Arizona: Ground Zero for the Economic, Ecological and Political Crises
On April 23, 2010 Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed into law Senate Bill 1070, a broad bill increasing state powers of enforcement of federal immigration policy and in essence sanctioning racial profiling. It allows police officers to detain anyone they “suspect” as being undocumented immigrants. In a state that was part of Mexico until 1848, and home of indigenous peoples for centuries, the racist implications could not be more stark. The possibilities for these “suspects” are dire— arrest, cross checking across a national database for past criminal activity, handing over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and deportation. It is one of the most deliberately racist laws that we have seen in decades, targeting indigenous peoples, Latin@s and immigrants. The sponsor of bill in the Arizona legislature, Russell Pierce, has clear white supremacist connections.
Arizona is a laboratory of experimentation in states’ rights – the strategy employed by the Right prior to and during the civil rights era, and re-imagined during the more recent health care debate in 2009. SB 1070 did not come out of thin air.
Over the last decade or so Arizona has enacted, or proposed, hundreds of bills that are not only tests of states rights, but also clearly racist, xenophobic and representative of right-wing policy directions. SB 1070’s sweep is broad and comes in concert with other racist legislation, including a bill which calls for the end to ethnic studies classes in Arizona’s K-12 schools. This is a clear example of overreach by the right. Together we need to hit back hard, in solidarity with those on the ground in Arizona who have been fighting back against these kinds of right wing attacks for years. The outcome of this fight will set precedent in either direction. We need to make sure the outcome is on the side of the people and of justice.
The Analytic Framework of Economic, Ecological, and Political Crises
Crisis of Legitimacy of the State
Arizona’s racist law is a clear example of the increasing repressive apparatus of the state machinery – aimed at the most oppressed sectors of the working class. SB 1070 did not spring, fully grown, out of the head of Jan Brewer. Its legal and policy-based precedents have been evolving since the post 9/11 order redefined by Bush and Ashcroft. Post-9/11 “Criminal Alien Access” programs – designed to prevent the threat of terrorism – have been expanded to target the broadest spectrum of immigrants and all oppressed nationality people. These programs stem from right wing think tanks and policy groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), who are armed with millions of dollars to carry out sophisticated communications campaigns with white-supremacist undertones. Arizona today is a very clear example of the two-pronged approach of those in power: on one hand, using repression and violence, and on the other, strengthening their ideological hegemony. The war of ideas and ideology is at the center of this struggle.
Implications from the Economic Crisis
Even the right-wing media has noted the toxic situation in Arizona has its roots in the economic crisis. Interviews with white Arizonans have stressed people’s fears of losing jobs and homes, and feelings of economic insecurity. While not everyone blames undocumented people for “taking the jobs of US (white) citizens,” the fear of competing with the undocumented for any job looms large. Another aspect with roots in the economic crisis is the violence surrounding drug importation into the US, which knows no borders. The economic situation in Arizona has been worsened by the systematic dismantling of the social safety net through drastic budget cuts and a refusal to raise taxes.
Economic Crisis + Crisis of Legitimacy of the State
The situation in Arizona is best understood through linking the repressive and racist apparatus of the State to the unraveling of neo-liberalism (of capitalism)—in particular the aftermath of NAFTA and similar treaties that have devastated peasants/campesinos and local economies in the southern part of the Americas. As migrant workers have been saying for years, “we are here because you are there.” Either through direct state intervention, such as US-sponsored coups d’etat, support for the Contras, the Drug War, or through economic intervention in sovereign economies — the IMF, World Bank, and NAFTA — the US has created the conditions to force migration from countries facing the brunt of US foreign policy. As capital roams the world with free reign, the only option of survival for many workers and peasants is to go north, no matter what the cost. In this context, scapegoating becomes a convenient vehicle to attract attention away from the bankers, capitalists, and politicians driving the policies and practices that drive migrants from their homes of origin, and the political-economic system that is fundamentally at fault. As stated in Freedom Road’s 2009 National Political Report, “in the wake of economic collapse, significant numbers of people in the US are questioning capitalism as a viable option; there are some who question the legitimacy of any government at all. This does not mean that there is a willingness to go beyond the bounds of capitalism to the adoption of a socialist state, but it does signal a willingness to consider progressive (and radical) and/or reactionary (and often fascist) alternatives to the existing democratic capitalist State.”
The Ecological Crisis
The ecological aspect of the current situation in Arizona and throughout the Southwest is one that cannot be ignored, particularly when it comes to water. Deforestation, corporate farming, land de-nutrification and overdevelopment, resource extraction, mega-infrastructure projects like dams, carbon-offset schemes in which governments seize indigenous peoples’ lands to use toward carbon allotment, global warming (with its attendant cycles of floods and drought), the attempted or successful commodification of the ever-shrinking, and non-renewable water supply have severely impacted farming and indigenous cultures centered around land and nature. Global treaties, repressive regimes and water scarcity have added to the pressure on the world’s poor, making migration more and more the only option for survival. The border areas between Mexico and the US are sites of poorly regulated maquiladora-style industrial production, as well as the sites of toxic dumping and wholesale contamination. Oppressed nationality, working class communities sit atop these fault-lines. The consequences of water shortages created by the political-economy of the Southwest and California have already created ripple effects. Entire watersheds have been rerouted to support big-business agriculture and the sand-box golf resorts of the wealthy. Scientists are predicting a 50% chance that Lake Mead, which supplies water to 25 million people in the Southwest, will be dry by 2021. Working class Chicano, indigenous and other oppressed nationality communities are more frequently paying the high price for what used to be the “commons,” the bare necessities. Moreover, these man-made disasters are intensifying scapegoating and racism. As resources become scarcer, immigrants are becoming the target of blatant white supremacism. Bruce Hobson’s article “The Arizona Gauntlet” brings the ecological situation down to a very personal level, by situating the dangers of coming north around the question of water: crossing the desert from Mexico to the US necessitates water.
Political Establishment and Electoral Politics
The recently enacted “immigration” law in ARIZONA has unleashed a firestorm of criticism. In a state where 30% of the population is of “Hispanic” descent, it is no surprise that Latin@s are outraged and mobilized. No surprise either that they are joined by a broad array of progressives forces from the social movements — immigrant rights, students, labor, and civil rights among them. A few brave politicians from Arizona have stepped up to condemn the law and helped focus attention on the situation (notably US Rep. Raul Grijalva (a former member of Movimiento Estudiante Chican@ de Aztlan/MEChA) who called for a boycott of his own state even before the bill’s passage). But more surprising has been the condemnation from such ardent anti-immigration politicians as Jeb Bush. While they are voicing concern about the overkill of police powers of the law — passed under a Republican-majority legislature— these Republicans know that the bill will do nothing to attract “Hispanic” voters, and will damage the Republican business base that relies on exploited, undocumented labor. This is truly a unique situation in which there are ample opportunities for our worldview to get a hearing. Black activists like Al Sharpton and major Black pastors in Phoenix are on board, calling the law racist, but only in reference to the impact on current citizens that may be profiled and harassed. Our movements can play the role of pushing as well as creating a broad expression of unity with undocumented immigrants and their rights to come here and be here.
Chican@ Self-Determination in the Southwest
FRSO/OSCL has from its founding upheld the Chicano Nation’s “struggle against national oppression and for equality and political power. The totality of these struggles represents the struggle of a nation for full democracy, meaning the right to land and political power…and self-determination.” The US Southwest from Texas to California constitutes that nation: land that was extracted from Mexico in 1848, but in culture and population constantly displays its roots. There is a surreal quality to the notion that Mexicans and indigenous peoples residing in their historic lands are “immigrants”; documentation has no meaning in this context.
Current figures from the U.S. Census bureau back up this position:
- As of 2008 people of “Hispanic”1 descent are the largest US minority—15%. Of these 64% are of Mexican origin. By 2050 it is estimated that 30% of the US population will be Latin@.
- 30% of Arizona residents are of “Hispanic” descent.
- 45% of New Mexico residents are “Hispanic.”
- 37% of Texans, including the top ten counties in the US with “Hispanic” populations.
- 37% of Californians are “Hispanic.”
Fight Back—On the Ground and Nationally
On the ground there is a double-edged response: resistance and fear. On the one hand communities, especially militant youth, have taken to the streets — leading massive school walkouts in opposition to the law. On the other, families are laying low because of the fear of repression even though the law doesn’t go into effect for another two months. For example, the number of people that came to community food banks since the law was signed have dipped. Cinco de Mayo celebrations had 20% of the usual turnout; pregnant women are contemplating not going to doctor visits nor going to hospitals to deliver their babies. Many folks are considering leaving or have left the state. The Right seeks to create such a state of terror that people self deport.
Local groups and national formations are engaged in immediate emergency response to the crisis and are gearing up for a protracted struggle. In Arizona, base building groups have for years been engaged in border justice work, environmental justice work, indigenous rights work, workers rights, the fight back against the racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Minutemen, the buildup of a border wall along the Arizona/Mexico border, and the ever increasing presence of border patrol agents throughout the state. Arpaio has single-handedly been responsible for the arrest, detention and deportation of thousands of undocumented immigrants creating a state of terror by constant sweeps through immigrant neighborhoods and an oppressive tent city in the desert where mostly immigrants and Black prisoners live and work in inhumane conditions.
In the build up to the passage of the bill and since its passage, the local student movement has taken off. Students have staged massive walk-outs of public high schools. Undocumented youth in Tucson held a direct action at John McCain’s office, in support of the DREAM Act, which would legalize youth who came to the U.S. before the age of 16 and pursuing higher education. They were arrested, despite the likelihood that they will be deported as a result of the action.
The national response against the law has been immediate and widespread, spanning the far-left to the center-right. Within the broad front multiple sectors are represented – elements of both major parties, civil libertarians, civil rights groups, labor, religious groups, and more.
Within the broad front are the progressive elements, which are working together to build resistance.
The role of the Left
Socialists should approach the situation by articulating demands that separate us from the center and center right. There are many opportunities to do so, especially as we follow the lead of the local left and indigenous forces on the ground, by:
- Supporting “Liberation Summer”— a series of activities, teach-in, civil disobedience, base-building and leadership development modeled after the “Freedom Summer” of the 60s; and targeted boycotts (Arizona Diamondbacks, “no spring training in Arizona”; MLB All-Star 2011; US Airways; other corporate boycotts).
- Building African-American-Latin@/immigrant unity and highlighting criminalization of people of color, and links between racist drug laws, prison-industrial complex and anti-immigrant laws.
We should call for and support radical and realistic demands such as:
- The repeal of SB 1070.
- Call for federal, non-militarized intervention in Arizona.
- Call to Obama to overturn 287g and Secure Communities programs (all part of the Criminal Alien Access programs of DHS/ICE).
- Supporting anti-enforcement and anti-militarization campaigns in local communities throughout the country.
1. “Hispanic” is a census term coined by the US in the early 1960s because recent émigrés Cubans in the US refused to be identified at Latino, seeing that term as signifying indigenousness and dark skin.
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