As you are reading this blog, close to 10,000 people are taking to the streets in Phoenix, Arizona in a show of solidarity against the oppressive authority of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Over the past two days in Phoenix I have had the chance to meet people from all walks of life who have descended upon Maricopa County – ground zero in the immigration battle. People here have been planning the march against Sheriff Joe since May of 2009.
There is a tremendous sense of fear, anticipation, and excitement in the air. The good folks at Puente, AZ who have organized the march remain incredibly calm as 10 am approaches, the time the march is due to start. I arrived Thursday at the Tonatierra a beautiful blue and orange building which serves as the home of Puente as well as a community center which caters to people from all parts of Mexico.
I arrived just in time to sit in on a sign-making class conducted by Hernesto, an artist from LA, and Orlando, a local Puente activist. Before I knew it, I was shedding my buttoned shirt and khaki pants for a white t-shirt and some shorts to help in the sign-making. The most eye-catching and powerful sign is the image of a monarch butterfly, a symbol that has a lot of significance to the immigrants and immigration activists here in Arizona. Each year, the monarch migrates from Canada south to Mexico and back again. The question often asked in this part of the country is ‘if it is natural for an animal such as a butterfly to migrate, then why should we as humans be restricted from migrating?’
The scene at Tonatierra is dominated by artists and activists. Before the community center existed, the neighborhood around it was completely run down and desolate but in recent years it has been converted into an activist/artist haven complete with an (almost) vegan coffee shop. I went to lunch nearby with one of the artists, Francisco, who told me his story of being arrested by Sheriff’s Joe’s cronies and being thrown into the tented village for the night. Not only did he have to wear the now infamous pink underwear, but he had the unfortunate luck to be stuck in the tents on the only night of the year that it snowed in Phoenix. He can look back at the situation now and laugh, but he said he will never forget the suffering he was caused at the hands of the Sheriff. I am staying at a Quaker house not too far from Tonatierra with three dedicated organizers, Jason, Tenacity, and Peter, who could not be more hospitable towards me. They told me the history of their battle against racism and bigotry in this county as well as what to expect at the big march tomorrow.
I have spent most of today (Friday) making phone calls to people all across Phoenix encouraging them to come to the march as well as helping to make more signs. Seeing men, women, and children of all backgrounds coming together to make signs was a very powerful thing that will stay with me for a long time. This evening we had a delicious dinner followed by prep for the march and a moving prayer from a Rabbi who came from LA and some locals with roots deep in the heartland of Mexico.
All the signs are the march will be peaceful everyone is not letting their guard down. Arpaio looks set to show his face tomorrow and when he does he will cast his gaze upon 10,000 people who have come from all parts of the country to take a stand against the hate and fear that he has brought to this county.
Keep checking Imagine2050 in the coming days for a full recap and video of this groundbreaking march against bigotry!