Olympia, WA @ TESC (4-7-14) — Abolish Cops And Prisons (ACAP) is an Evergreen State College sanctioned student organization on campus. Many of its members, students privileged enough to afford the the liberal arts school’s tuition, have an affinity for lifestyle (A)narchy and are vacuously hostile to the press. They evidence this, in part, by disrupting public meetings on campus (where they’re confident in the company of like minded true believers) to engage in gratuitous confrontational behavior which they’d never tolerate from anyone outside their ‘tribe’.
ACAP hosted a group of panelists advocating immigration reform in the U.S. (http://amicuscuria.com/wordpress/?p=13458) Monday afternoon on campus. It became a somewhat tumultuous affair largely due to maladroit attempts of badly schooled ACAP spokespersons to stifle press coverage from the outset. The Q&A following the panelists’ presentation had all the emotional earmarks and histrionics of a religious tent revival. If Jesus wouldn’t save us, the god of (A)narchy would at least drive out the money changers and nationalists (not to mention the press) from the sacred halls of academia.
Having arrived more than 10 minutes before the scheduled public event, Brad (a core member of ACAP) was observed taking photos of the panelists. When he noticed photojournalists enter the room, he approached and attempted to dissuade them from coverage by alleging photography wasn’t permitted (nor video/audio) during the public meeting. It was pointed out photography was not a crime, especially in public venues, but was a fundamental liberty interest and he had been seen taking photos himself only minutes before.
As Brad kicked off the introductions, he again reiterated his earlier misapprehensions, pointedly directing his caveats to the photojournalists present, who just as pointedly ignored him. The tension thus introduced continued to ripple throughout the presentation as the panelists sought to curry public support for immigration reform, not antagonize the press. Unfortunately, they’d accepted the invitation of a clueless group of students lacking any measure of diplomacy or discipline, but a group given to dismantling the very state apparatus from which the immigration reform advocates were seeking relief. The Latinos had some moving arguments to make their case, but gaping holes in their political calculus just the same.
As years of empty promises and failed delivery from glib politicians inevitably stirred mounting frustration in Latino communities across America, ramped up deportations ripping apart families mutually dependent for survival on remaining intact, resentment combined with fear boiled over in the barrios. Latino activists sought to pressure the Obama administration into keeping its campaign promises, now seemingly a dead letter. The thrust of their appeal is rooted in pricking the conscience of Americans and threatening political consequences in the upcoming mid-term elections. The President, for his part, lost patience with such overtures and became angry in turn with his erstwhile political allies. He argued the group had not created sufficient political impetus to persuade Congress to budge on the issue. Asking for a 90-day vote of confidence to get immigration reform legislation through, he promised administrative relief if he failed. In the words of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the promissory note to the Latino community had been returned marked “insufficient funds”.
Leading with their hearts rather than their heads, the panelists failed, even once, to grapple with the question of how to establish common cause with organized labor, the poor, homeless, and hungry American citizens who compete for the jobs immigrants have come to fill other than to say, as one panelist argued, his working conditions and pay would be rejected by American citizens. His description of what he had to endure was, indeed, disturbing. Yet he failed to address the question squarely. How can the Latino community gain acceptance by American citizens in a depressed job market if it is seen to be competing for the same jobs desperate Americans need to feed themselves and families. Forty percent of the homeless have jobs. The level of homelessness among young Americans today is unprecedented. Senior citizens trying to live on fixed incomes once supplemented the money with what they earned picking apples in Washington State’s orchards during the harvest. Recently released convicted criminals along with today’s youth need job opportunities as well–often finding them in these kinds of arduous hard to fill positions.
Immigration reform is no easy fix. It’s a very complex issue that attracts strong feelings. Not a few blue collar workers were heard to label the demonstrations by Latinos for immigration reform early in George Bush’s presidency as “rallies for lower wages.” President Bush actually favored immigration reform early in his administration, only to be thwarted by resistance from his own Republic party in Congress. He and Senator McCain abandoned the effort as a result. Today, Obama criticizes advocates for reform as having failed to alter the political calculus surrounding the issue. He argues he is not unsympathetic, but needs a compliant, if not willing, Congress to turn the corner. The presentation by the panelists did not provide such a lever, only appeals to emotion, compelling as that is.
Consistent with the emotionalism was the histrionics of one young co-ed who disparaged the photojournalist present for using President Bush’s name in the context of a reference to his public argument to the American people during a press conference. “Americans don’t want these jobs anyway,” asserted Bush. This didn’t stand to reason provided the jobs paid a living wage given Americans take some of the dirtiest most dangerous jobs imaginable, such as in the coal mines of Kentucky, so long as they can feed their families with the proceeds. They often die or are crippled trying to do so…not that Bush would have any direct knowledge of it. Still, the young woman sneered at the press for having invoked the Bush name along with an admission of disrespect for insisting on taking photos, over the objections of ACAP organizers, in order to cover/report on the event. It was a stunning display of ignorance and smug efforts at intimidation. It was also par for the course among @narchist oriented TESC student organizations on campus.
A long time attorney, Vicki Parker, from Thurston opined the country had a right/need to control its borders and expressed a willingness to see those who entered the U.S. illegally deported. Many blue collar workers greeted the immigration reform demonstrations organized by Latinos by describing them as “Rallies for lower wages”. Is this ‘racism’ or a territorial imperative driven by a depressed job market?
One panelist argued the abysmal conditions he had to endure as a field hand by a pitiless employer. He asserted he doubted Americans would want such work where they had to tolerate such conditions and low wages. He may have been unaware of how many American citizens endure even worse conditions, such as exist in some of the nation’s packing plants and coal mines, logging operations and drilling rigs, construction sites and fishing industry. These are typically very dangerous jobs with working conditions that are often shocking. Seniors on fixed incomes once routinely supplemented them by working in apple orchards during harvest season. This reporter’s wife worked in the fields as a girl with only the wages she was paid to buy her own clothing, school supplies, and other necessities after her mother died from cancer years earlier. There are no jobs Americans won’t take provided they pay a decent salary with which to feed a family and keep a roof over their head. The unprecedented number of homeless Americans or those with their homes in foreclosure emphasizes this point.
At the same time, the panelists described how they are forced to pay income taxes and social security/medicare contributions but are ineligible for any benefits from them no matter how many years they paid or even if they later became U.S. citizens. It’s the kind of officially sanctioned theft most Americans find shocking. Stealing from the poor is always reprehensible and it’s ‘legality’ makes it no less so. Unfortunately, it remains quite common. Immigration reform must include requiring the U.S. government to disgorge its ill gotten gains (social security contributions) and return them as restitution to the victims of the theft by making them eligible for the benefits derived from said contributions. The government is not entitled, anymore than any ordinary criminal, to profit from its ‘crimes’. Its actions are cut from the same warp and weave as the unscrupulous employers who steal from their undocumented workers, denying them their earned wages, blackmailing them with deportation threats if the worker reports it.
In the end, sober attention must be paid to such fears, legitimate or not, despite their divisive nature. While emotional appeals regarding the plight of hapless immigrant families being ripped apart are moving, they must be accompanied by practical/political considerations if anything more than hand wringing is to be accomplished. The panelists failed to address these practical questions, opting to politically embarrass the Obama administration and create sympathy based on emotional appeals to the public.
One constructive practical approach is to establish common cause with organized labor. Some progressive unions support the notion of immigration reform. The United Farm Workers union stands as a historical monument from the 20th century. Similarly, tapers and dry wall hangers were organized into a union in southern California–a trade that had become dominated in the region by Hispanics, many undocumented. Seeing them along with women and minorities as their natural allies, they were welcomed to join without proof of citizenship so long as they pledged not to accept wages below an agreed upon minimum threshold. This was incorporated into the bylaws of local 360 in Olympia (a residential trades union) as well for all of the above reasons.
The prospect of conflict between the poor immigrant and organized labor is a serious one when considering the history of strife between the groups. Chinese migrant workers were attacked and burned out of their homes in Seattle, prompting a formal diplomatic protest by China’s ambassador to the U.S. Members of coal miner unions back east attacked and murdered ‘scabs’ imported by the companies from Chicago to break the strike. And who hasn’t seen video images of Ford’s Pinkerton thugs beating union organizers on strike outside the River Rouge plant in the 30’s?
Yet, these competing economic interests need not be a prescription for failure of social justice efforts. If the Latino community is willing to lock arms with their American blue collar counterparts, a united front can be created strengthening each group far beyond what it could achieve standing alone. Truly, the lyrics of an old hymn, “United we stand, divided we fall…” remain as true today as ever. In unity, there is strength.
While immigration laws exist on the books, they are not sacred. The lessons from the Nuremberg trials tell us there is a higher law, a law that applies to all without deference to ‘following orders’ or simply obeying the law where that law is intrinsically unjust. We are not at liberty to commit crimes against humanity simply because it’s the law. Criminalizing the poor trying to feed their families is a travesty of justice.
The hostile confrontations by members of ACAP and at least one of its supporters can be seen/heard in the video clips capturing the effort by Latino panelists to focus on immigration reform rather than fencing with the press.
In the interest of transparency, readers are invited to draw their own conclusions rather than rely on editorial narrative by viewing the following video clips of the event: