Having recently returned from spending Christmas in my native North Carolina, an obviously older state than the almost-but-not-yet-100-year-old state of Arizona, I was struck by a sense of history that seems woefully absent here.
In the Old North State, as in many other states of the former Confederacy, there are reminders of the Civil Rights era, Reconstruction, and the Civil War itself nearly everywhere you turn, from the memorial to "Our Confederate Dead" on the state's Capitol grounds to old cemeteries filled with the remains of rebel soldiers to bookstores selling memoirs recounting the struggles of the civil rights movement and the fight to end segregation.
It's not that Arizona lacks history when it comes to issues of race, ethnicity, and the fight for justice. Far from it. For instance, I type these words in New Times' offices in Phoenix's old Booker T. Washington School, once an all-black elementary school, a reminder that segregation was hardly the exclusive province of Southern states.
Then there's the recent passing of civil rights activist Opal Ellis, who helped lead the fight for a Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in this state. (Services will be held for her at 10 a.m. December 29 at the First Institutional Baptist Church, 1141 E. Jefferson St., Phoenix.)
And of course, there were the massive anti-SB 1070 demonstrations over Phoenix's long, hot summer of 2010. Protests and acts of civil disobedience that I hope are reprised when Arizona's biggest bigot, state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce, and lickspittle toadies, such as state House Representative John Kavanagh, roll out their futile, racist efforts to end birthright citizenship in January.
Yet, despite such examples, there's a telling ignorance in the local media when Pearce and his hateful allies use the term "states' rights" as their battle cry. Southerners know exactly what "states' rights" means. It was also the cri de guerre of the Confederacy in its misguided attempt to protect the institution of slavery, one that led to the bloodbaths of Antietam, Bull Run, and Gettysburg.
(For those revisionists out there who'll want to tell me that slavery was not the central issue of the Civil War, I direct you to this recent essay by writer Edward Ball, who turns that contention into mincemeat.)
Long after Reconstruction failed, "states' rights" was the mantra of segregationists, such as Alabama's Gov. George Wallace; Dixiecrats, such as South Carolina Governor and, ultimately, U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond; and, later, Republican senator from North Carolina Jesse Helms.
So when I hear Russell Pearce intone the phrase "states' rights," it has a definite resonance. Were he a Southern politician, he would not get away with using that term so freely.
Take, for instance, Pearce's recent statement at a conference on immigration, held by his fellow nativists at the wingnut D.C. group Judicial Watch, concerning the issue of states' rights:
"But it's right also in the Constitution, it says, when there is an invasion the states have a right, even -- even to declare war if you will, you know, they have a right to protect. And again, we're sovereign states, I mean, just like everybody here. We're not citizens of the United States. We use that term, well, we're actually citizens of one of the several sovereign states."
This is, of course, total bull. The 14th Amendment -- the one Pearce wants to undermine with an illegal and unconstitutional attempt to rip birthright citizenship from the grip of infant citizens -- clearly states:
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
The 14th Amendment established a national standard of citizenship, one that could not be abridged by the states, hence the prohibition,
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
But Pearce, and his fellow neo-Confederates (i.e., the new "neo-Cons"), want to roll back the country to antebellum days, before the Civil War and the so-called Reconstruction Amendments (the 13th, the 14th and the 15th) that followed. In this, Pearce has much in common with Southerners who resisted Reconstruction.
They, too, were not fans of the 14th Amendment, which extended the federal government's reach. Most ex-Confederate states refused to ratify the 14th at first.
So the Radical Republicans in Congress (ironic, eh?) forced the 14th Amendment on the defeated rebels via military governance. To be readmitted to the Union, the former Confederate states had to ratify the 14th. After all, they had attempted to secede, had waged war on the Union, and lost -- so they didn't get to pick the terms of their readmission.
As to Pearce's contention that the sovereign states have the right in the Constitution "to declare war if you will," the senator once more falls victim to his pathetic slave-ocracy state of mind.
Indeed, the Constitution clearly states that the U.S. Congress has the right to declare war. And Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution states :
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"No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay."
In Pearce's delusional, troglodyte cranium, he probably thinks Arizona has the right to declare war on Mexico because hordes of wanna-be dishwashers and maids are crossing over the border daily. But even if he has drug cartels (enemies of the Mexican government) in mind, Arizona has no such power.
So whenever Pearce uses that term "states' rights," remember its bitter, bloody legacy. Pearce may long to fire on Fort Sumter, but in his desire to do so, he reveals what side he's on, as if it were ever in doubt: the side of slave owners, Ku Kluxers, the segregationists of old.
Recall, too, that though he has delegated the responsibility of pimping an anti-birthright bill to his Fountain Hills-based sycophant John Kavanagh, Pearce remains the ham-fisted, prejudiced puppetmaster. The ex-NYC Transit Authority (read: "New Yawk") constable Kavanagh is simply doing his majesty's bidding.