Before today's successful march of thousands from the Wells Fargo building in downtown Phoenix to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's gulags, many in the Phoenix activist community tried to dissuade civil rights leader and march organizer Salvador Reza from taking on Arpaio in such a bold, uncompromising way. They feared violence. They feared a backlash from the public. They feared the worst.
But their fears did not come to pass. Today's Walk for Respect ended in a block party right in front of Sheriff Joe's Tent City. Some 2,000 marchers took over Durango Street and 31st Avenue in front of Joe's incarceration complex. The rally featured a high stage, from which Rage Against the Machine/One Day as a Lion frontman Zack de la Rocha and others spoke. Across the street, Arpaio did his best to distract media attention from the festivities, but he ended up retreating behind a huge MCSO truck, where he held a news conference for compliant journalists. He looked old and confused, and lacked the energy of his previous struts before the cameras.
Armed nativists stood on the south side of Durango, about 100 strong, their ranks bolstered by neo-Nazis such as J.T. Ready and "Vito Lombardi," who at one point began sieg heil-ing their opposition. Fortunately, Phoenix police were doing all of the crowd control Saturday, and the nativists' protectors' -- the beige-shirted MCSO deputies -- cowered near their aged leader. Bottom line: the MCSO was not in charge of its own territory. Instead, it ceded control for the day to at least 50 Phoenix PD, some of whom were on horseback.
Indeed, I am convinced that if the Phoenix cops had not been present, ugliness would have ensued. As the marchers came down Durango towards the neo-Nazis and nativist organizations such as United for a Sovereign America and Riders Against Illegal Aliens, a line of Phoenix officers separated the opposing camps.
The nativists and neo-Nazis hurled epithets at the marchers, calling them "scum" and "Mexcriment," while some defiled the Mexican tricolor under their boots. J.T. Ready waved a giant Confederate flag. U.S.A. member Barb Heller, wearing a surgical mask, screamed through a bullhorn for the crowd to go back to Mexico. (Sources tell me that items such as water bottles and fruit were tossed back and forth from the two sides, though I did not witness this myself.) I spoke to the neo-Nazis a bit, including J.T., and I'll include some of our dialogue in my next Bird column. They seemed to blend well with the usual nativist types. J.T. himself was once tight with U.S.A. founder Rusty Childress, and used to attend U.S.A. meetings.
But because of the efforts of both the Phoenix PD and the orange-shirted volunteers doing security for the pro-immigrant side, the march ended peacefully after a grueling five mile-plus walk in the warm May sun. A group of indigenous dancers, carrying incense, led the way. The marchers were in good humor, even as a black MCSO helicopter buzzed them at one point. They carried signs saying, "We are human, "Stop separating families," and "Silence is betrayal," this last one featuring a photo of Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted with Sheriff Joe.
Demonstrators chanted "Si se puede," "Hey-hey, ho-ho, Sheriff Joe's got to go," and "Arpaio racista, eres terrorista," which means, "Arpaio racist, you are a terrorist." They were cheered on as they walked through Mexican neighborhoods lined with car shops, little mercados, taquerias, and beauty parlors. At one point, Phoenix artist Michael 23 met up with the marchers in a black UFO equipped with a sound system. He allowed marchers to chant into his microphone, and mentioned that he and others inside the UFO were illegal "aliens." Heh. Good one, Michael.
Along the way, I spotted notable participants such as Tucson firebrand Isabel Garcia, former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez, Randy Parraz and Raquel Teran of Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability, former Guadalupe Mayor Rebecca Jimenez, ACORN organizer Monica Sandschafer, Respect/Repeto's Lydia Guzman, and cheeky Phoenix activist Adolfo Maldonado. Guadalupe's Socorro Bernasconi handed out water to marchers along the way, and my friend William Robles, a Guadalupe activist who on Thursday did his own march from Guadalupe to the Wells Fargo building, took up the rear, drumming on a huge black drum.
Down on Durango and 31st Ave, during the rally that took place at the march's end, Zack de la Rocha made a statement against Joe Arpaio and the 287(g) program that's awarded Joe federal immigration authority.
"It is because of your efforts tirelessly in the streets," he told the crowd, "marching and confronting [Arpaio's] racist policy, that his impunity is beginning to crumble. But it's not just about a bigoted and brutal man alone, but about the federal policy that empowers him. Many of us are here today to confront the racism and the destructive policy of the 287(g) agreements. The practice of this policy has unearthed what I consider to be one of the most dire human rights crises in this country right now.
"So we need to confront also, and get into the specifics of this ugly and brutal agreement. we need to confront the legal lynching that has been systematically woven into this policy as the line between civil law and criminal law has been all but erased, tearing apart the constitutional protections of those of us working here with our without documents."
As he had done the night before, De la Rocha read the entirety of the letter from Estrella Jail, published in this blog, which is from a group of women inside Estrella who are being abused by jail guards and kept from their children. Some in the crowd wiped away tears as De la Rocha read the letter, wherein the women state that, "We find ourselves here in a tunnel without an exit, being treated like dogs that are not deserving of anything."
I know there was a cameraman from CNN present. Hopefully, they got some footage of De la Rocha reading that letter. And if so, hopefully they will use it.