Feathered Bastard

Zack de la Rocha Leads an Army of Thousands Against Arpaio's Racist Rule

My conservative estimate is that today 3,000 to 4,000 people braved 90 degree weather to march from Steele Indian School Park to the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse in downtown Phoenix to protest Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration abuses. 

Led by Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha, as well Phoenix civil rights activist Salvador Reza, and Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, protesters demanded an end to the federal 287(g) program, and specifically an end to the terror Arpaio's 160-man 287(g) force has instilled in immigrant communities in Maricopa County.

The eclectic and ethnically-diverse crowd waved signs reading "We Are Human," "Reform Not Raids," and "Joe Arpaio: Terrorist." Supervisor Wilcox and husband Earl joined hundreds in donning striped T-shirts with the word "UNSENTENCED" emblazoned across them, a reference to the images from Joe's recent, infamous "200 Mexican March," where the inmates wore such shirts, indicating that they had yet to be tried for their alleged offenses.

Banners compared Arpaio to a criminally insane dictator, and to, more simply, a clown. A crew of anarchists waved black flags. And, inexplicably, a jumbo, papier-mache-headed Donald Rumsfeld marched beneath a tasseled, anti- Arpaio umbrella. Before the marchers, Native American dancers led by Tonatierra's Tupac Acosta waved incense to bless the procession. Demonstrators chanted "Si, se puede," "No justice, no peace," and "Ain't no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people won't stop."

The march continued to grow as it snaked down Central Aveenue Initially, organizers had planned to stop at DHS/ICE offices, and then later at Cesar Chavez Plaza. But so many people kept joining the procession during its 3.7 mile trek that the event's leaders decided to keep going on to their stopping place: the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal building.

There, protesters packed themselves onto the plaza, and listened to remarks from Supervisor Wilcox, Puente's Salvador Reza, Derechos Humanos firebrand Isabel Garcia, Somos America's Hector Yturralde, Respect/Respeto's Lydia Guzman, and of course, RATM's Zack de la Rocha, who ripped the bark off Maricopa County's corrupt top constable.

"By parading human beings shackled in chain gang stripes," said De la Rocha, "in a misguided effort to collectively humiliate and to terrorize an entire population, he 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."

It felt as if De la Rocha spoke for all of us in that plaza. After all, other than Wilcox, no other elected official had the huevos to appear before that crowd and denounce Arpaio's ill-deeds. Sometimes it takes an artist to forge the path our civic leaders fear to tread.  

Is this a beautiful sight, or what?

As I took the light rail back to the park, where I'd left my vehicle, I remembered how De la Rocha had -- the night before at Tonatierra -- described the cathartic effect of resistance and defiance. Never in this city have I felt such a sense of kinship with its inhabitants. Sure, there had been a small group of nativist nimrods toward the end of the parade route, but no more than a 150 or so. Their numbers are dwindling, and they get older every time I see them: The same twisted faces filled with prejudice. The same pathetic collection of losers, blaming their life-failures on others, and finding fault with an entire ethnicity. 

My favorite memory of today's event is of two ladies who looked like they might be Hispanic soccer moms wearing T-shirts that read "Fuck Arpaio," with a line crossing out Sheriff Joe's mug. After spotting this evidence of boldness and irreverence from everyday folks, I really began to think to myself, "Si, se puede..."

(Bravo to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network for a very successful, peaceful march, without one arrest. And for bringing Zack De la Rocha to town.) 

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