The first rule of any boycott is to keep your eyes on the prize; translated, this means never lose sight of the problem, the objectives, the solutions and the bigger picture.
Arizona is speeding towards an apartheid state. Some of this rush has to do with repressive laws (including the legalization of racial profiling and the elimination of ethnic studies) passed by the Republican-dominated legislature and recently signed by the governor. Truthfully, however, this move pre-exists the recent legislation and much of the repression against the Mexican community here is also historical in nature and it is actually nationwide.
On the surface, it is about migration issues. Yet if we probe a little deeper, it’s about power and the future demographic (voter rolls) makeup of the state. Translated: The Browning of Arizona. Probe some more and you will see that much of the hate has little to do with peoples’ legal status. That’s where English-Only and the new anti-ethnic studies law comes in. It is not simply about our physical presence (red-brown), but about our culture – which is thousands of years old and Indigenous to this continent. In this sense, it is beyond physical removal and even beyond thought-control; this is about our souls.
Mexicans-Central Americans in this country are the primary targets. Also generally targeted are peoples who have been in the United States for many generations (Mexican Americans), along with other Indigenous red-brown peoples from South America and the Caribbean. Tragically, in the end, as state and federal governments defend themselves against racial profiling charges, they will move toward a checkpoint society in which officials will demand documentation of everyone in the country, of all ages and at all times.
Some of the people in power in Arizona who are directly responsible for this move towards apartheid are: Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – responsible for refining racial profiling [of Indigenous peoples] into an art form; Rep. Russell Pierce – the architect of most of the anti-immigrant bills; State School Superintendent Tom Horne – the force behind the anti-ethnic studies bills and an avowed opponent of Raza Studies; and the unelected Gov. Jan Brewer – who has signed many of the draconian laws in question. These are but the latest in a long line of culprits.
Across the country, about a dozen states are poised to follow in Arizona’s footsteps and each of these states have their Arpaio-Pierce-Horne-Brewer equivalents. Yet indeed, at the root of this crisis is the federal government’s failure to address the issue of immigration – not on the basis of fear, hate and the politics of blame, but rather, as part of a global economic and labor crisis.
The crazies in the state legislature have been emboldened to create their own immigration and foreign policies because a half-dozen presidents and Congress since 1986 (the last comprehensive reform effort) have failed to address these issues. They actually have addressed them, but strictly from a military/law enforcement point of view. A comprehensive immigration reform law could theoretically nullify these anti-immigrant state laws, but there’s no guarantee that the result will actually be better. At best, it might simply return us to uniform national repressive laws and practices such as the ones that result in the funneling of thousands upon thousands of human beings into the Arizona/Sonora desert, which have resulted in the recovery of some 5,000 bodies since the 1990s… or that create the kangaroo court known as Operation Streamline, now in 5 cities nationwide (In these courtrooms, some 70 migrants are processed daily in one hour). Uniform laws and practices would obviate the need for state boycotts, but then what would be boycotted – the federal government?
The problem will not be solved on a state-by-state basis. The root – the current crisis at hand – can actually be traced to NAFTA. This 1994 trilateral agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico has been a boon for corporations, but disastrous for workers, especially Indigenous peoples from the maiz-growing regions of southern Mexico. Millions have been uprooted as a result of the importation of U.S.-subsidized [genetically modified] corn into Mexico. NAFTA’s original promise was that it would solve the immigration crisis. What has instead occurred is the further devastation of Mexico.
The subsequent agreements covering Central America, (CAFTA) the Americas (FTAA) and the world (GATT) all portend similar results.
For the moment, the national focus is on Arizona. And the question has become: how does one boycott a state? On its face, it seems fairly easy, but there are actually few precedents for successfully boycotting a state. Congressman Raul Grijalva has called for a limited boycott, calling for organizations not to schedule future conventions and conferences in the state. For organizations that have chosen Arizona prior to this call, he expects organizations to make their own decisions about whether to cancel, etc.
Those of us in the trenches are calling for a wider boycott – of tourism and especially against corporations that support and have supported the cabal of extremist politicians in our state. While there is no statewide or national coordinating or sanctioning body (yet) to carry out such a campaign, there are many organizations that have been battling the repression in Arizona for many years, including Tucson’s Derechos Humanos. Contact them for guidance re the boycott, though everyone, including all organizations have to make their decisions re the boycott themselves . Through all this, there is consensus at the moment but about one thing: while tourists are encouraged to stay away; organizers are encouraged to flood the state. Those who come – akin to the freedom riders of the 1960s – can be housed and fed in homes or in businesses that have allied themselves against these repressive laws and conditions.
People should always remain focused on the big picture. The current objective is to hurt Arizona’s economy to the point where the governor and the extremist legislators will eventually come to their senses. Such objective has to be to assist us in our battles against extremist forces, not to turn against each other. Fanaticism is the last thing we need. As noted, organizers continue to be welcome, and in Arizona, the focus has to continue to be Arpaio-Pierce-Horne-Brewer and their corporate allies, etc. One thing about Arizona is that it is also Indian Country – a factor in considering who/what gets boycotted, etc.
In the end, the solution to the migration crisis has to be national and international in scope. These policies cannot or will not be solved at the state or even national levels. The administration has the responsibility to create a solution, but any solution – including agreements with other nations – have to have human beings at the center. Any solution that does not recognize migrants as full human beings with corresponding full human rights is but a recipe for legalized human smuggling, a new bracero program, maximum exploitation and dehumanization and the further militarization of both the border and nation.
If these laws are replicated by the 12 other states, it would be difficult to carry out a boycott of Arizona only, and in a global economy, it probably would also be difficult to limit a boycott to 13 states, particularly if the president eventually signs a law that primarily focuses on borders/walls and further militarization. Is a boycott of the United States a possibility or even feasible? Already, both of these laws in question were denounced last week by UN human rights experts in Geneva. Arizona is not hyperbole, but rather, a laboratory or a spear point for hate and racism. These and similar laws are in clear violation of international laws – laws that clearly single people out for both their color/race and culture. And at the moment, whom they are singling out are not simply Mexicans/Central Americans – but generally, those with Indigenous features (and their/our ways of thinking). That’s why many of us say that this is the culmination of a 518-year war – centering on issues of legalities and illegalities. This is also why Indigenous leaders from throughout the continent last year unanimously proclaimed that peoples from this continent cannot be illegal on this continent. Any boycott must affirm this principle.
The theft of a continent is not a closed chapter in human history (Nor has it become legal simply because of the passage of time). And yet, truly, no human being can be illegal on any continent. This truly is a civilizational clash – between those that believe, vs. those that don’t believe, that all peoples deserve to be treated as full human beings with full corresponding human rights – regardless of where they/we live.
For many of us, this is the context of the boycott, and yet, it is beyond a boycott.
ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at XColumn@gmail.com