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SB1070: A Story of Resistance and the Demise of Russell Pearce (Part II)


Chris Griffin • Jun 10, 2011

(Read Part I of this series here)

The day before SB1070 was supposed to take effect, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional several of the more extreme portions of the law.   Despite hearing the news that SB1070 had been crippled by the decision, Pearce and supporters tried to talk up the law; reframing the argument away from the loss by arguing that most of the law was found constitutional and would go into effect.

A huge supporter of the law, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, also announced he would begin enforcing the law by launching a major raid in various communities in Maricopa County on the day it went into effect.  It was an obvious attempt to grab some publicity and both celebrate the law and to create a level of fear in migrant communities; something Arpaio is known for.  In addition, some local Tea Party groups had organized some small rallies to express frustration over the court’s decision and to try and create a sense that SB1070 was widely supported.

The headline, however, would go to none of them.  After hearing that SB1070 had been crippled by the court’s decision, thousands of people still took to the streets in Arizona to demand the full repeal of SB1070 and send a clear message that this anti-immigrant extremism would not be tolerated.  During the protest there were several different acts of civil disobedience in both Phoenix and Tucson that led to the arrests of more than 80 protesters in all.

In one major act of civil disobedience, hundreds surrounded the 4th Avenue Jail – where Arpaio and local agencies usually process those arrested – and refused to back down, even in the face of intimidation by swat team officers.  Several of the protestors even went as far as to chain themselves in front of the jail.  Many others were arrested when they took to the street in front of one of Arpaio’s offices and refused to leave.

This was one of the largest acts of civil disobedience that Arizona has seen in some time, protesting not just SB1070, but the agenda it represented.  The moment was defined completely by the protesters and the moral stance they were taking and it captured both national and international attention.  The small Tea Party rallies that were also held became completely invisible and their message lost amongst the message of human dignity and justice.   In addition, the major raid that Arpaio had announced; never happened.  All those resources Arpaio looked to use were instead diverted towards policing the protests and towards processing the dozens that were arrested.

Arpaio being the politically savvy person he is would never admit it, but he was clearly frustrated by this development.  His visit to the jail cell of the protesters to ask them why they were protesting and where they came from would illustrate this perfectly.  It was almost surreal moment when he walked into our cell.  In a conversation with a protester from Florida, Arpaio asked why he drove all the way from there for the protest.  The protester replied “because it was the right thing to do.”  After he left the cell where most of the male protesters were housed (we were often shifted from cell to cell), he walked to the cell that housed many of the female protesters.  Realizing what he was up to they immediately expressed defiance to him by singing a great song of resistance; We Shall Overcome. Arpaio was forced to just walk away.

Since then, and despite very strong lobbying efforts by private detention companies and by extreme anti-immigrant groups like FAIR, SB1070 continues to be used less as inspiration for other laws in other states and more for criticizing Pearce, Arizona and the anti-immigrant movement as a whole.   It has also served as a major inspiration for a historic recall effort that is now extremely close to forcing a recall of Pearce; the same man who often tries to hold SB1070 up as a trophy of his ignorant determination.

In order to successfully recall Pearce, organizers needed to collect 7,756 signatures from his district in Mesa, AZ.  The group collected more than twice the required amount, turning in 18,310 signatures.  In fact, they turned in more signatures than Pearce had votes (17,552) in the last election.  Considering the number of signatures they were able to get, it is all but certain that the recall effort will be successful in forcing a new election.

In fact, following the initial review of the signatures by the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, which finished nearly a week early, 16,949 signatures have officially been passed to the recorder for further review.  The only question left is if that special election will happen this November or March of next year.  Either way this recall will make history and “Russell Pearce will be the first State Senate President to be RECALLED in the history of the United States!”

After hearing about the success of the recall effort, Pearce and supporters have moved from denial and arrogance to trying to find ways to collect money to help Pearce in fighting the recall, even if it means violating election laws.

According to a recent article in the Arizona Republic, a group headed by former U.S. Rep Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) calling itself Team America, “sent an e-mail blast Friday soliciting corporate and private donations” in “unlimited amounts.”   Tancredo – who has a history of controversy – is also a well-known anti-immigrant extremist.   He was  under fire last year for saying at a picnic rally for another politician that President Obama is “the greatest threat to the United States today.”

Ignoring the rest of Tancredo’s controversies, the real issue here is the degree to which Pearce needs outside help to defend himself against the recall.  It is often argued that most Arizonans support Pearce and SB1070, but now that Pearce is on the verge of being recalled, where is that support?  Why are Pearce and his supporters being forced to potentially breaking state election laws and why are they relying so heavily on corporate donations?  Clearly his and SB1070’s “support” was just propaganda used to justify a law that could not be justified on its own merit.

A year ago, Pearce held SB1070 up as a defining moment in his political career and while he still holds a lot of pride in it, it is clear that it has come to mean something much different than he hoped it would.  Much to his demise, people have fought back against this anti-immigrant movement with unwavering determination and because of the role they have all played, the story of SB1070 is one that displays the power of continued resistance; of resilience in the face of despair.  It shows us how even when times are at their hardest and politics are at their scariest, that we all have the power to steal the moment and define it as our own.  We have the power to think for ourselves and write our own history.

There is hope for Arizona yet.

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