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Progress through Dialogue in Glendale?

by Rockero420 Monday, Dec. 12, 2005 at 10:50 PM

For once the police didn't separate the "two sides", who actually have a lot in common. Maybe they should just let us talk it out....

By the time I arrived at 8:30, all the most exciting events of the day had already occurred. Joe Turner had already been arrested (a rumor later confirmed by an AP report), and some verbal conflicts that had developed into shoving matches had already been quelled. But this was a rally like none other. I had heard reports about the two opposing sides coming into close contact before, at BP I and Alhambra, but they always depicted a negative view of the interaction. At this rally, however, I was thrilled to overhear numerous engagements, conversations, and dialogues, and was glad to have the chance to participate in a few myself. At certain points, interaction between groups and individuals did take the ugly turn down the path of shouting, name-calling, and baiting. But on the whole I heard much more genuine exchange than I have ever heard at any such event.

While many activists have extolled the pleasures of joining together for political self-expression, there is a unique and interesting dynamic at immigration-centered actions. Nobody ever seems to be sure exactly what is going on. Some people have an agenda and a message, and take advantage of the gathering and commotion to further it. Other people seem to want to engage in debate, dialogue, and networking, while others seem content to stand back and observe or to make a silent statement with a sign. While many of us are now veterans of several engagements, there continues to be new people with the same questions at each rally. Some of us have gotten to know each other and even learned to get along. There is deep bitterness between others. People photograph and videorecord each other, eavesdrop on each other's debates, waiting to become offended enough to pipe up. And that's how people begin the conversations and debates that, hopefully, allow them to exchange a few ideas.

This time, Save Our State, an internet-based anti-illegal immigration group active in the greater LA area, had set their sights on a day labor center across the street from the Home Depot on San Fernando Road in Glendale. After a traffic-free drive through the crystal-clear morning, I was surprised to see so many people as I looked for a parking spot. There had been so few at the last protest-counterprotest duo I attended in Laguna Beach.

Quickly making a sign, ("Work is a Human Right"), I took a spot on a curb beside a young woman wearing a Border Patrol baseball cap. She informed me that originally, SOS had taken up a position on the sidewalk in front of the Home Depot, and the counterdemonstrators had posted up in front of the day labor center and on the opposite corner, which was home to a bar or restaurant. SOS members and supporters then crossed the street, she continued, provoking some of their opponents to also cross the street, "And now everybody's all mixed up." I thanked her for the information and began observing the scene.

Indeed, in the three areas making up the protest/counterprotest area, anti-illegal immigration activists were fairly well intermingled with anti-racist and pro-labor activists, although again I'd say we outnumbered them from about three or four-to-one. There was also a sizable press contingency. A group made up predominantly of day laborers dominated the corner nearest the Home Depot, and the Mexica Movement took up a defensive position in front of the center itself. The opposite corner, where I found myself most of the time, seemed to enjoy the most diversity of opinion. I saw members of CARECEN, Save Our State, the ISO, the Freedom Socialist Party/Radical Women, the National Lawyers Guild, the CCIR, and the Minutemen. There were also priests, youngsters, and college students.

The first person I spoke to was a former Navy man who had struggled with bouts of unemployment. He explained to me why he was there. "The funny thing here is, is that we have a thing called laws. And everybody has to obey them. Have you ever filled out a job application before?" I nodded in silent assent. "Then you've probably filled out these two forms called a W-2 and an I-9." He thumbed through a small stack of papers, eventually producing a five-page stapled document. "I didn't write this; this is from a government website." The first page was a warning to employers about the necessity of assuring that their employees have the legal right to work in the U.S. It went on to enumerate the penalties for breaking federal labor laws.

The next three pages were those infamous IRS forms, and the final page was a two-column list. Column A was a list of "Secure Borders URLs", and Column B was a list of "Open Borders URLS".

I must admit that I admire anyone with a DIY independent spirit, especially those in media production. I have at times produced my own fliers and pamphlets, and recognize and appreciate the effort it requires. So I engaged this "BorderRaven", a name used in the document and presumably the man's internet handle, in a discussion. He harped on "law breaking-immigrants", whose children "we taxpayers" must educate and whose medical emergencies "we" must pay for. I asked him if he thought it was just or humane to deny people education and health care. Again, he attempted to tally the economic costs to the taxpayer, arguing that they far outweighed the benefits of cheap labor, agricultural or otherwise. He estimated that if the state's expenditures on the incarceration, education, and medical treatment of illegal immigrants were tallied, totaled, and added to the the average person's cotidian grocery purchases, a head of lettuce would cost four to five dollars. He admitted that he had no proof or research on this figure, but used the example to illustrate the "hidden cost" of illegal immigration.

Certain of his rhetorical victory, he turned his attention to the counterdemonstrators. "I've tried to talk to them, but if you don't say what they want to hear, they turn around and walk away." "I'm not a politician," he continued, "so I don't tell them what they want to hear. And they can't handle it."

Sometimes I wish I wasn't the polite, respectful young man my mother raised me to be. Then I could interrupt people without feeling bad about it. Because by this time, my head was already racing with so many thought, ideas, refutations, and counterpoints, that I didn't even know where to begin. So I began by explaining my opinion that things as basic as health and education are human rights, and we ought to be fighting to extend those rights rather than to limit them. Then I turned to what I viewed as the crux of the matter: simple economics. "The problem, as I see it, is limited resources and unlimited wants." I was just getting my wind when he interrupted me. He talked about his troubles staying employed after being discharged from the navy, his view of temp agencies (they're just a step above slave labor), and a seemingly endless list of complaints, red herrings, and non sequiturs. I realized I was not dealing with someone that wanted a genuine dialogue. So when he finally ceded the floor back to me, I briefly made my point about this anti-illegal immigrant struggle really being a fight over scarce resources, and how, since we are beings possessed not only of reason but also of empathy, we ought to do the best we can to fairly distribute resources to assuage poverty and suffering. And with that, he turned around and walked away.

Then I ran into some acquaintances from a socialist organization. We chatted a bit, and I asked if they had seen "Uncle Joe" Turner, the founder and exective of SOS. "He got arrested!", they reported. "No way, for what?" "I think he was throwing water bottles at day laborers."

Just then Don Silva, better known as OldPreach, passed by. "Look what the cat dragged in," he greeted, extending his hand. I asked him if Turner was around. "He got taken away." "Oh really?", I pried. He explained, "There was some shoving earlier, and he kinda elbowed someone back, and the cops were all over him." He seemed a bit worried that if I was seen speaking with him, I might be viewed as a "traitor" or "vendido", but he continued. "It doesn't matter how many times I tell the other side that at events like this, they do our work for us. The fifteen or twenty of us here could have never shut down this center. And normally, this place is very active. I've staked it out before. But since you guys all came, there's only been one pickup. All we wanted to do was shut down the center. And you did it for us."

I tried to explain my rationale: "I think most of the people here see it as a necessary sacrifice: the jornaleros miss a day of work, but we continue to show our strong opposition and get the chance to articulate our points to the media." As was often the case during the day, tumult cut our conversation short. I would have liked to elaborate on why else it was worth it to counterprotest them, but will have to wait to the end of this article.

I spoke with some other day laborer supporters, sharing battle stories from rallies past. The feeling of solidarity with othr activists, especially those who are movement veterans, is unparalleled. I take heart in their lifelong dedication. It gives lie to the belief that idealism is confined to the young mind. There are plenty of people of all ages who remain active in the struggle despite setbacks and ageism. I can never take the argument, "You may think so now, but you'll change your mind when your older" seriously, having met some of the people I have at these rallies. I overheard it twice today, despite the fact that the average age of the crowd was much higher than at the Laguna Beach or the BP II rallies.

At that moment, musicians, one carrying a viguela and the other an accordion, crossed to the corner where I was standing. I couldn't abandon my conversation--I was discussing a book with an older socialist woman--but I could hear the music and longed to get nearer to it. Seising a brak in the conversation, I approached the ensemble just as a song ended. I followed them across the street so I could listen to the next one and photograph the performance. They crossed to the side where the Mexica Movement had made their stand. I just listened to the song, which was called "El Barrio", snapping a quick photo and enjoying the music. None of the Mexica Movement people gave me any trouble, and some even talked to me. (SOS contends that they are racist against white people. If that were truly the case, wouldn't they take opportunity to express their disdain for their presence among them? While my experience is in no way proof-positive, it does add to the anecdotal evidence refuting SOS' claims.)

I crossed back and spoke to a tall man who was waving a U.S. flag on a tall pole. He recognized me from Laguna Beach, so I asked him to confirm or deny a rumor I had heard. "Some of the people over there said that you don't believe in mixed-race marriages. Is that true?" He said it was absolutely false, since his wife was Mexican. When I asked if his wife supported the movement, he said, "She hates immigrants even more than I do!" I interpreted this statement to mean that he hated immigrants, so I asked him if that was the case. He was tripped up a bit, but eventually refined his statement to, "I hate that they're here". But it was too late. His Freudian slip had already revealed his true sentiments. I pushed the matter a little further. "What is it that you hate about their presence?," I asked. "This country is becoming like Mexico," he answered. "In what way? Because I've lived in East Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley, the Inland Empire, and Santa Barbara County, and its all America." He brought up graffiti. "Graffiti is an American problem," I answered. "The graffiti here does not compare in any way to the graffiti in Mexico. I may notice it more than you because I work in and have an eye for the visual arts, but if anything, they are more influenced by our styles. But is that it? Do you have any other examples?" He stood there silently.

After a few minutes, I realized that he he didn't intend to respond. I could tell the conversation was doomed, and so resolved to try to get one more piece of information. I basically asked him how he was informing himself. What books, journals, newspapers, and websites he was reading. When he didn't answer, I asked, "Have you read Mexifornia?" The look on his face was incredulous. It gave me the impression that he thought it was ridiculous that anyone would publish a book with that title. "You haven't heard of it? It's a fairly major work on the issue, and it was well-reviewed. It's written by a CSU Fresno professor who writes from the anti-illegal immigrant perspective. It came out a few years back (2003), so you might have missed it. But since you're out here on the front lines, I expected to be well-informed and your opinions to be based on reliable facts."

I wasn't trying to make him feel stupid. I just think the issue of "how we're informing ourselves" is absolutely crucial, and I was just trying to drive that home. A major study on illegal immigration was published this year (the Bears-Stearns Report), but I wonder how many of us who are active in the scene actually read it? Especially when people are out there in the streets and tensions get high.

By way of diversion, or perhaps to make his final point, he asked me about a sign across the street. "Does that offend you?" The sign read "All Europeans On This Continent Are Illegal Since 1492". "No," I answered. "And would it offend you if I said, "Go Back to Mexico?" "Yes," I responded. "And you don't see the double standard there?"

I could tell he was no longer in the mood to discuss, so I wasn't able to explain my view that the statement, though unenlightened, was understandable in the historical context of colonialism, and not personally offensive to me.

I met back up with the first man I spoke to. This time I asked him whether or not he thought his situation would have been different if the union had protected his job. He said that if he thought he could, he would make an international union in his field to prevent companies from simply changing countries. I explained that if these demonstrations are about preventing exploitation of migrant laborers, then we should be looking at solutions like international unions for imbalances in the labor market. He said, "Nice talking to you", and again walked away.

I ran into the Sandinator. After asking her how it was going, I said, "You know Sandi, the last time we talked on the boards, you called me a racist. I didn't appreciate that." She affirmed, explaining, "You just say some things that are too extreme sometimes, and you never back it up. Never." I answered, "I tend to be of the opinion that everybody has some racist ideas and additudes that are just part of socialization, and it's up to each of us to fight that kind of thinking within ourselves."

"Personal responsibility!" A middle-aged man, an SOS sympathizer had overheard us, and he usurped the chat. While we had a pretty good talk, we allowed it to get overly complicated at times. With him, too, I stressed the economic aspect of the day laborer question. He argued tha people should have be able to come here for opportunity, but that they should do it legally. He didn't show much sympathy when I countered, "when confronted with a question of life or death, breaking the law is worth the risk." He said it wasn't fair to all the people who immigrated legally, like his ancestors, but didn't have much response when I said, "then they should be able to cross through Tijuana instead of the desert." I asked him what he saw as the solution to the problem. He seemed keen on "personal freedom", which he tied to capitalism. He said that in America, we can work our way up. "But when you have nothing, your only resource is you labor," I said, gesturing across the street. He also did not seem to understand that the government and corporations suppress and have suppressed labor. "But the AFL-CIO is the major donor to the Democrat party? Why would they suppress labor? That's biting the hand that feeds them!" he said with a chuckle. I was not disappointed in his intelligence, but I felt that his perspective was strongly colored by his view of history, which I saw as a bit narrow. He was proud to have been educated in the days before "political correctness". Education even today neglects the history of the labor movement. He didn't seem to know what I meant when I mentioned the Ludlow massacre when he asked for an example of the suppression of labor. So I suppose I can't really blame him for that.

He was the last person I really got to speak to besides words of mutual encouragement between other anti-SOS activists, but on the way to my car I was surprised to find an old childhood friend of mine standing on the sidewalk and wondering what was going on. In this small world, he was working at a sign shop across from the Home Depot, and I used the chance to explain a little about what was going on and to get back in touch with him.

In previous reports I have lamented the lack of dialogue and exchange resulting from police separation of the "two sides". Without that separation, I can truly say that this was the most productive rally I've ever been to. There was a true unity of purpose. I firmly believe that when it comes down to it, we hold much more in common than we do in opposition. And I think the results were impressive. A solitary arrest out of an estimated 300-400 people is not a bad ratio. And I wasn't the only one talking and debating. I heard it going on all around me. There was also the chanting and yelling which has come to characterize any mass action. Most of the time, it was counterproductive, as it made it difficult to hear. But in total, I was quite encouraged by the turnout, the course of events, and the conversations I heard going on.

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 37 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
Pacifism Sucks greenblack Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005 at 1:28 AM
I beg to differ Jammer CC Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005 at 1:41 AM
Rockero outed Leslie Radford 1st hand source Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005 at 4:12 PM
Avoid Rockero greenblack Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005 at 4:53 PM
Rocko did not "out" anybody Reality Check Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005 at 6:46 PM
Leslie outed?? AyatollahGondola Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005 at 8:13 PM
Don't trust me Rockero420 Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2005 at 1:03 AM
Hey, Reality Check! 1st hand source Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2005 at 5:06 PM
Hey Hey Hey RC Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2005 at 7:09 PM
If Leslie's mad at me let her excoriate me Rockero420 Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2005 at 10:16 PM
Hey John K Reality Check Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 at 5:54 PM
reply Jammer CC Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 at 6:51 PM
Hey, Benji 1st hand source Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 at 7:39 PM
Border Raven EL Chivo Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 at 11:33 PM
Re: Hey Hey Hey johnk Friday, Dec. 16, 2005 at 1:37 AM
reply Jammer CC Friday, Dec. 16, 2005 at 2:25 AM
reply again Jammer CC Friday, Dec. 16, 2005 at 2:32 AM
E-mail rockero420 Friday, Dec. 16, 2005 at 9:44 AM
Regarding the ACLU and NCLR and 420 johnk Friday, Dec. 16, 2005 at 2:07 PM
reply Jammer CC Friday, Dec. 16, 2005 at 5:12 PM
1Hand Gaybaiting, Putting Words in My Mouth Really Czech Friday, Dec. 16, 2005 at 7:27 PM
Infiltrated!? Border Raven Saturday, Dec. 17, 2005 at 12:38 AM
SPLC Facts Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 at 4:09 AM
reply Jammer CC Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 at 4:23 AM
Infact Jammer CC Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 at 4:26 AM
Your Just Thinking Like a Cop Dude Spare us the liberal nicey nice Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 at 6:43 PM
I didn't know Damned Confused Now Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 at 7:22 PM
His use of Liberal johnk Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 at 10:07 PM
Leslie outed herself Not Rockero Sunday, Dec. 18, 2005 at 10:13 PM
to Rockero Mike Monday, Dec. 19, 2005 at 10:08 AM
Outing orientation AyatollahGondola Monday, Dec. 19, 2005 at 7:02 PM

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