By any measure, the massive anti-Arpaio march that rocked Phoenix was a success — and then some.
Organizers from the L.A.-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which spearheaded the "Stop Joe Arpaio" parade on Saturday and brought Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha to town, estimated the crowd at 5,000. The Bird's initial estimate was 3,000 to 4,000. The Phoenix PD declined to speculate, while other reports simply left the count at "thousands."
In other words, it was freakin' big. So big that organizers had to rethink plans as demonstrators hoofed it south on Central Avenue from their starting point at Steele Indian School Park. The idea had been to make stops along the way (including at the offices of ICE), rally, and then move on toward the ultimate goal of the plaza at the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse. But by the time the march got to the ICE offices, stopping the river of humanity would have been too disruptive, so march organizers such as Sal Reza of Puente led followers the remainder of the nearly four miles to downtown.
Spirits were high, and so was the temperature, nearly 90 degrees on a sunny February day. All walks of humanity were represented. Little kids bore signs saying "We Are Human" and "Reform Not Raids." College students and average folks carried placards comparing Arpaio to a terrorist and/or to an insane, straitjacket-bound autocrat. A handful of anarchists — real ones — waved black flags and taunted the few, decrepit pro-Joe racists on the sidelines.
At the head of the march, along with De la Rocha, were Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and hubby Earl Wilcox, each wearing striped shirts with the word "UNSENTENCED" emblazoned on them. Hundreds of others wore the shirts, as well, in solidarity with the undocumented inmates paraded past the press in early February as part of Joe's infamous "200 Mexican March." The word "undocumented" on the men's shirts meant they had yet to be tried.
Before the crowd jumped off from Steele Indian School Park, The Bird spotted ex-Guadalupe Mayor Rebecca Jimenez in the crowd, along with one of her sons. There, too, was Raquel Teran of Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability — you know, the folks bulldogging the county Board of Supervisors regarding Joe's misdeeds. And nearby was Linda Brown of the Arizona Advocacy Network. Former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez addressed the assembled before the get-down's getting down, as did Shannon Rivers of the Akimel O'odham people, who made some inspiring and ironic comments.
"Don't be afraid, my brothers and sisters," explained the tall Native American. "We can't force people out of this country unless the native people say so. And so far, we've welcomed everybody."
At the march's end, protesters packed the plaza at the federal courthouse, preceded by a troupe of Native American dancers led by Tonatierra's Tupac Acosta. The dancers blessed the proceedings with incense and chanting. Then demonstrators heard remarks from Derechos Humanos firebrand Isabel Garcia, Somos America's Hector Yturralde, United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano, Lydia Guzman of the human rights organization Respect/Respeto, and, of course, Zack de la Rocha.
"By parading human beings shackled in chain gang stripes, in a misguided effort to collectively humiliate and to terrorize an entire population," said De la Rocha, "[Arpaio] reopened the wounds from which we all still suffer, by invoking the painful memories of slavery and segregation . . . By doing so, he has not only brought shame upon the state of Arizona, but is bringing shame upon the entire nation."
De la Rocha also saved some spank for Arizona's ex-governor.
"If Janet Napolitano seeks to perform her mission as head of the so-called Homeland Security Department," admonished De la Rocha, "she must realize the dangerous threshold that the 287(g) agreements have crossed. She must deal directly and quickly with the real threat to peace and security here in Arizona, by terminating the 287(g) agreement with Sheriff Arpaio's office and joining the courageous members of Congress who have begun an investigation into his criminal behavior."
Noticeably absent from the day's activities were Arizona political leaders, other than the aforementioned Supervisor Wilcox. Not even local über-lefties such as state Representative Kyrsten Sinema and state House Democratic Minority Leader David Lujan were seen. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who showed some backbone in battles with Arpaio last year, was also absent.
Ditto for Congressman Ed Pastor, whose Fourth Congressional District includes central and south Phoenix and Guadalupe. In other words, it's his constituents who're being ravaged by Arpaio's racist minions. And where was Pastor? Hiding out in his D.C. offices?
But even though Wilcox was the only pol showing her colors, the protest emboldened an entire community. The night before the march, De la Rocha gave an impromptu a cappella performance at Tonatierra, on Seventh Street just south of Roosevelt. He spoke about the cathartic need for people who have been victimized and oppressed to resist.