Rayuela de Javier
By Javier Rodriguez 16 April 2012 from Mexico City
“To be clear, success on May 1st unequivocally means, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands on the streets of downtown LA and in cities throughout the country. Then and only then will this social movement create a significant political groundswell of the people, to not only partake in the defeat of the ultra conservative Republican block in several fronts, including the November Presidential elections, but it will also augment the public pressure on Congress and the White House, demanding real solutions to the mega problems faced by the overwhelming majority of Americans, including those of the large immigrant community.”
Since 1986, the year of the IRCA Amnesty Law, there have been thousands of battles waged in defense and organization of immigrants in America and today, by far, this social movement is considered the largest and most effective of its kind in the planet. However, it is also a fact that its effectiveness has been hindered because of long drawn out political divisions and it is my position that in 2009, these conflicts, specifically in Los Angeles, negatively impacted the political atmosphere, which essentially deflated not only the momentum, but also the public pressure on the newly elected presidential administration and Congress, who undeniably, placed immigration reform and legalization for the country’s 12 million undocumented immigrants, on the back burner.
The first article, The May 1st Redemption Part I, essentially was an explanation of how the immigrant rights movement in Los Angeles and other parts of the country, within the last two years, has had excellent success in mobilizing the masses of the people, and not only for the traditional May Day street demonstrations. As well, I also outlined the mechanics of how we have built unity and implemented strategies of communication to send the message of unity out to the people and the media. Part II articulated a brief historical context of this movement since its inception in 1968 and its largest organizational and political accomplishments, including obtaining the landmark IRCA Amnesty Law that legalized and brought millions of immigrants out of the shadows. The objective of Part III of these series is to provide a brief narration of the history of divisions in the LA movement, primarily because, today as in 2009, these conflicts threaten to again drive us to political disaster.
So let’s now get to the meat of this piece and jump into 2005 which is the year of the confrontation with the Minutemen in California and also the passage of the Sensenbrenner Bill HR4437 in December, months before the mass explosion of the “Immigrant Spring of 2006.”
The country then was completely under extreme right wing control with George W. Bush in his second term as president. The anti immigrant and paramilitary group, The Minutemen” were coming to the California border to hunt for “illegal immigrants” and a wing of the immigrant rights movement began preparations to confront them and other neo-fascist groups head on. By then skirmishes were taking place in several cities in Southern California and the right wing groups were always outnumbered and without the police guarding them, they wouldn’t have survived the moments. Of course in the scuffles, a slew of activists ended up in jail in Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Alhambra and other sites.
In that spirit, Jesse Diaz, the three hundred pound Latino activist and then PhD candidate at UC Riverside began to organize a coalition which put together a one day statewide conference at UCR out of which the anti Minutemen “La Tierra es de Todos Coalition-The Land Belongs to all Us” was formed. The conference convened youth, professors, political groups and activists and community from all over California and the workshops were focused and centered on the political objective, which was to move masses of people for a whole month to the California border and dessert to confront the infamous Minutemen. I served then as a mentor to Jesse and the organizing committee and I was also the keynote speaker for the morning plenary.
There, for the first time I spotted a group of young progressive Latino nationalists that I had not seen before in the ranks of the Latino social movement and it included Ron Gochez of the San Diego based Union del Barrio and presently the point person in the Southern California Immigration Coalition-SCIC. I clearly recall that in the workshop that him and I attended, a report was given on the ongoing protests staged by progressive and pro immigrant organizations against the anti immigrant groups, then on the rise nationally. Particularly the one held in the Orange County City of Garden Grove, California, which made national news because the police had beaten and arrested about ten of the activists protesting against a Minutemen speaker, at a hotel near Disneyland. That event was part of the right wing plan to build the momentum towards the arrival of the Minutemen at the California border. Gochez made a bizarre criticism of the “unprofessional” security displayed by the protest organizers and of the confrontation itself. Nevertheless, the conference passed a resolution condemning the cops and in support of the social activists arrested.
At the end of the day, Jesse Diaz and the organizing committee placed their trust in the group of nationalists, and a follow up regional meeting was scheduled for the following week, somewhere in West LA. Unfortunately for Diaz and the Coalition organizers, the trusted young nationalists pulled a coup de tat-un golpe de estado and took over the meeting, turned the agenda around and lord behold, “they wanted no part a confrontation with the Minutemen.” The next meeting was set for the following week at the old IDEPSCA headquarters on 9th and Union Streets and Diaz contacted me to help reverse the events.
Throughout the following days the political atmosphere in LA County became intense. The right wing groups, with neo Nazis backing their play, announced a major event in the City of Baldwin Park to protest and demand the removal of a Latino Indigenous monument in the city and of course the potential confrontation was being played out in the mainstream media. With this volatile context looming in the works, the word spread out in the movement and about 75 people showed up for the next meeting of the Anti Minutemen Coalition” La Tierra es de Todos-The Land Belongs to all of Us.” Ironically the gathering was chaired by Gochez and assisted by several of his colleagues. To back their position of no confrontation with the right in the Baldwin Park protest, they also invited two residents of that city to make it perfectly clear that they did not want any violence in their city. Instead of a militant counter protest the really moderate faction amazingly proposed a cultural event in the same vicinity with Mexican folkloric music and dancing and speeches. Their position was overwhelmingly defeated and so was their one week control of the coalition. The counter protest attracted two hundred activists but the direct verbal confrontation was light due to the amount of police protecting the White racists.
From the small city confrontations the showdown moved to the border and for thirty consecutive days, the armed paramilitary racists were outnumbered by hundreds of activists from all California, including a good number of veteran and student Latino activists as well as a lot of young white anti racist anarchists. The confrontations took place many times in the dark of the night and there were two crossing immigrants killed and two others injured with shot guns in that month, and no suspects were ever caught nor charged with the crimes.
Because chapters of the Minutemen were cropping up in many places nationally, the social movement out of Chicago, a faction led by a young undocumented airport worker Elvira Arellano and her mentor Emma Lozano, organized a huge 40,000 people march in the windy city in defense of immigrants and against the paramilitary right wing groups. The Minutemen saga continued and sometime in late 2005 they were received with honors in the Washington beltway by ultra right wing congressmen. They had served their purpose. The political climate against immigrants had intensified and suddenly in December of the same year, the Sensenbrenner Bill HR4437 was approved in the Republican controlled House. It was a major move steered by the Federation for American Immigration Reform-FAIR. For the first time the right wing succeeded in getting Congress to approve the criminalization of undocumented immigration. FAIR is the network of approximately 50 groups funded by right wing foundations that is known to be behind Arizona’s SB1070 and the rest of the anti immigrant legislation in the nation.
For the purpose of the historical record, aside from the Anti Minutemen Coalition, the only other grass roots immigrant rights organization from Los Angeles who sent dozens of people to the border to support the anti paramilitary campaign was La Hermandad Mexicana TransNacional, led by Gloria Saucedo, who along with this writer has been an active Occupy LA supporter from day one. Moreover, the moderate groups who have at times promoted division in this historic period and who today are also resisting the calls for unity, in the making of May Day 2012, none were present in that important and dangerous fight of 2005, which preceded the “Immigrant Spring” of the following year. For that matter, probably because of the fear to confront Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, or perhaps the fear of getting arrested, they were also missing in action on the night of Nov 30, 2011 at City Hall.
Javier Rodriguez is a long time activist in LA’s social movement, particularly Latino politics, has been active in the field of immigrant rights since 1971, with 22 years as a rank and filer in labor, he is also an independent journalist, a media and political strategist, and today is presently with the Dec 12 Coalition and Occupy LA. He has been traveling through Mexico since 2 March 2012 when he was part of a nine person truck convoy, that delivered 10 tons of humanitarian aid to three Tarahumara communities in the PRD Municipal District of Cachiric.