By Becca and Ceci, Phoenix
We put our fists up in solidarity with the 200-plus inmates who are paraded in shackles and chains towards “Tent City” on February 4th, as Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff Joe Arpaio demonstrated his most recent attack against our brothers, fathers, cousins, friends, our community. It didn’t matter how much the Sheriff’s deputies wanted to uphold their rule of law with their guns, their men, their force; fists were in the air on both sides of their invisible line. We stood there as we tried to hold our composure and loudly expressed, “Estamos Unidos” because in this moment of helplessness we felt it was the most we could do.
On Tuesday night, February 3rd, the emails started to come in: “Arpaio’s Latest Stunt” was the heading. The press release was intended to bring media attention to the fact that he was going to march 220 “illegal alien” inmates from one part of the jail to “Tent City” in order to segregate and enclose them behind an electrical fence. As quoted by his press release, “This is a population of criminals more adept perhaps at escape,” the Sheriff says. “But this is a fence they won’t want to scale because they risk receiving quite a shock—literally.” The overall tone of this press release was perhaps not unique to those of you familiar with Arpaio’s history, but nevertheless this is a public document that showcases the blatant racism and hostility that exists and is perpetuated under Arpaio’s regime. “As we planned the expansion, I decided to have a special area to house this particular population of inmate [illegal alien] more effectively and safely.” Arpaio’s success in moving inmates into separate tent facilities not only is reminiscent of previous historical tactics to dehumanize, instill fear and mentally imprison those of us directly targeted for state sanctioned hate.
After reading this press release and realizing the implications of what was to come we spoke about what our response was going to be. We decided we would go; that it was important to be there and that regardless of our initial hesitations we knew our presence was intended in solidarity for those in stripes. The car ride on the way to “Arpaio’s latest stunt” was tense and heated. Becca sat in the passenger’s seat, and Ceci drove slightly out of control as she released her frustration through a tad bit of hysteria. All of a sudden Ceci exploded from within, “I don’t want to be another clown jumping for justice, I don’t want to be a spectacle for the fucking media, I don’t want to stand with another sign, another time, another chant.” In this case, our deep-seated emotions came from a place where doing this type of political work and being so closely tied to the people most criminalized channeled our anger into feeling like we wanted to take more action than we possible could at the moment.
We knew going into this stunt that it was going to be a VERY familiar scene. By this, we meant that we knew who was going to be there, what their signs were going to say and what the chants were going to sound like. The planned reactionary agenda was not only top-down, but was intended to silence the very anger and sadness that we were all feeling. We were not expecting a press conference that was going to come from politicians such as Mary Rose Wilcox, who sits on the Board of Supervisors, the Director of the Urban League, and the Director of Arizona’s ACLU. Ultimately, their main goal can be summed up by the following statement, “Doing publicity stunts... like this stunt on the backs of immigrants,” stated Wilcox, “We will no longer tolerate that. We will be writing to the United States Justice Department. Things have changed in Washington. We will write a letter that will be answered, and we will put a stop to this.”
This gathering yet again triggered a sentiment within both of us that there is a disconnect between the “organized” left and any acknowledgement of the true feelings of those that are directly being affected by this. We are actively strategizing in Maricopa County about how to best connect a political strategy and method as the tool to help channel resistance. We are still in the critical planning stages of this process. We must not be silenced by Arpaio, this climate of hate, or by the “organized” left that continuously shuts out potential for actual change. We will demand the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws so that our brothers AND sisters can work, love, and live wherever they please.
Becca and Ceci are members of the Repeal Coalition and Bring the Ruckus in Phoenix.