Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some Thoughts on Hate Speech

I participated in a panel discussion yesterday at Cal State Long Beach called "Hate Speech, Hate Crimes and Far Right Movements." Joining me on the panel were Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Randy Blazak, Director of Hate Crimes Research Network, Brian Case of Lamba Legal and Kevin O’Grady of the Anti-Defamation League.

Nativo Lopez 4

Below are my prepared remarks:

Pope Benedict XVI will be in Washington, D.C. tomorrow and the media is awash in analyzing the church, its demographic present and future, the trajectory of the pope, and the swirling controversy of sexual abuse that has plucked more than $2 billion from the church’s coffers. This is the same pope who was previously responsible for guarding the doctrine of the church and almost single-handedly ban liberation theology and its advocates from the pulpit. And, who would have thought a generation ago that Latinos would constitute a third of the church faithful today, and according to a recent Pew Institute report, nearly half of American Catholics under the age of 40 are Latino, predominantly of Mexican origin. This is like saying that the future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. is premised on the continued existence and growth of the Latino community, particularly the immigrant stock of this community – typically the most fervently loyal and pious.

Why is this of any importance in relation to the theme of today’s panel discussion? Well, it wasn’t too long ago that Catholics were the targets and victims of the same type of hate speech, hate crimes, and the invective of the far right movements across the U.S. landscape. Italian, Irish, Polish, and other southern European immigrants came to our shores, passed through Ellis Island, were greeted by Lady Liberty, and brought with them their religion, their customs, their country ways, their diet and foodstuffs, dress, language, ethic and habits – dropped into the growing cauldron of all other immigrants that comprised the rapidly expanding industrialized base of the still very young United States. The Know-Nothing Party was as much an anti-immigrant far right movement as it was anti-Catholic. It claimed that Catholic immigrants could not be loyal to America, but instead owed their loyalty to a foreign sovereign, the pope who sat on his throne in the Vatican.

Does this sound familiar with today’s speech in relation to the speech about loyalty of the new immigrants in post-9/11 America? Who are the new targets and victims of such speech?

Should we be concerned about the far right movements and groups such as the ill-labeled Minutemen, and all the border vigilante derivative groups? Absolutely. But of greater concern to me is the growing monopolization and concentration of the media in fewer and fewer corporate hands, particularly electronic media – radio and television. These are all licensed entities by our government. That means that we, the public taxpayers, own the public airways, but license them through the Federal Communication Commission to private parties (and few publicly owned stations). This is where the principal propaganda damage is committed against the American people. This is where the most aggressive assault on reason, science, and intelligence occurs in our country.

Similar to the demographic shift occurring in the Catholic Church, this is a national phenomenon in every facet of social life, and I would say that now it cannot be stopped, notwithstanding the construction of the infamous border wall and the projected 20,000 border agents positioned along the Mexican-U.S. international divide, the combined vigilante groups and the anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, and anti-Latino tirades of Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and other hate speech media hosts and commentators.

This unstoppable tendency was dictated by the restructuring of the U.S. economy beginning in the 1970s and accelerated during the 1990s. This was sped up with the initiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a “free” trade treaty signed between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, which went into effect on January 1, 1994. Something else occurred on that date, which was the immediate and proximate response to this neo-liberal agreement. This was the rise of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Chiapas, Mexico, and the broad social movement of indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Thirteen years later we have palpable evidence of the results. Millions of jobs evaporated from America and three million Mexican farmers and their families were thrown off their lands, and they joined the migrant trail north to unite with millions of other migrant cheap labor demanded by U.S. industries.

In 1988 the U.S. Department of Labor, under President Ronald Reagan, published a report titled ‘Workforce 2000.’ This report predicted the shifts in the U.S. workforce by the year 2000. It predicted the massive colorization and feminization of the workforce, the aging of white workers, the massive influx of immigrants – legal and undocumented – and the growth of less English-speaking and less educated workers. It foretold the serious under-supply of skilled workers, and laborers generally, in different industries and diverse geographical regions of the country.

It warned about a 20 million-worker shortfall by the year 2000. And it made numerous recommendations to address this not too unique American development. Western European countries are experiencing something similar.

Well we are now in 2008 and there is an estimated 12 to 15 million undocumented migrant laborers in the U.S. today. There are two other phenomena that continue to fuel immigration to the U.S. that are rarely if ever acknowledged. One, over the next fifteen years some 70 million workers – the most educated, professionally prepared, and skilled workforce in U.S. history – will voluntarily leave the world of work. This is the so-called baby-boom generation that will retire. It will be extremely difficult to replace them. Second, since 1972, with the Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, approximately 45 million abortions have been performed, and as Pat Buchanan, right-wing author and television pundit, agonized in his most recent book, ‘State of Emergency: Third World Invasion and Conquest of America,’ the advent of the pill (birth control) wreaked havoc on the country’s reproduction and growth.

The fact of the matter is that this has led to a population growth deficit in the U.S., which means that the native-born population is not reproducing itself in sufficient numbers to re-supply the workforce for the continued growth of the economy and sharper competitiveness vis a vis other industrialized nations and the developing competitors, China, India, and Brazil.

At the end of the day, as we like to say - we are here and we are not going anywhere (aqui estamos y no nos vamos).

The economy is becoming more and more dependent on immigrant labor, and this flies in the face of the Dobbsian ugliness espoused nightly on CNN. Irrespective of his rants, over 62 percent of Americans polled, and that includes those who identify themselves as Republicans, support some form of regularization of the undocumented. We are winning!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Immigrant and Civil Rights Orgs Urge Rejection of Zine/Smith Motions

Special Order 40 Press Conference
Monday, April 14, 2008
11 AM @ LAPD Parker Center

150 N. Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles

Contact - Manuel Criollo

Immigrant and Civil Rights Organizations Urge Mayor Villaraigosa and LA City Council to Reject Councilmember Zine and Smith’s Motion to Dismantle Special Order 40

Los Angeles, CA. The Labor Community Strategy Center, the Mexican American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana Lationamericana and other civil and immigrant rights organizations will hold a press conference in front of the LAPD headquarters at Parker Center to urge Mayor Villaraigosa and L.A. City Council to strongly reject Councilmember Zine and Smith’s motion to amend Special Order 40.

The “tough on crime” posture of many City leaders is fostering right wing anti-immigrant conservative forces in the region. It’s twisting the tragedy of violence in the streets and advancing policies that will weaken civil liberties and give LAPD carte blanche to racially profile Chicanos, Latinos, immigrants and young people of color.

Mayor Villaraigosa, L.A. City Council and Chief Bratton − Maintain and Expand Special Order 40. Make Los Angeles an Immigrant Sanctuary City! We want to recognize that many city leaders and the leadership of LAPD have been very vocal in their support to sustain Special Order 40, which is an important base line of unity. There is already troubling collaboration between ICE, LAPD, LASD, and the L.A. County District Attorney against suspected immigrant gang members and the communities they live in. While Mayor Villaraigosa’s March 27th letter to ICE concerning the negative impacts of workplace raids is an important statement, we strongly oppose any open ended invitation for ICE to crack down on so-called “immigrant criminals” as suggested by his letter. It has been well documented that during the mass “anti-immigrant crime” sweeps led by ICE in October of 2007, scores of people taken into custody were collateral arrest of immigrants innocent of any offense. We urge an unequivocal and sound rejection to the Zine/Smith motion, to assure all immigrants that they will not be targeted but protected inside the borders of the City of Los Angeles.

We Believe that Black and Brown Unity Must Be Built to Oppose the Growing Criminalization of Racialized Poverty and the Mass Incarceration of Black and Latino Communities – A Root Cause of the Violence in our Communities. We understand and empathize with the family of Jamil Shaw II, all life is precious and any loss of our young people is a tragedy. We believe that this type of violence is rooted in the accepted institutionalized racism, poverty and the growing criminalization that our communities and young people experience daily. One of the main culprits is the ballooning prison system that encourages racial antagonism between Black and Brown youth, as their number swell in segregated prison cells across the state. That tensions is tragically playing out in our streets and neighborhoods. The Zine/Smith amendment of Special Order 40 will unleash a heighten police presence and harassment of whole communities, an experience that both Blacks and Chicanos have known all but to well.

The gang database is the most racially subjective, secretive and punitive tool of local police enforcement. An open ended policy such as the Zine/Smith Motion which claims to target suspected “undocumented” gang members will have negative impacts on heavily populated immigrant and Latino neighborhoods. Policy experts have documented that the criteria local police agencies use to identify so-called gang members is highly subjective and racially driven. For example, in 2003 its been documented that approximately 47% of African American men in Los Angeles County between the age of 21 and 24 had been logged into Los Angeles County gang databases. The worst aspect of this process is its secretiveness – the vast majority of people logged into a gang database have no knowledge of their presence in the database.

We Want a 1,000 More Jobs, 1,000 Less Police! 1,000 More Librarians, 1,000 Less Police! 1,000 More Buses, 1,000 Less Police! From our perspective the growing anti-immigrant climate in the Country is closely related to the prioritization of police expansion and the over reliance on suppression and incarceration. The adaptation of these negative policies by the City of Los Angeles is reflected in the upcoming 2008-2009 budget discussions. We urge Mayor Villaraigosa and the LA City Council to support the reconstruction of the social safety net, help build healthy and environmentally sustainable communities and not to maintain and expand the police force “at any cost.” The real victims of the current prioritization will be Black, Latino and immigrant communities who bear the brunt of the social costs of unemployment, escalating cost of living and dwindling social services, further pushing our people into a vicious cycle of hopelessness, violence and mass incarceration.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

HML and MAPA Join Others in Protest against Zine/Smith Amendments to Special Order 40

Nativo Lopez 3

The Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and Hermandad Mexicana Lationamericana (HML) supports the Labor Community Strategy Center and other civil and immigrant rights organizations in urging the Mayor of Los Angeles and the City Council to reject the Zine/Smith amendments to Special Order 40. There will be a press conference tomorrow morning (Monday) at 11 a.m. in front of the LAPD headquarters at Parker Center to discuss the issue. I will not be present but below is my statement:

“The ‘tough on crime’ posture of many city leaders is fostering right wing, anti-immigrant forces in the region. It’s twisting the tragedy of violence in the streets and advancing policies that will weaken civil liberties and give the LAPD carte blanche to racially profile Chicanos, Latinos, immigrants and young people of color.

“I join others in calling upon Mayor Villaraigosa, the L.A. City Council and Chief Bratton to not only maintain Special Order 40 as written, but also to expand it. Los Angeles should be made to be a Sanctuary City for immigrants. While Mayor Villaraigosa’s 27 March letter to ICE concerning workplace raids is an important statement, we strongly oppose any open-ended invitation for ICE to crack down on so-called ‘immigrant criminals.’ It has been well documented that during the mass ‘anti-immigrant crime’ sweeps led by ICE last October, scores of people taken into custody were collateral arrests of immigrants innocent of any offense. As such, we collectively urge an unequivocal and sound rejection of the Zine/Smith motion, to assure all immigrants that they will not be targeted but rather protected inside the borders of the City of Los Angeles.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Bert Corona and the MLK Legacy

Bert Corona
(Bert Corona - 1968)

Today's 40th anniversay recognition of the day when a great American hero was prematurely taken from us we reflect on how much has been accomplished in changing America and how much has yet to be accomplished. Brother Corona was how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. greeted legendary labor, civil and immigrants' rights organizer and pioneer, Bert Corona, when he accompanied Corky Gonzalez and Reies Tijerina, both legendary Chicano civil rights leaders in their own right, when they visited Dr. King in Washington, D.C. in preparation of the Poor People's Campaign in 1968.

As Bert Corona conveyed the story on various occasions to younger confidants over the years, Dr. King worked very hard, in what came to be the final phase of his work, to broaden the composition and the theme of the civil rights movement and evolve it into a true people's movement for economic rights - what he called the common ground and common place to move America forward. Today we refer to this as inclusive organizing, nothing less than forging strategic alliances between constituencies of commonality.

Dr. King had invited Bert Corona, Corky Gonzalez, Reies Tijerina, and other leaders to Washington to discuss how to reach out to Chicanos, Mexican Americans, Hispanos, or as Corky would declaim, "whatever we call ourselves," in his famous poem, "I Am Joaquin," as part of the Poor People's March and what was projected to develop into a sustained campaign to radically change the country. Dr. King was not referring to tactical allies for one march, but contemplating the possibility of a strategic alliance for a prolonged fight of poor and working class whites, blacks, browns, Native Americans, and Asians.

Corona always spoke fondly about that meeting and how Martin Luther King referred to him and the others with respect and in a collaborative spirit. He shared the experience with reverence and always seemed to bow his head slightly and speak in a lower tone. It was evident that Corona was deeply touched by the encounter, but more by the ugly reality that their collaboration was not realized with the assasination of Reverend King.

We share these two articles with you, one, by Jesse Jackson, and the other, by Martin Luther King III, as we reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


MLK’s Legacy Is Alive and Well

Jesse Jackson
Op-Ed - New York Daily News
April 3, 2008

Friday, we honor the 40th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s martyrdom. King was a unique dreamer who planted a universal vision in all of our minds; an orator who turned words and sounds into works of art and liberation anthems.

Rev. King dreamed, but more critically he marched; he organized; he acted. He turned the race “conversation” into revolutionary legislation that would strike down centuries of slavery and segregation: the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision; the ‘55 court decision validating the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Park’s refusal to sit at the back of the bus. From the marching feet in Selma came the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Down the highway to Montgomery came the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And from the Chicago rallies came the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the last of the monumental civil rights legislation that sprang from King.

I had the privilege of working with King on his last journey, launching Operation Breadbasket and taking the movement north to Chicago. His fateful trip to Memphis in April 1968 was to lead onward to the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington. At the Rev. Jim Lawson’s urging, King agreed that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference must connect with the striking sanitation workers fighting for better working conditions and the right to a union.

We arrived in Memphis on April 3 to make plans for a march scheduled for April 8. In his last public address that evening, given at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, Rev. King not only rallied supporters for the march, but he noted the importance of “withdrawing economic support” as a means of taking protest to the next level.

“As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain,” he said.

Quite ominously Rev. King ended by saying, “I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land…I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Then on April 4, 6:01 p.m., as the shots rang out from across the street from the Lorraine Hotel, King fell to the ground on the balcony.

While much focus is on the metaphorical imagery of the “dream,” the content of King’s journey is found in the focus of his last major project - the Poor People’s Campaign - which King envisioned would be a journey for concrete, measurable racial and economic equality. It would be a new peaceful, nonviolent movement for jobs or an income, comprehensive health care, an end to the war in Vietnam and a transfer of resources to a new war on poverty at home. In essence, establishing a human rights “floor beneath which no American should fall.”

Were he alive today, King would call for an end to the war in Iraq, and to transfer the $1 trillion war expenses to a new war on poverty at home. He would call for enforcement of civil rights and fair housing laws, and comprehensive government assistance to protect homeowners and end the foreclosure crisis. He would press for equal, high quality education and health care for all Americans.

Rev. King would no doubt rejoice in the prospect of the first African-American or woman as President of the democracy he helped to forge, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton conduits through which a better and more mature America is expressing itself.

Today, King would not let anything or anyone “turn us around.” He’d keep on dreaming and organizing to transform inequality into “Equanomics” - race and economic equality in employment, education, empowerment and entrepreneurship for all Americans. He’d show us courage to face down fear, he’d help us work with love for equality and turn anger to peaceful action. That’s the Rev. King I knew, and the one I wish were here with us today.

Jackson is founder and president of the RainbowPUSH Coalition.


Speaking Truth to Poverty

Martin Luther King III
Op-Ed - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
April 3, 2008

It has been 40 years since the last sermon my father gave at the National Cathedral in Washington, when he called upon our nation’s leaders to eradicate poverty once and for all, explaining that, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”

Today, as our nation continues to be plagued by a poverty that is inexcusable when coupled with record riches amassed by the wealthy, the challenge that consumed my father toward the end of his life has remained comfortably entrenched within the realm of rhetoric and not action.
I therefore call upon all our presidential candidates to take a vow that, within the first 100 days in office as commander in chief, he or she will appoint a cabinet-level officer whose responsibility will be to make a measurable impact on eradicating poverty and allow more Americans to move up into our middle class.

A poverty cabinet member is necessary today more than ever. Our next president will be taking over a government that faces virtually the exact same poverty rate my father found so appalling back in 1968. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the current poverty rate is just over 12 percent, as it was in 1968, while the number of people living in poverty has grown from 25 million to more than 36 million, including 12 million children. Even worse, a family of four with two children and an annual income of $21,027 is not even considered poor by our government’s reporting standards. Many people have become immune to these statistics, but we cannot wait for another Katrina to truly grasp that America is awash in poverty.

The work of the cabinet officer must transcend the ceremonial. His or her principal focus must be highlighting successful programs working at the local level, developing new, more accurate measurements for poverty, and setting benchmarks for success by which the administration will be judged.

We can look to the leadership of Mayor Michael Bloomberg for developing the Office of Financial Empowerment within the Department of Consumer Affairs of New York City, which utilizes strategic partnerships and innovation to educate, empower and protect low-income New Yorkers. Going far beyond New York’s model, the national poverty office would investigate public policy that could boost income, increase savings, encourage asset building, protect consumers and work to bring about systemic change in the war on poverty. An emphasis would be placed on coordinating with the public, private and civic sectors to develop institution-based and action-oriented solutions while setting measurable benchmarks for success. This isn’t just about speeches. Just as America created a middle class through deliberate action once before, we can take the steps to restore opportunity to all our citizens again.

Finally, the office would develop more accurate measurements for poverty that wouldn’t overlook the family of four barely surviving on $21,000 a year. With real data, the office can generate meaningful reports on the causes and effects of poverty that will raise the profile of poverty as a national issue and highlight successful anti-poverty policies that can be promoted to Congress, the president and the public. In a nation heavily influenced by our market-based principles, we pay attention to what we can count. So it’s time to start counting correctly.

My father spent his life in the trenches of a war that poses a true threat to our peace and security as a nation. He fought the war on poverty with the sanitation workers in Memphis, and he was moved to continue that fight as he witnessed barely clothed children in Marks, Miss., and a mother in Newark, N.J., raising her children in a rat-infested apartment.

Four decades have come and gone, but as I have traveled the country continuing the fight on poverty, I have seen firsthand that the poverty remains the same.

I urge our nation, our citizens, our businesses, our government and our presidential hopefuls to remember my father’s caution in his final sermon: There is no such thing as a conscientious objector in the war on poverty.

Martin Luther King III is an international human rights activist and chairman and CEO of Realizing the Dream Inc.