Despite threats of disruption from extremist elements, Saturday's anti-SB 1070 demonstration produced a diverse, spirited crowd of anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 that walked some five miles to the Arizona state Capitol without incident.
The Phoenix PD made no arrests, and there was no clash between anarchists and cops, as there was back in January for a large anti-Arpaio march. This demonstration dwarfed that one many times over.
Phoenix police officers I spoke with estimated the crowd at 25,000 to 30,000 coming out of Steele Indian School Park, where it began. Organizers put the final number at 100,000, and though I usually err on the side of conservative crowd estimates, in this case after looking at aerial shots of the marchers, I'm inclined to think the organizers were closer to the mark.
After zigzagging its way down Third Street and Central Avenue, the crowd made its way west on Washington Street, ending at the Capitol where various speakers and performing acts ascended a massive stage set directly before the old Capitol building, with its copper dome and Winged Victory weather vane.
Attendees were looking for victory of another sort -- victory over Arizona's new "papers please" legislation, signed into law last month by Governor Jan Brewer.
As former state Senate majority leader Alfredo Gutierrez pointed out, the demonstration was more a pep rally than anything for the "Freedom Summer" that groups inside and outside of Arizona are planning -- a campaign aimed at registering new voters and organizing the Hispanic community.
"This is about preaching to the choir," Gutierrez admitted. "We're not protesting anything. People are having one hell of a great time, except for a few people who had a bad upbringing."
Some of those "few" were represented by Mesa neo-Nazi J.T. Ready, who took up a position with a fellow white supremacist across from the crowd, bearing giant Confederate and American flags and sidearms, of course. Ready was protected by a cordon of cops, and was watched over by several observers from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Ready got into arguments with a few folks while praising Adolf Hitler as a great "white civil rights" leader. But he was unable to provoke anyone, despite one hot moment with a young Native American man, whom he insulted repeatedly and told to go dance around naked, stuff like that. A friend of the man soon came by and pulled him away.
I asked Ready about photos I'd seen recently on the Web site of Maricopa, Arizona neo-Nazi Harry Hughes -- ones of Ready and Hughes in camouflage, on "patrol" in the desert for illegal aliens, armed with assault rifles.
I couldn't help but ask: Had Ready ever shot at or killed anyone while on such a patrol? After all, there's been other footage of him down on the border with heavy firepower.
Also, Ready was court-martialed twice, drummed out of the Marines, and has a criminal record. He once shot at an illegal immigrant in 2006. This, while Ready was running for Mesa City Council. The other guy was armed with a BB gun, Ready with a .38. Neither man was injured, though the illegal immigrant was arrested. Hardly seems fair.
Ready answered my question cryptically, saying, "I can neither confirm or deny the statement." When I pressed him, telling him that was an odd way of answering such a query, he simply repeated himself.
Interestingly, both Harry Hughes and fellow neo-Nazi Scott Hume attended the pro-SB 1070 rally at Tempe's Diablo Stadium later the same day. (You can read more about Scott Hume, here.) Neo-Nazis at a pro-SB 1070 bash? Man, those nativists are full of surprises.
Nearby Ready, a little street theater ensued, with a quartet decked out as El Diablo, Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer, and a Mexican guy in handcuffs. El Diablo hailed Ready as a comrade.
"I'm with you guys," he told Ready and the other white supremacist."You're my man!"
Then he turned to "Brewer," nearly salivating. "Look at my baby girl right here," he said as she primped herself. They then proceeded to torture the Mexican dude who was on his knees in cuffs.
"What don't you understand about illegal?" wondered El Diablo. "I drew the line in the sand. I'm the one that creates the border. I'm the one that enforces the law."
Crude, but funny, in a Punch and Judy sort of way.
Over on the stage, the bill lacked the big names of previous marches and rallies. There was no Zack de la Rocha this time. No Linda Ronstadt. And Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez didn't show as planned. Nor did any Arizona Congressmen make appearances.
Instead, the big draw was Mexican-American recording artist Jenni Rivera, who was much beloved by the crowd. She pretty much summed up the law and its supporters at one point.
"What this law is trying to do is not only trying to separate families," she told the audience. "They're trying to discriminate, to single us out. They're haters, baby."
You got that right, Jenni. Big-time haters.
Rivera's show actually concluded the program. But there were a string of others on the mic before she closed things out. Hip-hop artist Olmeca gave a fiery performance. And there were numerous speakers, including Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who received one of the friendliest receptions, leading the crowd in chants of "Si, se puede!"
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"Let's call out to the [U.S.] Attorney General and the President of the United States," he said, "to please come to Arizona and file that lawsuit to stop this law now. Let your voices be heard!"
Nice contrast to state AG Terry Goddard, who on Friday said he would "vigorously defend" the law if the feds seek an injunction to keep the law from going into effect.
He also spoke of union solidarity with immigrant workers.
"In the labor movement we only really ask one question of anyone," he said. "That question is not where are your papers, that question is what side are you on?"
Tohono O'odham tribal member Mike Wilson, whom I wrote about earlier this year in my cover story "Blood's Thicker Than Water," had a great line about SB 1070.
"Racial profiling did not start last month," he told everyone. "Racial profiling began in 1492."
Wilson also attacked the O'odham Nation itself for being anti-immigrant.
"I am embarrassed to say that my own Tohono O'odham Nation is not a friend of the immigrant," he intoned, adding, "Forty-two percent of all Latino migrant deaths are on the nation. [Fellow humanitarian and tribal member] David Garcia and I put out water on the nation so that the migrants do not die.
"And yet the Tohono O'odham government removes, destroys or confiscates my water stations."
Not surprisingly, the most invigorating speech came from Pastor Warren Stewart of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix, who has spoken at previous rallies and has been working tirelessly to unify the African-American and Hispanic communities over this issue.
As if addressing his congregants, he told the marchers, "We will not let our enemies turn back the clock to a day when we were judged by the color of our skin, and not the content of our character."
He received thunderous applause when he informed the crowd that, "God is on our side as we fight for justice, liberty, equality for all people regardless of their color, and regardless of their country, regardless of their language.
"President Obama, hear us from Arizona. God put you in the White House, you are a person of color, stand with us!"
With that kind of oratory, Stewart could almost turn this atheist into a believer. Almost.
Still, even if it isn't a divine presence, there is something on the side of the anti-SB 1070 folks: History. Despite the efforts of the nativists and the haters to divide and Balkanize the country, the trend in America is toward inclusiveness and diversity. That's why the haters are almost all white, and the anti-SB 1070 campaign is a patchwork quilt of colors, ages, faiths, and ethnicities.
In other words, the army of hate is outnumbered and destined to lose. This will not happen without struggle and disappointments. And it will not happen overnight. But the pro-SB 1070 extremists have a date with history's dustbin, just like the segregationists, slave owners, and apartheid-supporters of old.