“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The Declaration of Independence
Last night I attended a vigil, outside of Arizona’s State Capital building, held in opposition to SB 1070, a draconian immigration bill which Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law yesterday at 1:30pm. The whole country is watching Arizona as we slip back into a pre-civil rights era whereby racial profiling is an openly stated and legal practice.
President of the Arizona Chapter of the ACLU, Alessandra Soler Meetze, said yesterday, “She has just given every police agency in Arizona a mandate to harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign, while doing nothing to address the real problems we are facing.”*1
I arrived at the vigil just after dark. I observed a dozen or so policemen on the sidelines before whom I held a sign reading: ” ‘Somewhere I read that all men are created equal’ MLK”. *2
The night was filled with prayer and song. I bowed before a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, before which many candles were lit, and I held hands with two hispanic teenage boys as one of the speakers led the crowd in prayer.
Something wretched happened in Arizona yesterday, but something beautiful also happened as people gathered to assert and honor, nonviolently, their right to claim their rights.
The grandson of Caesar Chavez, Alejandro Chavez, appeared on the stage, set up by 88.3 Campesina Radio, and spoke to the people about what his grandfather had said about nonviolence. I wasn’t able to write all of it down but one quote he gave was, “There is no defeat in nonviolence.” Another he gave was, “Violence just hurts those who are already hurting, instead of exposing the brutality of the oppressor it justifies it.”
I later approached him and asked him if I could shake his hand. He took the time to speak with me for a few moments and I asked him, “What would your grandfather have said to people who, like myself, are not directly affected by this law, who could go on with our lives without feeling this affects us?” His answer was extremely apropos when he replied, “My grandfather would have said, ‘People can’t simply go on with their lives, for injustice anywhere affects justice everywhere and when your brother hurts, you hurt.’ ” This reminded me of what Dr. King said as well, about the betrayal of the silence of good people.
I was disappointed to observe that I was one of a handful of white people in the crowd and in addition this was a prayer vigil and it would have been nice to have seen the presence not only of various churches in the community but of various faiths as well.
Alejandro Chavez then let me know about his website and outlined the numerous actions one can participate in on this website, so if you feel you need to do something, visit the United Farm Workers website @ www.ufw.org and make a difference. It contains a vast video library, two of which are embedded here, both are segments from a documentary about Caesar Chavez, focusing on his life, work, and on his last, 36 day fast, which he embarked upon in order to draw attention to the harmful effects of pesticides on farm workers and to the deplorable conditions they were forced to work under. The film is entitled “Caesar’s Last Fast”. *3
Alejandro Chavez then surprised me with a hug, which I will always treasure!
While I was waiting to speak with Alejandro, an aging white man approached me about my sign which, as I’ve written, said: ” ‘Somewhere I read that all men are created equal’ MLK”. He was attempting to explain to me that there is biblical law and man’s laws and we still have to follow man’s laws, attempting to make the case for respecting SB 1070. I ascertained that he had interpreted my sign to be a biblical quote and I explained to him that Dr. King was quoting The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, which is in principle the law of the land. He seemed surprised and, as I thought of him later, I felt sorry for him, though I know his brand of ignorance perpetuates so much harm in our world.
Last night I saw people joined in a spirit of faith, I also saw a young man wearing a t-shirt which read, “It’s not a crime to be brown”, and I saw signs that said, “I am human!” or “We are humans!” Signs one should never have to see in this country, and yet signs which are repeatedly necessary. They reminded me of the signs the sanitation workers held up during the Civil Rights Movement, “I am a man!”
Alejandro Chavez was right about what his grandfather would say to all of us living here in Arizona, that this injustice to the latino community is an injustice to all human beings and that as our brothers and sisters suffer we either suffer with them in service or we suffer the loss of our spiritual dignity by turning away.
Something horrendous happened when Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law yesterday, yet something transformative and galvanizing also happened as a community gathered and prayed for miracles, and as people resolved their commitment to nonviolence and to fighting the battle that nonviolence always requires.
It may be that the nation’s next powerful nonviolent movement is being born here in Arizona, as they are always born, among the humble, the poor, and the faithful.