective energy of those present at the demonstration on the 29th and the days surrounding it. A moment I will never forget—standing outside the jail at dusk listening to a member of the community tell me about Sheriff Arpaio’s prison tactics. After raiding areas of undocumented immigrants, he forces prisoners to perform difficult manual labor outside in dangerously hot weather, humiliates them by making them wear pink underwear, and allows them extremely tight sleeping and living quarters. I shivered a little as she told me this amidst the crowd in the background shouting at Arpaio who had just made an appearance. The media was in his face to find out what he had to say about all these people who hate him. And he laughed. He loved the attention and he just laughed. Regardless of the federal injunction on SB 1070, I will be curious to know what the July 29th demonstration will provoke in this nation and in this world. These are important times, and we cannot let racism into the laws that govern us all.