Archive for the 'Black-Latino Relations' Category

Occupy Oakland and the “Post-Racial” Repression of the Obama Era

October 26, 2011

While President Obama was telling the small crowd at a $7500-a-plate fundraiser in San Francisco that “Change is possible,” Pooda Miller was across the bay trying to get her plate back from the Oakland Police Department. “They came, pulled out rifles, shot us up with tear gas and took all our stuff,” said Miller, at an afternoon rally condemning the violent evacuation of more than 170 peaceful, unarmed Occupy Oaklanders by 500 heavily-armed members of the Oakland Police Department and other local departments yesterday morning.

With a long metal police fence separating Miller and other members of Occupy Oakland from their confiscated items—tents, water, food, clothes, medicine, plates—and now possessed by the police, Miller grabbed a big blue and white bullhorn that looked like it was almost half of her 4-foot, 5-inch frame. “Give us our stuff back! It don’t belong to you!” yelled Miller, who also expressed relief that her baby was not camped out with her that morning.

The sound of Miller’s ire shot across the protective masks of all of the officers standing at alert on the other side of the metal police fence, but her loudest, most acidic anger was saved for the baton-wielding officer who, like herself and other officers, was a young African-American woman.

“Who are you serving?” screamed Miller at the top of her high pitched voice, turned raspy from hours of denouncing. “You’re being used. You’re getting paid with our tax money to put down your own people! Why are you doing this to your own people?”

Miller’s questions about the role of race in the policing of Occupy Oakland points to what is and will continue to be the larger question in Oakland and other U.S. cities where former “minorities” are becoming majorities: What does it mean when those charged with defending elite interests against multi-racial and increasingly non-white activists are themselves multiracial and non-white? The ongoing protests, mayor recall, phone calls, emails and other pressure and pushback of Occupy Oakland are no longer aimed at cigar-smoking white men. They are aimed at a power structure in Oakland whose public face looks more like Miller and other non-white protesters.

Miller and others are calling for the recall of Jean Quan, who made history as Oakland’s first Asian-American mayor (full disclosure: Quan’s daughter is my Facebook friend); and they are complaining about the use of excessive police violence authorized by Interim Chief Howard Jordan, an African American. Such conflicts between former minorities are becoming the norm in what more conservative commentators call the “post-racial” era ushered in by the election of Obama.

Quan and Jordan are in the throes of dealing with a police department plagued by officer-involved shootings and killings, corruption and other crimes—crimes that have forced a federal consent decree to reform the department, after officers were convicted of planting evidence and beating suspects in West Oakland. Taking her cue from the Obama campaign of 2008, Quan announced Jordan’s appointment at a public safety forum titled “Creating Hope in the Community.”

Many like Miller and other Occupy Oaklanders are having second thoughts about what feels like the affirmative actioning of policing and state violence. Others, like Ofelia Cuevas of the University of California’s Center for New Racial Studies, see the workings of a not-so-21st-century pattern of policing and power.

“Having people of color policing people of color is not new,” said Cuevas. “This was part of policing history in California from the beginning. In the 1940s, while the federal government was interning Japanese Americans in camps, officials in Los Angeles were starting to recruit black police officers as a way to decrease police brutality.”

Cuevas noted that big city mayors like Quan or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are, by electoral and structural necessity, required to act like any of their predecessors, who headed up police forces that attacked, surveilled and even killed those perceived as a threat to the establishment. The Bay Area police’s violent modern history stretches from OPD’s assault on the Black Panther Party—which was founded just blocks from the center of Occupy Oakland, re-named Oscar Grant Plaza—to the killing of Grant, a young black man shot in the back by a transit police officer at a nearby train station.

“Being mayor is being pro-police. They perceive that it’s their job to crush what they consider threats to the status quo,” said Cuevas.

Regardless of who is Mayor or police chief, keeping the status quo is the last thing that Gaston Lau, a 21 year-old english major at University of California, Berkeley, sees as an option. “[Quan’s] support for this amount of police brutality here is ridiculous,” said Lau, who held a placard that said “Down, Down with Jean Quan.”

“The future power struggles are not just going to be about fights between one race and another,” said Lau. “They’re mostly going to be about class, which is a big part about what the whole Occupy movement is about.”

Lau is hopeful that the movement will inspire younger Asian Pacific Islanders to engage with the issues of the Occupy moment, but worries about the generational conflict such a political engagement entails. “Some older Chinese might see having one of our own as mayor as a source of pride, but we need to help them understand how Quan and police act against us.”

Despite the internal and external challenges posed by multicultural powers putting down multicultural movements, Lau is, like his Occupy Oakland peers, undeterred. Clashes between Occupiers and Oakland police continued into last night as protesters tried to reclaim the park and police met them with tear gas. The movement has vowed to continue attempting to return to the space. “Whether or not the mayor is Asian,” Lau said, “when she acts against the people, then we will respond as the people.”

Gracias for Teaching Me to Love the Bad Magical Words, Piri Thomas

October 19, 2011

Very sad to hear of the passing of Piri, a genuinely sweet man whose first book, Down These Means Streets, was definitive during my youth.Back when we were called “minorities,” the stories in that book legitimized our lives in literature.

As a curious  kid who grew up down the mean street from housing projects like those Piri wrote about, I had to walk secretly to get a chair that raised me high enough to reach the shelf where Piri’s book and the Autobiography of Malcolm X were hidden. These books were placed high on the shelf by my siblings and parents, who didn’t want 11 year-old me learning those  “malas palabras” (bad words) filling those pages.

My siblings and parents got it wrong: Piri’s words pulled and raised us up like the chair so that we could see the Good, and have some sense of our true stature; His words  were magical words written by a writer and committed soul whose journey from the grit & soul of Down These Mean Streets to the mellifluously sweet play captured in Every Child is Born a Poet touched this Word Wanderer Child forever. Gracias, Piri. Gracias, Companero. Piri Thomas, Presente!

Obama’s King Memorial Speech Calls for “Compassion to the Immigrant Family”, Obama’s Actions Don’t

October 16, 2011
“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed.” Mohandas K.Gandhi
During a speech made at dedication of the monument honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King today,President Obama declared in King-like cadences that slain civil rights leader “stirred our conscience.” Obama, who is desperately trying to win back Latino votes lost since 2008, went on in the speech to say that King reminds us “to show compassion to the immigrant family, with the knowledge that most of are just a few generations removed from similar hardships”

While Obama’s words about compassion for immigrant families are most welcome, Obama’s deeds and their effects on immigrants provide an astonishing contrast. As documented in Tuesday’s upcoming broadcast of Frontline’s Lost in  Detention, President Obama’s policies have led to the record-and-heart-breaking deportation of more than 1 million immigrants, the separation of thousands of families and the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands more. Lost in Detention documents how President Obama is exposing human beings, immigrant families held in immigrant prisons to rape and sexual abuse, racism, having to eat worm-infested and rotten food, the denial of basic rights and other subhuman and humiliating conditions.

You can the difference between immigrant fact and immigrant fiction, between words of change and deeds of degradation in the video clip we at Presente.org put together (see below). And don’t forget to watch Lost in Detention on Tuesday night and see for yourself.

Act Now to Stop the Obama Administration’s Racist 287G Immigration Policy

July 24, 2009

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Groups across the country are mobilizing to put pressure on Department
of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama to
end the devastation caused by the Obama Administration’s 287G program.

Denounced by l(some) police chiefs, several government officials and
many, many community groups, 287G is the program that allows local and
state law enforcement officials act as enforcers of federal
immigration law and provides the legal means for the racial profiling,
mass and arrests and other violations of the most basic civil and
human rights. The program enables the widespread and illegal practices
of notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Join the increasing numbers of Latinos, civil and immigrant rights
groups and others who are growing impatient about what they consider
the hypocrisy and duplicity of President Obama with regard to racial
profiling. In light of the massive amount of racial profiling taking
place under his recently expanded 287G program-a program Obama and
Napolitano recently expanded- many find lees-than-credible President
Obama’s statements concern about how the recent arrest Professor
Louis Gates reflects “a long history in this country of
African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement
disproportionately.”

The current target of what will be a series of actions to pressure the
Obama Administration is tonight’s appearance by Secretary Napolitano
on the Bill Maher show. Community groups are asking Maher to raise
racial profiling and other 287G issues during his interview

You can take several actions including:

Contact the Bill Maher Show on Facebook and ask them to raise the
issues with Napolitano- http://www.facebook.com/Maher?ref=t

And on twitter here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23billmaher

Press release for the action (complete with lots of hyperlinks) is
here: http://jornaleronews.ndlon.org/?p=349

And those of you in Los Angeles can join the protest and press
conference at Bill Maher’s studio tonight (more information below_

For Immediate Release // Excuse Cross Postings // Please Forward

Contact (Engish y Español): Loyda Alvarado, (323) 434- 8115
What: Press Conference, Rally, and Demonstration
Why: To Urge Bill Maher to Ask Secretary Napolitano about DHS
Racial Profiling Practices, 287(g), Joe Arpaio
Where: 7800 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA (Near corner of Beverly
and Fairfax)
When: Friday, July 24, 2009
Time: 5:30 to 7 pm

(Los Angeles) Immigrant, civil, and labor rights advocates will hold
a rally and press conference outside the taping of Real Time with Bill
Maher on Friday at 5:30 pm. Protestors will urge Mr. Maher to ask
tough questions of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano about her
relationship with the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
Specifically, Secretary Napolitano should be asked why DHS has not
severed its contract with Arpaio (Napolitano’s hometown sheriff), and
why DHS opted last week to expand a failed experimental Bush
immigration enforcement policy that has demonstrably resulted in mass
racial profiling.

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama used very
strong language to denounce racial profiling practices by local
police. However, last week week, Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the expansion of the
widely-criticized 287(g) program, which outsources federal
immigration enforcement authority to local sheriffs. In recent
years, Joe Arpaio has become a symbol of the program’s failure, as his
use of 287g has resulted widespread allegations of racial profiling.
The Department of Justice recently launched a high-profile
investigation of Arpaio’s practices. Indeed, Sheriff Arpaio’s
relationship with neo-nazi’s has been noted by Phoenix Mayor Phil
Gordon; Arpaio himself has said it’s an honor to be called KKK; and he
has even posed for photos with high-profile neo-nazi’s. The New
York Times has published several editorials calling for the
termination of the 287(g) program in general and Arpaio’s contract in
particular. Those editorials are available here, here, here, and
most recently, here.

Salvador Reza, a community leader in Phoenix, issued the following
statement: “Secretary Napolitano has the legal authority and the
moral obligation to end Arpaio’s reign of terror in her hometown of
Phoenix. Instead, she is expanding the 287(g) program and intends to
make the country look like Maricopa County. We hope Bill Maher has
the courage to ask hard questions of Secretary Napolitano.”
###

New Republic Attacks Judge Sotomayor With Sexist, Racist “Angry Latina” Meme

May 4, 2009

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It’s that time in the political year when, in addition to “swine flu” crisis, there’s also a sudden outbreak of another dreaded disease: expertise around Latino politics on the part of the fatally ignorant. Consider this specimen (handle such disguised hatred with extreme caution) from The New Republic’s (TNR) John Rosen, who makes the case against nomininating federal appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court:

“But despite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her Second Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to a range of people who have worked with her, nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges on the Second Circuit or former federal prosecutors in New York. Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

This double sexist, racist whammy has an old, even ancient history, a very deadly history (yes, Latinos have history, despite their absence on the History Channel and other outlets, Mikey) Rosen seems to draw upon with ease. See the whole article here.

Lest we forget, this is the same New Republic that pushed the “Latinos-will-not-vote-for-a- black-candidate” meme during the elections, elections in which almost 70% of Latinos voted for Obama. What’s fascinating is how TNR and other liberal publications, media where Latinos, Latino issues, Latino writers brillan por su ausencia (shine for their absence), are suddenly demonstrating expertise on Latino issues, Latino pols, judges, etc.

This is ripe for powerful pushback. Time we started challenging and hitting sexists, racists of the liberal variety too. Right wing Jewish groups of the extreme and liberal varieties waste no time attacking some of us as “anti-Semitic” when, for example, we join the chorus of global denunciation (including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Intl.) around the slaughter of Palestinian babies, using cluster bombs and other depredations and war crimes of the Israeli government. For those of you tempted to find an excuse to divert attention from the issues at hand, namely the racism and sexism of TNR, my statement means, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT AS OPPOSED TO JEWISH PEOPLE. so,please save it for Fox News watchers, the lobotomized or someone else with time to waste.

The opportunity here is to build out political space, political clout establishing that we will not tolerate such garbage from sexists, racists of the right wing or liberal variety.

The Age of Crimmigration is Upon Us: Latinos New Majority-In Federal Prisons

February 19, 2009

A Rising Share:  Hispanics and Federal Crime

A recently released report provides another startling indicator of how Latino demographics are being used to lead the United States into a new age, the Age of Crimmigration. Produced by the Pew Hispanic Center, the report found that Latinos are now the largest single ethnic group in the federal prison system.

Fueled, in large part, by changes to immigration law that have multiplied exponentially the ways in which undocumented immigrants can be prosecuted and jailed as criminals, the new Latino federal prison majority documented in the report provides definitive proof of the “crimmigration” thesis developed by legal scholars like Juliet Stumpf of the Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon. Stumpf’s groundbreaking paper, “The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, & Sovereign Power,” predicted how a lethal combination of forces-changes to immigration laws, political shifts, intensified prosecution and enforcement – would lead to what she called, in 2006, “the most important development in immigration law today: the convergence of immigration and criminal law.” On a less legalistic level,the news of the new Latino federal prison majority also means the convergence of hundreds of thousands of the poor white, black and Latino families in terms of their dealings with a prison system fed increasingly with immigrant bodies. Nearly half of all Latino offenders were convicted of immigration-related crimes, crimes that only became crimes as a result of relatively new sentencing laws and policies.

Although normalized over the course of several years by a confluence of separate but symbiotic interests – opportunistic politicians (Republican and Democrat), nationalistic and race-baiting media personalities, multi-billion dollar security and prison-industrial interests, “immigrant rights advocates” (and the major foundations that fund and legitimate them) promoting “smart” & “tough” immigration policies in exchange for legalization for 12 million undocumented-the immigrant=criminal axiom is, in legal terms, a relatively recent historical development. And it will likely worsen without major mobilizations from below.

As the new Latino federal prison majority overtakes the sizeable populations of whites and African Americans in federal facilities, it should be noted that the criminalization of immigrants and immigration policy described by the crimmigration thesis comes as an extension of previous legal and other institutional practices. For example, the exponential increase in laws facilitating the mass incarceration of mostly Latino migrants appears to follow the same pattern and logic that led to the exponential increase in the disproportionate drug sentencing laws and policies that led to the mass incarceration of African and other, mostly poor Americans. Without radical intervention from below or a definitive change of heart from above- or both, immigration laws will join drug laws as the drivers of the prison system in the Obama era.

Latinos already account for 40 percent of those convicted of federal crimes, a percentage that has doubled from 1991 to 2007 (see chart below). And, according to this report in the New York Times, “Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not United States citizens and most were sentenced in courts from one of the four states that border Mexico.” (contd. below chart)

(from NY Times)

nyt-crimmigration-stats

Because crimmigration combines two political third rails -criminal justice and immigrant rights-, legal reform, enforcement and prosecution and detention issues in immigration policy have been and may continue to be largely ignored by elected officials and other policy influentials. That candidate and now President Obama and his allies have remained largely silent on the crisis of incarceration and criminal justice in black and Latino communities does not bode well for the “hope” that the Obama administration will be willing to take on powerful lobbies of the fast growing immigration prison-industrial complex: aerospace, surveillance and prison-building industries like Halliburton and Boeing, prison guard unions (whose fasest-growing group are Latino prison guards), and super predatory private prison management firms like GEO. Soon, we will likely see increasing numbers of immigrants themselves joining the ranks of those profiting from mass imprisonment of immigrants.

But, if there’s an opportunity to be found (and there always is) in the cloudy complexities of crimmigration policy it is the realization that the silver lining is actually and truly black and brown. Growing Latino majorities in the already overcrowded federal penitentiary system are nothing if not an unprecedented opportunity to create a visionary, mass-based movement of blacks and Latinos and others committed to ending the disgrace that makes us the largest carcereal country on earth. Rather than operate piecemeal and in separate silohs, criminal justice and immigrant detention activists can together lead a powerful movement the likes of which this country has never seen. Crimmigration represents as much a historic opportunity as it does a great danger in times of economic and political crisis.

Upload Real Change: What Activists Must Learn From the Obama Campaign

November 19, 2008

A cover story I wrote for this month’s issue of Colorlines Magazine highlights what the Obama campaign can teach us the urgent necessity of combining offline (actual streets, communities) with online organizing. While we may or may not want to support Obama’s policies, we should study closely the epoch-making deployment of technology to advance political ends. Hope you like it. R

Issue #47, Nov/Dec 2008

Upload Real Change

By Roberto Lovato

WHILE CRISSCROSSING CRACKED STREETS to knock on the rickety doors of rundown row houses in Philadelphia’s 14th Ward, Liza Sabater also found herself crossing the overlapping lines of political and technological history late last spring as she canvassed for Barack Obama’s campaign.

“I got to spend some time with these Puerto Rican mechanics—guys most people wouldn’t expect to have Internet access,” said Sabater, an Afro-Puerto Rican technologist who blogs at culturekitchen and The Daily Gotham. “But there—among the wrenches and jacks—were their cell phones and handheld devices they use to surf the Web.”

Sabater, who helps nonprofits use technology to further their missions, canvassed in Philadelphia with her two sons and coordinated work in the 14th Ward with three Latino volunteers from the Obama campaign. She saw in the mechanics’ mobile devices proof of her belief that “the ‘digital divide’ is a crock when we realize that laptops and desktops aren’t the only ways to access the Web.” But was the Obama campaign reaching these mechanics on their cells?
•••
As they write future narratives of Obama’s astounding rise, historians will likely foreground how skillfully the “change” candidate maneuvered around the racial, geopolitical and economic terrain of our crises-ridden time. Lost in the background of most of these narratives will be how Obama, the former community organizer, took what he learned about mobilizing working- and middle-class residents on Chicago’s South Side and combined it with the stuff that actually wins elections: money, organizing and technology.

Obama’s campaign for the White House deployed in unparalleled ways Web. 2.0 tools—the set of technological developments that turned the World Wide Web into the ubiquitous, mobile, wireless and interactive Web we use today. As this issue of ColorLines went to production in late August, Obama’s Web site, Mybarackobama.com, was as interactive as any online social networking site. More than 10 million people had signed up at the site, and the campaign had raised millions of dollars. The Web site was the centerpiece of an online and offline political strategy that defeated the Clintons—one of the most powerful Democratic political dynasties—and, in the process, Obama took community organizing to new territory as he redefined the practice of electoral politics in the United States. Whatever the election results, Obama’s campaign demonstrated that it’s possible—and necessary—to go online and move people to action offline.

Sabater, who was born in New York’s El Barrio
neighborhood and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was one of the many who responded to the campaign’s appeal. She is still fascinated by how Obama’s team fused state-of-the-art media and technology with the community organizing that the candidate learned in poor communities. Yet while she thinks community-based organizations can learn from the online organizing methods innovated by the Obama campaign, she also sees reason for concern in the cracked streets of Philadelphia.
Sabater noted, for example, that although her fellow Obama campaign volunteers were by definition “Latinos,” it was a poor decision on the part of the campaign to send three middle-class Chicanos from the west coast to a predominantly working-class, Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican neighborhood.

“When my colleagues told me ‘we don’t speak Spanish’ and couldn’t interact with the people, I saw the interface problem,” said Sabater, adding, “I saw the disconnect between the online and offline strategies, both of which are focused on middle-class people. Nobody’s reaching out and targeting these working-class communities of color with technology. They don’t think that the mechanics and maids use technology or vote.” The Obama campaign fell through the cultural cracks in the street, while members in the community fell through the technological cracks of the campaign’s Web strategy.

“The (Obama) campaign created a fantastic interface for people to join the campaign,” Sabater said. “But it didn’t do as well in reaching people who don’t have laptops and whose technology is primarily their cell phones. There’s an age and class and race gap.”

Sabater saw these gaps while trolling the same streets canvassed in a previous era by W.E.B. Du Bois, who went door-to-door documenting how railroad tracks in Jim Crow Philadelphia served as a wood-and-steel color line dividing poor, politically disenfranchised Black neighborhoods from wealthier white neighborhoods where electoral participation was encouraged and expected.

Today, Sabater and others concerned with poor communities must prepare for similar but perhaps more nuanced racial, political and economic divisions in the city of brotherly love and other urban areas. If left to the folks who ran the Obama campaign, equity and freedom may well depend on which side of the silicon and fiber optic tracks a person lives on. If activists take to heart the lessons of this last presidential campaign, though, we might just see what political changes can happen among poor people when we combine media and technology with street-level political organizing beyond elections.
•••
Anyone dealing with what are traditionally defined as “racial” or “social justice” issues (housing, labor, criminal justice, immigration, LGBT, women’s issues, etc.) will have to figure out the “interface” problems identified by Sabater and others like U.C. Berkeley’s danah boyd. A digital anthropologist, boyd caused considerable controversy when she wrote a paper in 2007 positing that MySpace was more working-class than Facebook, which she says tends to cater to older, more elite social networkers.

Whether we deploy MySpace or Facebook, those
of us committed to pursuing the possibility of bottom-up democracy in the digital age will also have to confront
the same kinds of issues Benjamin Franklin identified in Philadelphia. Back when newspapers began their long reign as the defining medium of politics, Franklin wrote: “Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion.” But one definitive difference between Franklin’s age and ours is the degree to which our economy, our government and politics, and even our culture are for better and for worse being fundamentally reconfigured by media and digital technology.

The need to deploy media and technology as a force on those who govern is a daily concern for Chris Rabb, a Philadelphia resident, entrepreneur and founder of the popular political blog Afro-Netizen. Of particular concern to Rabb is the urgent need for Black, Latino and other communities to use media to flatten the deeply entrenched political pyramids built by the large national Black and Latino nonprofits born in the waning decades of the industrial age in the United States. Many of these nonprofits, he says, center power in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the majority of Blacks and Latinos who are far from the Beltway.

“Hierarchies in Black and brown communities are as bad as in any other community,” said Rabb, who also consults with nonprofit organizations about how to make media and technology a component of their core strategy. “There’s so little power that people hold on to power as long as they can. Blacks are the most urban, overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning community in the country, but we have the least democracy. Black politicians last forever, and lots of our [nonprofit] organizations tend to be run by people who stay there for life.”

Rabb thinks the stunning accomplishments of the Obama campaign mirror the ways in which technology gives communities the capacity to self-organize on a scale never before seen.

“We need to study the Obama movement,” he asserted. “They weren’t the first to use the media in this way, but he came along at that precise moment when the technology had matured, when the audience of media users had reached critical mass.”

To illustrate his point, Rabb mentions the Jena 6 movement, which, he said, used media and technology to alter the game of “ethnic” politics. Initially ignored by the mainstream media and major civil rights organizations, as well as by traditional leaders, bloggers concerned about the Jena 6 case, like Color of Change’s James Rucker and Rabb, took their case directly to the community by using the Web.

By combining Web 2.0 tools—blogs, MySpace, and other social networking sites and interactive websites— with traditional media like radio and newspapers, the more youthful organizers of the Jena 6 movement made it politically impossible for mainstream Black leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP leaders to ignore the cause. The tech-savvy organizers gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Web, and in the process, they informed, engaged and activated constituents. Similar media and generational dynamics can be found in the immigrant rights movement.

Policy people at the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum and the majority of large Latino and immigrant rights organizations were in the throes of defensiveness before the onslaught of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which sought to criminalize the undocumented. One jaded policy analyst told me at that time that the Republicans “are going to push Sensenbrenner through—and there’s nothing we can do.” Apparently, someone forgot to communicate the analyst’s resignation to the local and regional grassroots groups who used media and technology to organize the largest simultaneous mass mobilizations in U.S. history in 2006.

Like those organizing the movement in support of the Jena 6, the local and regional networks at the core of the immigrant rights movement also deployed a number of media tools to bypass the lethargic hierarchies of the larger Washington-based groups. Many in the media focused their coverage on better-funded and (mainstream) media-savvy groups in the Beltway who rallied behind different versions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which, in its “bipartisan tradeoff” combined legalization with some of the most punitive immigration proposals in U.S. history. Left out of this coverage was the galaxy of organizations opposed to McCain-Kennedy.

In the face of such a limiting of the political debate around immigration, local and regional activists combined old-school media with a big “M” (television, radio, bullhorns and butcher paper) with new-school media with a small “m” (MySpace, text messaging, cell phones, radio, video and YouTube). Suddenly, mainstream media outlets were forced to cover the political messages that Latino teens were sending with their cell phones in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in rural Oregon.

While the mainstream media’s immigration coverage remains in its default position of focusing on the larger, better-funded national immigrant groups in Washington, activists like Sabater are combining online and offline organizing to influence the political process around and coverage of immigration and other issues that strongly impact Latinos. Sabater joined other bloggers to form the Sanctuary, a bloggers’ hub that combines information-sharing with offline activism. Members of the Sanctuary developed a survey of the presidential candidates and received coverage by CNN and other media outlets who usually interview only the National Council of La Raza and other large Latino organizations when it comes to “Latino issues.” At a time when political theorists like Manuel Castells tell us that “media is the space of politics,” the old rules just don’t apply, and that can be good news for poor communities of all colors.
•••
Regardless of the election outcome, Rabb, Sabater and others see valuable lessons in how the Obama campaign positioned itself to benefit from the epic self-organizing movement enabled by Web 2.0. It’s especially critical for activists (and everyone else, for that matter) to learn how the Obama campaign used its Web site,
Mybarackobama.com. More than 10 million people signed up at the site, and 1.5 million of those donated money. At the site, the campaign provided volunteers and organizers with campaign literature, virtual meeting spaces and other resources. Even viewers who might have been skeptical of Obama as a candidate or those not interested in electoral politics couldn’t help but be a bit curious. At every turn, the site insisted on interactivity. In August, a huge banner on the site stated: “Who will be Barack’s VP? Be the First to Know. Sign Up Now.” Below it was the “make a difference” banner with ways to volunteer and find local events, and then, of course, there was the “Obama Map”—where a few clicks and the inputting of zip codes got Americans tuned in to groups supporting Obama in their neighborhoods. Indeed, by the time Obama’s party gave him the official nomination in August, journalists and historians were already pointing out how the multimedia-genic Obama fit well with the media of his time as did Kennedy at the dawn of the age of television.

“The next step of activism is for grassroots groups to connect online and offline organizing like Obama did, but targeting working-class people,” said Sabater. “And the first step is for us to learn how our communities use their media and to engage them on their own terms.”

Rabb agreed. “The big question is whether activists for social justice can make the leap from what an organizer candidate did in the presidential cycle to the kind of organizing needed at a time when media and technology are so central to the work of government and power,” he said.

Rabb believes that groups who are organizing communities need to prioritize breaking down the barriers that separate media from their programmatic work. “It’s the very nature of organizing to want to reach audiences on race, class, immigration and other issues” he said, adding, “People have to get with the fact that media’s not replacing but complementing and enhancing their ability to do more with less, to achieve better and greater outcomes.”

Roberto Lovato is a writer with New America Media based in New York City.

The Immigrant Vote & the Need to Denounce Nancy Pelosi

October 24, 2008

On the heels of Nancy Pelosi’s statement reversing the Democrats commitment to push immigration reform in the first 100 days of the next political year, this interview with the Bay Area’s Your Call show with Rose Aguilar was pitch perfect in its timing. Rose, her guests and I got to explore and discuss the historic role of the immigrant and Latino vote in this year’s Presidential election. And it was quite a good omen to be able to discuss Pelosi’s controversial statement – “maybe there never is a path to citizenship if you came here illegally”- on one of the most widely-heard public radio stations in her district. As I did during the show I will do now: If you live in the Bay Area and are incensed, concerned or angered at this naked betrayal by Pelosi and the Democrats, then go and give her office an earful; Those of you that can might even consider going and sitting in at her office until she retracts these statements (some of Pelosi’s DC-based friends in the nonprofit world are saying it was a “slip”). So, check out the show here!

Overwhelming Majority of Latino Newspapers-and Their Readers- Back Obama

October 22, 2008

Hispanic Newspapers and Magazines network

In another blow to the racial-myth-making machine that brought us the Latinos-won’t-vote-for-a-black-candidate farce, the country’s Latino media have come out overwhelmingly in favor of Democrat Barack Obama. Research conducted by the Latino Print Network, a trade association of magazines and newspapers, found that

“89% of the Hispanic publications that have announced who they will be supporting in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election have come out for Obama. 68 of the publications surveyed have come out for Obama – and their combined circulation is 3.3 million. Only 8 Hispanic publications have announced for McCain, and their combined circulation is 95,854 – a mere 3% of the circulation of the publications endorsing Obama.”

Further burying the myths perpetrated by an unholy alliance – the Clinton’s, their surrogates, the GOP, academics like Duke University’s Paula D. McClain, the New Yorker, CNN and dozens of other institutional interests- is the research about the readers of these Latino papers. According to the LPN report,

“Preliminary results from the 2008 National Hispanic Readership Study have found that 57% of the readers of Hispanic newspapers who will be voting this November will be voting for Barack Obama, 7% for John McCain and 36% are still undecided or declines to state.”

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And, the report also confirms suspicions that the same immigrants who chanted “Ahorra Marchamos, Manana Votamos!” are leading us into the Era of Latino Blowback against the GOP (hopefully, they’ll get to racist Dems soon). According to the report, “Research found that only 19% of the readers surveyed were born in the U.S.”

Who would’ve figured even 6 months ago that Latinos, the racist people most of our black and white pundits told us were unwilling to vote for a black candidate, would now be poised to deliver the death blow to the Republican party in key swing states by voting for Barack Obama, the black son of an immigrant? Either somebody’s gone through a mass change of racial attitudes or some smaller group inhabiting the country’s editorial rooms needs to go through just such a turn of mind and heart.

The Saints Have Spoken: San Martin de Obama Will Win By a Divine Landslide

October 21, 2008

This just in from the Great Beyond: Barack Obama has been hiding secretly in the heart and soul of Latino, African and Afro-Latino América all along. This most recent Good News bodes badly for the purveyors of the media’s urban legend about Latino’s near-genetic predisposition not to vote for a black person ; Speaking of our spiritual and genetic DNA, the Good News also reminds us that Latinos, millions of whom have more than a few drops of black blood, have black skin, dance to African-infused music, eat African foods, etc. have, after all, only been praying to black saints for centuries. In my childhood house, San Martin and San Judas were, from earliest times, there protecting us in almost every room of the house – and now they’re protecting the house of our planet from destruction.

Look, yee unbelievers, look with your own faithless eyes, for it is so

Though it may provide but another weak weapon to the army of fear and hate that is the McCain-Palin progrom, this breaking news from on high also portends bad things for those who look into the Big Blue Eyes of Jesus before bashing immigrants, black people, gays & lesbianas, Latinas and a host of other infidels. In the minds of the Saints and Gods that guide us, the hateful among us have already been defeated. Unfortunately for that other rotting temple of false and falling idols, el Partido Democrata, the divine winds will also smash the statue of that other False God, San Obama de Corporate America, whose other manifestation sometimes takes the form of ex-Clinton Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin. You need only believe. For it is written in the book of Eleggua; You can hear it in the coming thunder of Shango; It is done. Aché to my good friend Carlos Cordova for giving us the Good News from the Gods.

Historic Black Latino Summit Previews Power of Solidarity- & Intimacy

October 8, 2008

I had the privilege and pleasure to attend this week’s Black-Latino Summit (BLS) held in Los Angeles on Sunday and Monday. Organized by Policy Link and the William C. Velazquez Institute, the BLS brought together more than 500 black and Latino leaders and activists who spent 2 days debating and discussing the history and future and concerns and shared agenda of our respective communities.

To their credit, BLS organizers opted not to include the media in their event, which , I think, says much about the commitment to go beyond much of the foto op opportunism that usually passes for “Black-brown unity.” I believe they are sincerely trying to develop an agenda. While I’m not at liberty to provide details of the intense planning that took place, I can say that they distributed and discussed position papers (see the Summit web page) around a number of critical issues including criminal justice, education and jobs, immigration and several other issues. And issues of the spirit and heart were also at the center of discussions.

One preliminary learning I bring back with me has to do with the enormous challenge we have before us in terms of moving the ripples of such momentous events beyond the local discussion of the 500 attendees. More specifically, I realized that one of, perhaps the, primary antidotes to the mediation of black-Latino relations by the MSM is obvious, fundamental, yet elusive: intimacy. Listening to the attendees articulate and struggle with feelings, thoughts and plans, it became clear to me that we need to short circuit the electric organization of our senses and thoughts by our increasingly noxious media system, especially around race. The struggle to allow ourselves to be vulnerable within our selves and with others, is the best way I know to dispel and decimate the racial workings that really do divide us. More on this later. For now, stay tuned for the next, more public events of the BLS beginning with a followup meeting in Washington DC in the Spring, when the new President will be greeted with a well-thought out and defined agenda for the Blacks, Latinos and the entire country. Stay tuned to the BLS website.

Interview on Latino Fiction(s): McCain, Obama and “Latino Vote” Construct

July 15, 2008

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This interview with Uprising Radio’s Sonali Kolhatkar touches upon the untouchable issues of the Latino politic: corporate and Pentagon underwriting of Latino events like the Presidential forums, the candidates’ silence on immigrant death and detention, the Pentagon’s desperate need to recruit Latino kids and other issues. Fellow guest, Nativo Lopez of MAPA and I dissect the many fictions that make up this idea of the “Latino vote” and do, I believe a decent, even good job. So, check it out here:

Uprising Radio Interview

Clinton Wins Puerto Rico, a Colony With 0 Bearing on the General Election

June 2, 2008

Touting her victory in Puerto Rico as another sign that she is the best candidate to win a general election, Hillary Clinton told supporters that the “show of overwhelming support,” gives her more reason to continue her statistical Lost Cause

Unfortunately, her statement runs smack into the tragic historical reality of the Puerto Rican condition: colonialismo. As a de facto U.S. colony stolen from Spain, the island and, more importantly, the island’s inhabitants occupy a second class status vis a vis the land we imperial citizens sleep and work in. More specifically, the colonial status of Puerto Rico disenfranchises Puerto Ricans, who, though they are U.S. citizens, are not allowed to vote in general elections.

So when the Clinton’s trumpet the PR vote as some indicator of that general election inevitability they’ve lost since Iowa, they’re being dishonest. In addition, they are winning in what is an anomaly this election year in the Latino U.S.: a low turnout Latino election. While Latinos in other primaries are voting a stupendously high 59% more than in 2004, Puerto Rico is also witnessing record turnouts too-record low turnouts, as my friend Liza Sabater points out.

Neither does this vote say anything about Latino predisposition to vote for Obama in a general election. Nothing in the historical or recent record indicates that there’s even a sliver of truth of Latino unwillingness to vote for either black candidates generally or for Barack Obama specifically. Nothing. Though they do not come out and say it, the Clinton message has been and continues to be, “My Latinos will not vote for a black man-but they’ll vote for me.”

With Latinos voting Democratic at an average of 78% in this year’s primaries (versus somewhere between 56-73% -in 2004 primaries), the Clinton’s attempts to instill fear of a return of some Latinos to the glaringly white tent of Republicanism will likely fail regardless of who the Democratic candidate

If Spanish language, mainstream and other media did their job, Latinos might better-know the unprecedented and breathtaking amount of prevarication, racial tomfoolery and naked manipulation the Clinton’s have inserted into our political process, they might not vote for them at all. So, you see, manufactured consent works for both Republicans and Democrats.

Obama on Latin America: “Small Change”, If Any

May 29, 2008

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(this article first appeared in the Black Agenda Report)

by Roberto Lovato

Many of us had great “hope” for the much-vaunted “change” in U.S. policy towards Latin America. But listening to Barack Obama’s “substantive” speech on U.S. Latin America policy last week and reading his “New Partnership with the Americas” policy proposal, it’s pretty clear that Obama will do nothing to alter the basic structure of George W. Bush’s Latin America policy: trade backed by militarism.

Given the painful failure and generalized destruction wrought by the last century of U.S. policy in the hemisphere, the basic outline of “substantive” policy towards America Latina should look something like this

  • Immediate de-escalation of tensions between Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and US ally/surrogate Colombia. One would hope that, in the face of the atrocities in Colombia, Ubama would add a condemnation as loud as those Democrats wield at Cuba, whose violation of sovereignty (condemned by OAS) and human rights record-death squad killings, disappearances, torture of thousands-pales before that of Colombia;

  • Holding up Colombia’s multi-billion dollar military aid package would also indicate some substance;

  • Dismantling NAFTA, CAFTA and other trade and economic policies (ie some IMF and World Bank programs) that destroy livelihoods and communities (nay regions), bust government budgets and further enrich the elites in these countries;

  • Ending the embargo on Cuba. Will Obama stop beating the tattered political pinata of Cuba or simply spin it a little differently, hit it more gently?

  • Ending the low intensity destabilization programs in Venezuela and Bolivia;

  • Re-negotiating Bush’s crop-killing ethanol program;

  • Aborting Plan Mexico, which is already Colombianzing (ie; drug wars, anti-insurgent war, repression against opposition under cover of national security, etc.) a country that, for more than 80 years, has lived without the imposition of military rule. U.S. Presidents from Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Carter have paid for the arming of death squads who kidnap and torture jurists, journalists, union members and ordinary citizens as our “Latin American policy”;

  • Placing migration policy within the hemispheric context in which it originates;

  • Closing the School of the Americas and the ILEA training facility in El Salvador, both of which are factories for barbarism under the guise of national security.

With some important exceptions – engaging Venezuela, reconfiguring the World Bank and IMF, environmental agreements- his current approach to Latin America veers only slightly to the left of Bushismo. There is little in his speeches and proposals that is “liberal”, “progressive” or very enlightened in terms of easing the crush of poverty and repression in the region. In fact, Obama’s proposals for continuing and expanding the drug war in the hemisphere will only complete the efforts of the Bush Administration to re-militarize the region under cover of fighting drug wars.

In the search for post-Cold War enemies, the Bush Administration found its new excuse to militarize the region in the drug cartels, who, must be dealt with, but not in the Bush way.

Obama should know better.

The full text of Obama’s Miami speech can be found here.

Barack Obama’s “New Partnership For Latin America” also outlines his Latin America policies, and is located here.

Below are quotes from and brief analyses of these documents.

SUBJECT
WHAT OBAMA’S SPEECH & DOCUMENTS SAY WHAT THEY MEAN
On the brutal 46 year embargo of Cuba I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice…” Traveling to, or doing business in or with Cuba will remain illegal under US law. Academics and artists from Cuba will be denied visas, no cultural exchange permitted.
On US responsibility for deposing President Aristide and imposing the current regime poverty and terror upon Haiti Nothing The policy will not change
On US funding of the brutal war and death squad regime of Colombia When I am President, we will continue the Andean Counter-Drug Program, and update it to meet evolving challenges. We will fully support Colombia’s fight against the FARC. We’ll work with the government to end the reign of terror from right wing paramilitaries. We will support Colombia’s right to strike terrorists who seek safe-haven across its borders. And we will shine a light on any support for the FARC that comes from neighboring governments. ” The policy will not change. The Colombian government has a blank check and a green light to murder and engage in cross-border provocations at will.
On the US continuing low-intensity war against Venezuela In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is a democratically elected leader. But we also know that he does not govern democratically. He talks of the people, but his actions just serve his own power. Yet the Bush Administration’s blustery condemnations and clumsy attempts to undermine Chavez have only strengthened his hand.” Destabilization attempts under an Obama administration may be less blustery and clumsy.

Juan Crow Grows More Violent: Latino Activists Face Death Threats in Georgia

May 27, 2008

The forces of anti-immigrant, anti-Latino hate have opened up another front in their relentless war: death threats targeting not just immigrants, but the activists who support them.

This story from the Atlanta Latino and translated by New America Media, details recent death threats made against immigrant rights activist Rich Pellegrino. A note was delivered to Pellegrino while his daughters were playing the the yard of his home in Cobb County, an Atlanta suburb.

As I’ve written here, the situation of Latinos in Georgia-and in many parts of the U.S. bears more than a passing resemblance to the situation faced by African Americans under Jim Crow. Especially disconcerting is what appears to be the increasing propensity to violence on the part of the anti-migrant, anti-Latino sectors of U.S. society as a whole. Nowhere is this propensity more clear than in recent FBI hate crimes statistics that show a 35% increase in hate crimes against Latinos between 2003 and 2006.

This most recent incident in Georgia joins a series of violent incidents targeting Latinos including

· The 2007 arrest white supremacist group preparing to attack Mexican immigrants near Birmingham, Ala. with grenades, semi-automatic weapons and 2,500 rounds of ammunition.

· The arrest last year of Tyler J. Froatz Jr., a 24 year-old Washington DC area man wielding a gun as he allegedly attacked marchers at a local immigration rally. Police found a 15 guns, a Molotov cocktail, a grenade and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in his aparment.

· Thousands of raids, many of which are violent, on homes and workplaces

How much of this has been reported?

And when it is reported, we will see the usual rearguard attempts to wash such crimes away in the muddy waters of white supremacist groups. This will only further endanger us. Nothing less than serious, consistent and concerted local and national actions will suffice, actions targeting the 2 primary promoters of anti-migrant, anti-Latino violence in the United States: the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) and high-powered media companies (as opposed to their rabid on-air personalities) and their advertisers. Screaming “stop the raids” or “we are not criminals” or “stop the lies” are important to do, but this approach has proven a patent failure in terms of curtailing in any way the escalation of violence.

And given recent violent developments in places like the Dominican Republic or South Africa, the time to take more radical measures is now, before God knows what will be unleashed in the event a deeper economic downturn predicted this week by Warren Buffet or if and when another attack by militant extremists takes place.

If you want to end these attacks, you have to make it too expensive to profit politicall and economically from verbal, visual and physical violence against immigrants. In words given to a friend by the Reverend Martin Luther King, “When you impact the rich man’s ability to make money, anything is negotiable.”

It’s that simple.

Radio Nation Interview: Politics, Economics and Psychology of Exploitation in the U.S. South

May 17, 2008

RADIO NATION with Laura Flanders

Check out this deeper delving into the workings of oppression and social control – and the movement response to- in the deep South. As always, Laura Flanders just shines as she illuminates with her smart line of questioning and discussion. Check it out.

Radio Nation Interview on Juan Crow

Juan Crow

May 8, 2008
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The Nation.

Juan Crow in Georgia

by Roberto Lovato

This article appeared in the May 26, 2008 edition of The Nation.

May 8, 2008

Justeen Mancha’s dream of becoming a psychologist was born of the tropical heat and exploitation that have shaped farmworker life around Reidsville, Georgia, for centuries. The wiry, freckle-faced 17-year-old high school junior has toiled in drought-dry onion fields to help her mother, Maria Christina Martinez. But early one September morning in 2006, Mancha’s dream was abruptly deferred.

From the living room of the battered trailer she and her mother call home, Mancha described what happened when she came out of the shower that morning. “My mother went out, and I was alone,” she said. “I was getting ready for school, getting dressed, when I heard this noise. I thought it was my mother coming back.” She went on in the Tex-Mex Spanish-inflected Georgia accent now heard throughout Dixie: “Some people were slamming car doors outside the trailer. I heard footsteps and then a loud boom and then somebody screaming, asking if we were ‘illegals,’ ‘Mexicans.’ These big men were standing in my living room holding guns. One man blocked my doorway. Another guy grabbed a gun on his side. I freaked out. ‘Oh, my God!’ I yelled.”As more than twenty Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents surrounded the trailer, said Mancha, agents inside interrogated her. They asked her where her mother was; they wanted to know if her mother was “Mexican” and whether she had “papers” or a green card. They told her they were looking for “illegals.”

After about five minutes of interrogation, the agents–who, according to the women’s lawyer, Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed no warrants and had neither probable cause nor consent to enter the home–simply left. They left in all likelihood because Mancha and her mother didn’t fit the profile of the workers at the nearby Crider poultry plant, who had been targeted by the raid in nearby Stilwell. They were the wrong kind of “Mexicans”; they were US citizens.

Though she had experienced discrimination before the raid–in the fields, in the supermarket and in school–Mancha, who testified before Congress in February, never imagined such an incident would befall her, since she and her mother had migrated from Texas to Reidsville. Best known for harvesting poultry and agricultural products, Reidsville, a farm town about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta, is also known for harvesting Klan culture behind the walls of the state’s oldest and largest prison. But its most famous former inmate is Jim Crow slayer and dreamer Martin Luther King Jr. His example inspires Mancha’s new dream: lawyering “for the poor.”

The toll this increasingly oppressive climate has taken on Mancha represents but a small part of its effects on noncitizen immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, and other Latinos. Mancha and the younger children of the mostly immigrant Latinos in Georgia are learning and internalizing that they are different from white–and black–children not just because they have the wrong skin color but also because many of their parents lack the right papers. They are growing up in a racial and political climate in which Latinos’ subordinate status in Georgia and in the Deep South bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans who were living under Jim Crow. Call it Juan Crow: the matrix of laws, social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit undocumented immigrants. Listening to the effects of Juan Crow on immigrants and citizens like Mancha (“I can’t sleep sometimes because of nightmares,” she says. “My arms still twitch. I see ICE agents and men in uniform, and it still scares me”) reminds me of the trauma I heard among the men, women and children controlled and exploited by state violence in wartime El Salvador. Juan Crow has roots in the US South, but it stirs traumas bred in the hemispheric South.

In fact, the surge in Latino migration (the Southeast is home to the fastest-growing Latino population in the United States) is moving many of the institutions and actors responsible for enforcing Jim Crow to resurrect and reconfigure themselves in line with new demographics. Along with the almost daily arrests, raids and home invasions by federal, state and other authorities, newly resurgent civilian groups like the Ku Klux Klan, in addition to more than 144 new “nativist extremist” groups and 300 anti-immigrant organizations born in the past three years, mostly based in the South, are harassing immigrants as a way to grow their ranks.

Meanwhile, a legal regime of distinctions between the rights of undocumented immigrants and citizens has emerged and is being continually refined and expanded. A 2006 Georgia law denies undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses. Federal laws that allowed local and state authorities to pursue blacks under the Fugitive Slave Act appear to be the model for the Bush Administration’s Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (ACCESS) program, which allows states to deputize law enforcement officials to chase, detain, arrest and jail the undocumented. Georgia’s lowest-paid workers, the undocumented, now occupy a separate, unequal and clandestine place that has made it increasingly difficult for them to work, rent homes or attend school.

The pre- and post-Reconstruction regional economic system centered on the stately Southern mansions that once graced Atlanta’s storied Peachtree Street has given way to a more global finance-driven system centered on the cold, anonymous skyscrapers that loom over Peachtree today. And in a more hopeful sign, some veterans of the civil rights struggle against Jim Crow are joining Latino immigrants in what will likely be one of the major movements of the twenty-first century.

These and other facets of immigrant life in Georgia, the Deep South and the entire country are but a small part of the labyrinthine institutional and cultural arrangements defining the strange career of Juan Crow.

The immigrant condition in Georgia worsened in the wake of the failed immigration reform proposal last year. The national immigration debate had the effect of further legitimizing and emboldening the most extreme elements of the anti-immigrant movement in places like Georgia. Since the advent of what he terms “Georgiafornia,” for example, D.A. King, a former marine and contributor to the anti-immigrant hate site VDARE, has leapfrogged into the national limelight to become one of the major advocates for deportation and security-only “immigration reform.” Strengthened by the defeat of national reform, King, State Senator Chip Rogers and a growing galaxy of formerly fringe groups succeeded in getting some of the country’s most draconian anti-immigrant laws passed. These new racial codes are disguised by the national security-infused bureaucratic language of laws with names like the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act (GSICA).

Their efforts were egged on by the Bush Administration’s implementation of the ACCESS program last August. ACCESS provided new excuses for state and local officials to pursue the undocumented in states like Georgia. In tandem with the federal government, King and Rogers led the push to pass GSICA, which requires law enforcement officers to investigate the citizenship status of anyone charged with a felony or driving under the influence. GSICA and federal efforts laid the foundation on which the other legal and social structures of Juan Crow grow.

Georgia’s estimated 500,000 undocumented immigrants must think twice before seeking emergency support at hospitals or clinics because of laws that require them to prove their legal status before receiving many state benefits. “No-match letter” regulations requiring all employers to confirm the Social Security numbers of their employees have been issued by the Social Security Administration and have resulted in firings and growing fear among immigrants. But even without the no-match letters, undocumented immigrants in Georgia have many reasons to fear going to work. If they work at a company with more than 500 employees, for example (and most undocumented immigrants are employed in meatpacking, agricultural, carpet and other industries with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of workers), they must worry about laws that punish employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants and mandate that firms with state contracts check the immigration status of their employees. Similar laws denying or restricting housing, education, transportation and other aspects of immigrant life are also being instituted across Georgia.

For a firsthand look at how the interplay of state and federal policies fuels Juan Crow, one need go no further than the immigrant-heavy area surrounding Buford Highway in DeKalb County, near Atlanta. During the weekend of October 18, 2007, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and other advocacy groups from across the state reported sharp increases in arrests of immigrants in the area. “This weekend alone we received more than 200 phone calls from people telling horrible stories of arrests,” said GLAHR executive director Adelina Nicholls of Mexico City. “There are hundreds of Latinos who’ve been hunted down like animals, taken to jail, and they don’t even know why or whether or not they’ll be released,” said Nicholls more recently.

Nicholls and other advocates are working feverishly in response to the exponential increase in official and extra-official profiling of immigrants. Last year there were forty-four reported armed robberies of DeKalb County-area Latino immigrants in August alone. One especially outrageous incident took place just west of Atlanta, in the rural town of Carrollton, last June. Emelina Ramirez, a Honduran immigrant, called local police to report that her roommates were attacking her, punching and kicking her in the stomach. Ramirez was pregnant. Locals say that when police got to Ramirez’s apartment, officers handcuffed her, took her to jail and then ran her fingerprints through a federal database. After discovering that she was undocumented, they contacted federal authorities as stipulated under ACCESS and GSICA. Ramirez was then deported.

Nicholls says she and GLAHR staff exist in a perpetual state of exhaustion after having to expand their DeKalb County work to deal with cases like Ramirez’s. Adding to their load is the situation in nearby Cobb County, where the local jail has 500 adults captured on streets, at work and in their homes. All of these people, says Nicholls, are awaiting deportation.

Beneath the growing fear and intensifying racial tensions of Georgia lies the new, more globalized economic system that sustains Juan Crow. At the core of the economy in Dixie are the financial dealings taking place in the shiny towers of Peachtree Street, buildings constructed atop the ashes of plantation houses.

Lining Peachtree today are SunTrust, Bank of America and other titans of global finance with major operations in downtown Atlanta. Along with the financial players of Charlotte, North Carolina, the companies occupying the towers on Peachtree are among the prime movers behind the transformation and restructuring of the Georgia economy–and of its race relations. On Peachtree you can find US banks and financial firms investing in companies doing business in post-NAFTA Latin America, where nonunion labor and miserably low wages drive immigration to Georgia and other states. The investment portfolios of many of these companies have grown fat with high-yield investments in the poultry, meatpacking, rug, tourism and other Georgia industries employing undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. The need to keep down the wages of these undocumented workers is fulfilled with the legal, political and psychological discipline of Juan Crow. Along with the most visible legacy of Jim Crow–Georgia’s massive and growing population of black prisoners, housed in Reidsville and other, mostly rural prisons–the Peachtree State’s undocumented immigrants find themselves at the bottom of the South’s new political and economic order.

By keeping down wages of the undocumented and documented workforce, Juan Crow doesn’t just pit undocumented Latino workers against black and white workers. It also makes possible every investor’s dream of merging Third World wages with First World amenities. Promotional brochures put out by the state’s Department of Economic Development, for example, tout Georgia’s “below average” wages and its status as a “right to work” (nonunion) state. Georgia’s infrastructure, its proximity to US markets and its incentives–nonunion labor, low wages, government subsidies, cheap land–allow the state to position itself as an attractive investment opportunity for foreign companies. While the fortunes of Ford, GM and other US companies have declined in the South, the fortunes of foreign automakers here are rising. Companies like Korean car manufacturer Kia, which plans to open a $1.2 billion plant by 2009, see in Georgia and other Southern states a new pool of cheap labor. Of the $5.7 billion of total new investment in Georgia in 2006, more than 36 percent was from international companies–companies that were also responsible for nearly half of the 24,660 jobs created by government-supported foreign ventures that year.

Also critical to the economic strategies formulated in the towers on Peachtree Street is another Latin-centered component: free trade with Latin America. “We are the gateway to the Americas,” boasted Kenneth Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Stewart was among the more than 1,000 people, including three US Cabinet members and finance ministers, trade representatives, investors, corporate executives and politicians from thirty-three countries in the hemisphere, who attended the sold-out Americas Competitiveness Forum at the Marriott on Peachtree Street last June. As an organizer of the event, the gregarious Stewart, like many of the region’s economic leaders, considers hosting the forum a critical part of Atlanta’s bid to become the secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas organization. Local elites support building a $10 million, privately financed FTAA headquarters complex, possibly in the area near Peachtree and the Sweet Auburn neighborhood.

Before being rapidly gentrified by the white-collar employees working in the Peachtree towers, Sweet Auburn, the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., was one of the cradles of the African-American freedom struggle. Echoing the connection frequently made here between increased globalization and commerce and improved race relations, Stewart told me that free trade “will benefit citizens of Georgia and the citizens of Mexico and other Latin American countries.” But when I asked him about the increased racial tensions, including the murders of some immigrants in Georgia, and about the growing repression of noncitizen Mexican workers, Stewart abruptly ended the interview.

For her part, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin–among the most recent in a long line of African-American Atlanta mayors that includes former Martin Luther King colleague and Wal-Mart consultant Andrew Young (who has an office in a Peachtree high-rise)–also linked local freedom struggles with global free trade. Before the Americas Competitiveness Forum, she and other regional elites distributed splashy brochures promoting the city’s FTAA bid. Included in the brochure was a picture of the headstone of King’s grave, which bears the inscription Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free at last. The brochure promoting “the city too busy to hate” also paints a positive, global Kumbaya picture of the plight of Georgia’s migrants: “With its attractive quality of life and rapidly expanding job market, Metro Atlanta draws thousands of newcomers every year and has growing Latin, Asian and African American communities.”

“This is the home of Dr. King,” said Franklin in her welcome speech at the packed forum. “It is in the spirit of peace, it is in the spirit of collaboration and it is in the spirit of fairness that we attack this issue of [economic] competitiveness,” she told her audience in King-like cadences. But had Franklin taken her foreign visitors on the short stroll from their hotel to Sweet Auburn, they would not have found the racial harmony described in the glossy brochures and spirited speeches.

Documented and undocumented Latinos dealing with the economic and political effects of Juan Crow in Georgia (and across the country) find themselves unwitting actors in a centuries-old racial drama, which they must alter if Juan Crow is to be defeated. The major difference today is that Latinos also find themselves having to navigate a racial and political topography that is no longer black and white. Young Latinos, in particular, attend schools that teach them about Jim Crow while giving them a daily dose of Juan Crow.

High school senior Ernesto Chávez (a pseudonym) does not look forward to becoming one of the few undocumented students in Georgia to go to a university like Kennesaw State, which requires them to carry student IDs with special color coding, or to a college that denies them aid and forces them to pay exorbitant, nearly impossible-to-pay out-of-state tuition. He has already learned enough about Jim Crow–and Juan Crow–in high school.

Chávez, who sports a buzz cut and wears baggy clothes, said that when he studied Jim Crow in school, he identified strongly with the heroic generation of African-American youth who rebelled against it. “They couldn’t ride in the same trains, they couldn’t drink from the same fountains,” he said during an interview in a classroom at Miller Grove High School in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia. “I felt mad when I read about that, even though they weren’t my people,” said the soft-spoken Mexican, who is part of the small but growing minority of Latinos at Miller Grove (African-American students make up about 93 percent of the student body).

Chávez said he came to know the limits of his physical, social and psychic mobility, thanks to the Georgia law that requires people to show proof of citizenship or legal status in order to obtain a driver’s license. “It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be ‘illegal’ here in Georgia. It’s like you can’t move,” he said, his voice cracking slightly. “It feels scary because you know that when you go out to a public place, you might never know if you’re going to come back. I’m really scared because my mother drives without a license. She’s scared too.”

Chávez and other Latino students also expressed their shock and dismay at being discriminated against by some of the descendants of those discriminated against by Jim Crow.

“When I first got here, I was confused. I went to a mostly white school in Gwinnett County and started noticing the fifth-grade kids saying things to me, racial stuff, asking me questions like, ‘Are you illegal?'” said Chávez as he fidgeted nervously in one of those ubiquitous and visibly uncomfortable school desks. “But when I was in seventh grade, I went to Richards Middle School, where it wasn’t the white people saying things, it was black people. They didn’t like Mexican kids. They would call us ‘Mexican border hoppers,’ ‘wetbacks’ and all these things. Every time they’d see me, they yelled at me, threatened to beat me up after school for no reason at all.” Asked how it felt, he said, “It’s like, now since they have rights, they can discriminate [against] others.”

Chávez’s family, along with many immigrant families in Georgia, will be watching closely to see how the state’s justice system deals with the still-pending 2005 case of six Mexican farmworkers killed execution-style in their trailers, which were parked near the cotton and peanut farms they toiled on in Tifton. Pretrial motions began last July in the case, in which prosecutors allege that four African-American men bludgeoned five of the immigrants to death with aluminum baseball bats and shot one in the head while robbing them in their trailer home. Though the face of anti-immigrant racism in the Juan Crow South is still overwhelmingly identified as white by the immigrants I interviewed, some immigrants also see a black face on anti-immigrant hate.

Politically, a growing divide has emerged between pro- and anti-immigrant blacks in Georgia. The African-American face of Juan Crow is embodied by State Senator and probable Democratic Atlanta mayoral candidate Kasim Reed (he’s also considering a gubernatorial bid). Reed proposed a five-year prison sentence for anyone caught trying to secure employment with a false ID. Local Latino and African-American activists have criticized Reed for what Bruce Dixon of the online Black Agenda Report called his “morally bankrupt attempt to outflank Republicans on the right.”

Activists like Janvieve Williams of the US Human Rights Network, based in Atlanta, counter the anti-immigrant tide by elevating the tone of the debate and shifting the terms to human rights. As an Afro-Panamanian immigrant, Williams says she feels discrimination from many whites in Georgia, but she also experiences discrimination from mestizo immigrants. Her perception of anti-immigrant sentiments among African-Americans adds another layer to the complex racial dynamics unleashed by Juan Crow. “I’m caught between African-Americans who don’t want to understand immigration and immigrants and Latinos who use words like ‘moreno,’ ‘negritos,’ ‘los negros’ and other terms that are not good,” says Williams.

But rather than see her Afro-Latino identity and her Latin American political experience as a barrier between communities, Williams–who co-hosts Radio Diaspora, a weekly Afro-Latino program that helped promote the 50,000-plus immigrants’ rights marches in 2006–uses Latin American media and organizing experience to cross linguistic and political borders. “We need to move from civil rights to human rights. We need to start using the language and tools of human rights around the issue of immigration. It’s an international issue that needs an international framework,” says Williams, whose organization co-sponsored the visit to Atlanta last May by the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. Williams’s organization brought together many groups who shared stories of Juan Crow with the special rapporteur, who took his report to the UN General Assembly.

In the same way that the concept of civil rights grew as a response to Jim Crow, the human rights framework advocated by Williams and other immigrants’ rights activists in the South and across the country challenges traditional approaches to race and rights. “Some civil rights leaders here don’t think human rights affects us in the United States,” says Williams. “A lot of the [civil rights] elders of that movement are not linked to the human rights movement, and that also gets in the way of working together.”

Not all of Georgia’s civil rights elders fit thirtysomething Williams’s description. The Rev. Joseph Lowery, the lieutenant to Martin Luther King Jr., says he did not perceive the threat that some whites and African-American Georgians felt from the massive immigrant marches of 2006; instead he sees in the millions marching in Atlanta and across the country “instruments of God’s will to change this country.” Reverend Lowery, who now leads the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, has spoken eloquently and vociferously against what he considers “wicked” immigration policies and has attended pro-immigrant rallies. He believes that massive immigration to the United States came about because of the workings within the tall buildings like those in spitting distance of his office in the historic Atlanta Life building on Auburn Avenue. “We’ve globalized money, we’ve globalized trade and commerce, but we haven’t globalized fairness toward work and labor. The solution to the ‘problem’ of immigration and other problems is globalization of justice,” he said.

Speaking of the relationship between American blacks and Latino immigrants, Lowery said, “There are many differences between our experience and that of immigrant Latinos–but there is a family resemblance between Jim Crow and what is being experienced by immigrants. Both met economic oppression. Both met racial and ethnic hostility.

“But the most important thing to remember,” said Lowery, as if casting out the demons of Juan and Jim Crow, “is that, though we may have come over on different ships, we’re all in the same damn boat now.”

Sharpton, 216 New Yorkers Arrested in Citywide Protests Against Sean Bell Verdict

May 8, 2008

As promised, the Nicole Bell (wife of Sean Bell) Rev. Al Shapton and hundreds of New Yorkers were arrested in citywide protests against the Sean Bell verdict. According this story in the New York Times,

The demonstrations, described by the Rev. Al. Sharpton as “pray-ins,” played out on a bright spring afternoon as boisterous displays of civil disobedience in which people signed up to be arrested, assuring organizers and lawyers that they were carrying proper identification to show to the police.

Once positioned at the intersections, demonstrators dropped to their knees or sat and prayed briefly before hundreds of police officers escorted them to buses and police vehicles.

These protests come at a critical time as local, state and federal elites – including black, Latino and other elites “of color” who constitutionally avoid dealing with police and other state violence- gear up to further ratchet up the already repressive legal and law enforcement structures they see as necessary to maintain order-and profits.

So, saludos to Nicole Bell, Rev. Al Sharpton and the hundreds of activists here in NYC for responding to such injustices with civil disobedience. May more of us follow your example before the increased state violence and repression that looms alongside the economic meltdown.

In the face of growing government violence, civil disobedience is not an option-it’s our duty.

Israel “Cachao” Lopez-1918-2008: Muy Presente

March 23, 2008

Even at 88, Cuban bassist Israel Cachao Lopez is still busy. (File photo)

Were this a more just planet-one in which musical tastes were less segregated-this world would better weigh the passing of its brilliant son, Israel “Cachao” Lopez, the father of the “mambo”, descarga y mucho mucho mas.

This world would inhale for a moment of silence before taking another moment to syncopate the silence with the sounds of Cachao’s profound musical legacy, a legacy with more children than he could ever count-and still growing; Were this world less color-conscious and more musically enlightened, the spell-check on this or any other software program would recognize the word “Cachao” in the same way that it recognizes words like “Beethoven” or “Miles”. With his intensity, creativity, he and his beloved wooden bajo (bass) have done their part to inspire the kinds of revolutions that alter musical destinies and software programs. His time, our time approaches.

I for one, am very sad at the passing of one who was for many like a musical Babalao, a high priest, a great teacher, the keeper of the ancient knowledge that defines us. Cachao now lives in that Pentheon of musicos who power my own madness from the asylum of the Great Beyond, better known as “El Mas Alla”.

Yet, I also celebrate the privilege of having seen Cachao and listened to and danced to his music, music that future generations Of Américans will come to respect and enjoy as we continue the work of making this a more just world. If you’d like to hear some of the background music of the movement that has and will continue to alter the course of this soon-to-be-less unjust world, check out Cachao’s website. As much as I love the lyricism and life of words, no literary muse can substitute the main Muse that whispered in Cachao’s big, brown ears.

Israel “Cachao” Lopez Presente!

Y con todo nuestro respeto te damos muchisimas gracias, michisimas.

(Please forgive the sound and visual quality of the video below, but it’s the only version on the web of one of my favorite Cachao song, Lindo Yambu. Despite the low production values, it’s good enough to pay respect to one of Great Value by singing the Cuban (not Greek) Coro,

“A la-la-la-la-la,

A-la-la-la-la-la

Que Bueno, Que Bueno Ah Eeh


More on DLC’s Racial Politics: “Insidious Innuendo” Video

March 19, 2008

This clip by Oilwellian provides a video complement to some of the things mentioned in my previous post: