The past few weeks have been critical moments for our organization. With this letter I am hoping to provide you with both an idea of how we came to develop each of our statements and final position —to honor the targeted boycott by cancelling our national institute and to support our Arizona colleagues by holding a MALCS Arizona State Conference. Hopefully, by examining the two positions we can draw out what we need to do in the following months. By honoring the boycott, we recognize that any decision requires us to understand its impact and to find ways of putting into operation new forms of organizing and mobilizing, of finding ways of materially expressing solidarity.
Prior to the crystallization of a boycott movement, I undertook writing the first MALCS statement. Earlier in the year there was a call to boycott Arizona because of the proposed immigration bill along with other repressive measures that the state legislature would take up (March 24, 2010; http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/03/24-5). The action proposed was for nationwide economic pressure to affect businesses that contribute financially to politicians who support this discriminatory measure—targeting the Arizona Diamondback Baseball Team. At that time, the Exec was in discussion with the site committee about all aspects of the activities there. The site committee clarified that the boycott was targeted at specific companies in order to create pressure on the Arizona tourist economy. Our discussion focused on the Call for the 2010 Institute that addressed the issues before the activists of Arizona from immigration to education to other repressive legislation. In late April, the passage of SB 1070 was eminent, and the site committee with the Exec was aware of how holding our 2010 Institute in Arizona could become one more constituent part of the struggle for justice.
With the first draft of the MALCS position statement, there were calls for a boycott (see http://act.presente.org/go/shame?mid=2153-2894).
One of the leading voices for a boycott is Congressman Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, calling for out-of-state organizations to refrain from holding conventions and events in Arizona. But before considering a boycott, Congressmen Ed Pastor, D-Arizona, and Luis Gutiérrez, D- Illinois, stated that they wanted to see direct action from the Obama administration to block enforcement of the new law that would take effect in August. On April 21st, a large meeting at an African American church, made up of activists for immigration reform and other civil rights issues expressed the objectives of a boycott as a strategy for justice, and expressed support if such a call would become the strategy for action (http://us.oneworld.net/article/369336-latinos-blacks-join-fight-civil-rights-arizona ).
On Monday April 22nd, students took up action and blockaded the doors of the Arizona state capitol to stop the passage of the bill (youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DW3jD-P7JPs ). The students called for continued action at the Arizona state capitol. At the time, when I was completing the first MALCS statement, the momentum was one in which organizers were portraying that moment as a “freedom summer.” That is, the call was to continue to demonstrate through civil disobedience. Students from Los Angeles immediately heeded the call and sent students to hold the line at the AZ state capitol. By that evening, Jan Brewer signed the bill into law. And Representative Grijalva called for an economic boycott.
And our first statement was issued. In the following days the call for a boycott of Arizona burgeoned. The discussion on holding the 20101 Institute in Arizona packed our email in-boxes. Comments from members, whichever position, reflected our passionate urgency to respond to the new law. Each and everyone looked for ways to honor and support the work of the site committee, the activists of Arizona and at the same time many volunteered to work on any aspect of mobilization and organization.
Then the Exec decided on the poll. Our reasoning was to get as much of the voice of the membership. It was not a vote, but a way for both the Exec and the site committee to get a sense of what the membership wanted. The four areas that were considered–to honor the boycott (cancel or hold outside of Arizona), or to hold the 2010 Institute (to find ways of participating with technological/virtual participation or in ways to minimize economic support to Arizona’s tourist economy) were garnered from the various emails. About 170 people responded. Overwhelmingly, the membership wanted to honor the boycott as well as hold the institute, but in an alternative site (not in Arizona).
As the poll was occurring and email discussion continued, the Exec began the process of following up and finding an alternative site for the Institute. At the same time, the call for the boycott became a targeted boycott. Additionally, there was a call for organizers and educators to mobilize support for the actions in Arizona. This resulted in a protest of 50,000 on May 29TH. Also, during this time, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund along with other civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit challenging SB 1070. Moreover, The Exec immediately joined with NACCS and other professional groups in a press conference to protest the passage of SB 1080 on May 19TH at the Arizona State capitol.
Both Monica Torres, Chair Elect, and I went to Arizona to attend the press conference. More than 11 state and national professional associations endorsed, and eight attended. There were three television channels present, two independent documentary makers, one radio station, and a two of Latino magazines. The press release was also published in Common Dreams and in the Chronicle of Higher Education web page.
In addition, we met with the site committee. The site committee’s estimate of events showed the variety of positions on the boycott. What became clear was that a general call for a boycott has crystallized into a “targeted boycott.” This distinction is important as we develop what we can and are able to do in the following months. What was clear to me was that there were two tendencies in reaction to SB 1070 and other legislation. On the one hand, the call for a boycott was one in which many felt that there was the need to create greater national attention to the issues before the democratic organizations of Arizona. On the other hand, the call for people to come to Arizona, that is, for those who oppose repression, came from the need to present a massive response to the SB 1070 and other bills that have and will continue to be on the state legislative agenda. Thus, the call for educators, researchers, and activists to come to Arizona will continue beyond the National Day of Protest on May 29th.
Through the meetings, with both Phoenix and Tucson members and activists, the attention to actions and activities of the youth became an important part of our discussions. Sandy Soto, Lydia Otero and other professors in Tucson joined students on the lines of protest particularly focusing on HB 2281 (which passed last week making it illegal for a school district to have any courses or classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity “instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals”). In Phoenix, students who sat in and were arrested were involved in the MALCS site committee and bringing other mujeres to participate in the MALCS event.
The appeal from our Arizona members is that we find as many ways possible to support the MALCS Arizona State Conference–especially, since the the Court is expected to come to a decision about the constitutionality of SB 1070 in July. Members expressed that those organizations who are fighting for fair and just immigrant reform are preparing for either a demonstration or celebration when that court decision comes down.
As a result, the MALCSistas are organizing a state conference in a way that allows flexibility to their conference to respond. On their agenda will be the young women who are part of the Capitol Nine (the youth and students who sat in and blocked the doors of the state capitol in April) and to have Sandy Soto who with conviction and honor took up SB 1070 and stood her ground in spite of the hostile reaction of the commencement audience. The Arizona MALCSistas having been activists and participants of the peace and justice communities framed the initial 2010 MALCS Institute call with the very issues of the communities that they have worked with, and with the organizations of Arizona who have been mobilizing for justice for more than 30 years. As a result of the coalition of organizations working together, the MALCS Arizona State Conference will develop plenary sessions that will feature those organizers who are part of the movements and who will be ready to discuss with them what next steps are needed to continue to build the movement for immigration reform and to address the new phase of the cultural wars.
Earlier, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, Illinois Democrat, said if the law is signed then President Obama must assert the primacy of federal law in this area and tell the state it cannot enforce it. As many of the immigration movement have noted, the Republican Party will not allow the discussion or passage of a national immigration reform bill—as seeing that this has been the conduct of the Republican Party to the various bills in the US legislature. This may be a strategy of the Republican Party— where states implement immigration policy that undermine the Constitution through the language of state’s rights. If this is so, the sites of the cultural war may shift and it will require greater links between activists of different states and regions. This places upon MALCS, as a national organization, the need to find ways to promote links of interaction.
In order to support the MALCS Arizona State Conference, we are not organizing our usual Institute or any other regional conferences during July 21-24. Moreover, we are working with the Arizona MALCS members to find ways to be hooked into their State Conference. We are discussing ways in which the MALCS Arizona State Conference becomes a form for organizing and developing action as needed. Therefore, the Arizona MALCSistas are working with their tech office for streaming, skyping or webbing so that nationally MALCS is plugged in during the critical days of the court decision (anytime between July 14 to 24th)..
There are still other issues before us. Since taking the position to support the targeted boycott, it is understandable that we are in very different standing and it calls for greater flexibility.
As the Exec deliberated on an alternative site, our discussion focused on the need to develop MALCS as a national organization that can respond to issues that affect our community. Additionally, we felt that having as many members as possible attending would be important, so we considered tagging on to Society for Gloria Anzaldúa Conference from Nov. 5 – 7, 2010 since many of our members will be participating.
As a result, the Exec is calling for a MALCS Special Conference (Bridging Letras y Cambio Social) on November 8th and 9th in San Antonio (at either UTSA or Trinity University). A Special Conference would allow us to develop a discussion to address not simply bylaws, but to consider how to bridge letras and cambio social. While the agenda is not set, some of the ideas include how to enhance MALCS footing in social action as a national organization, an analysis of the immigration laws and the current situation, and to address how women are affected by SB1070-like laws.
There will be more information coming soon. I am hoping that as all of us consider the agenda before MALCS, that you will be patient with the leadership as we try to sort through these new issues before MALCS.
Again, I want to thank you for your tremendous energy, enthusiasm and efforts to keep MALCS unified and organized during these past weeks.