Radical Resistance: The Bird Lauds One of the Bolder Acts of Civil Disobedience Arizona's Seen Recently


In one of the boldest acts of civil disobedience of late, a group of Native American, Mexican-American, and white activists occupied U.S. Border Patrol offices at Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on May 21, locking themselves around a pillar in a lobby that was soon filled with shocked Border Patrol agents.

Six of the demonstrators bound themselves together using pieces of PVC pipe around their arms and u-shaped bicycle locks around their necks. A banner was hoisted in front of the lobby's desk reading "Stop Militarization on Indigenous Lands Now."

The protesters had decorated the PVC with slogans such as, "No Militarization of the Border," and "Stop SB 1070." They chanted, sang songs, prayed, and even did freestyle raps, as befuddled BP agents tried to figure out what to do with them.

"It's very empowering to be in a room with 30 officers and know they can't do shit to you," Alex Soto, a Tohono O'odham tribesman and Phoenix group member told me after the action. "It was definitely going to take some force to get us out of there. Force they did not want to use."

Ultimately, the Border Patrol called the Tucson Police Department, and a settlement was negotiated. The demonstrators agreed to leave after 3 1/2 hours. They were arrested, cited for trespassing and disorderly conduct, then released.

Soto, who's working on a degree in American Indian studies at ASU, is originally from Sells, the O'odham Nation's capital, where much of his family still lives. He said this act of "peaceful resistance" was meant to broaden the debate over what's been going on in Arizona in the wake of Governor Jan Brewer's signing Sand Land's new "papers, please" legislation.

"It's not just about one bill or one sheriff," Soto told me, making reference to Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "Our voices are always being marginalized. So we felt the need to take action."

The occupation of the Border Patrol HQ was meant as a challenge not only to Secretary Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security, of which the Border Patrol is a part, but also to the immigration-reform movement itself.

Soto decried what he insists is a trade-off that reform activists are willing to make: increased border security and a border wall in return for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented residing in the United States.

"We want no walls, no racist, colonial laws that affect people of color, people who come here out of forced migration because of [economics]," he said.

The 24-year-old aspiring hip-hop artist also questioned the Border Patrol's heavy hand on the O'odham Nation, where thousands of migrants cross regularly, and where Border Patrol agents — with their checkpoints in and out of the reservation and their seemingly ever-present vehicles — make O'odham tribal land resemble a police state.

"How are we a sovereign nation when we have an occupying army patrolling our lands, while we're just trying to live?" wondered Soto.

That's a good question, one with no ready answer.

I would also note that it's highly ironic that an agency such as the Border Patrol, which supposedly guards the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border using barriers, helicopters, nighttime cameras, and watchtowers has little or no security vetting access to their own offices on a freaking U.S. Air Force base.


"Hopefully what we did will inspire other O'odhams and other races to take action," said Alex Soto.

I have no doubt that it will. Indeed, in the wake of SB 1070, the recent ban on ethnic studies, and the declared intent of state Senator Russell Pearce to push the Legislature to deny birth certificates to American-citizen children born to undocumented parents, a brush fire of pro-immigrant activism has swept the state.

On May 17, four students pushing for the DREAM Act were arrested after a sit-down strike in the Tucson offices of U.S. Senator John McCain. The DREAM Act is proposed federal legislation that would allow undocumented students brought to this country as kids to normalize their status.

Three of those young activists were undocumented, and they were held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after hearings before a judge in Tucson. ICE later released them on their own recognizance, but they now face deportation hearings.

Though the three came here from other states, they have vowed to remain in Arizona to organize and agitate on behalf of the DREAM Act.

Fifteen students were arrested days earlier, also in Tucson, in a protest over a ban on classes that promote "ethnic solidarity." The ban is the lame brainchild of Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne, who is beating the nativist drum as he seeks to become our state's next attorney general.

And before that, on April 20, nine college-age men and women chained themselves to the door of the state Capitol in protest of SB 1070, forcing Capitol police to use bolt-cutters to free the activists before they were arrested and shipped to the Fourth Avenue Jail for this display of civil disobedience.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons