TUCSON, AZ - As we prepare to get arrested as a result of the passage of a new anti-ethnic studies law in Arizona, several attorneys explain to about 30 of us in Tucson’s state building the consequences of getting arrested. As such, the numbers are winnowed down to about half due to legal reasons such as parental authorization and age. Many of those making these decisions are middle, high school and college students.
All of us who remain on the second floor of the state building have thoughts racing through our minds. As I think about why I’m prepared to get arrested, all I can think of is the Nahuatl concept of Ipalnemoani: That for which we live – or the Mayan concept of Hunab Ku.
We can summon all the linguists and all the great philosophers of the world, but in the end, their translations will not suffice. It is meaning that I am looking for, not words. This is about who we are and about what makes us human. And for me, it boils down to one question: What in life is worth getting arrested for?
For many of us, the right to our own narrative – the right to memory – is one of them.
The decision to get arrested is a collective one. These youngsters are courageous and determined to defend that which is theirs: a department (Ethnic/Mexican American Studies) that affirms who they are as full human beings, as peoples with a culture, history and philosophy, dating back thousands of years.
Perhaps another 200 protestors on the first floor of the building are also subject to arrest because they are also participating in a boisterous demonstration inside the state building. It is here where the state superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne – who spearheaded this law – has taken refuge after he failed to show up at Tucson Unified School District headquarters where perhaps 1,000 students surrounded that building.
Now, in the summer heat, that question -- as to what triggers a decision to get arrested – is foremost on peoples’ minds, especially here in Arizona. It has come to that.
Several weeks before the racial profiling law (SB 1070) was signed, nine students and community members chained themselves to the state capitol and got arrested (The charges have since been dropped). After the 15 of us got arrested for criminal trespass, the week after that, five students and community organizers staged a sit-in at Sen. John McCain’s office in Tucson, urging him to support the DREAM Act. All subjected themselves to historic arrests – exposing themselves to deportation. Then a week later, a dozen members of the statewide O’odham Solidarity Across Borders Collective took over and occupied the Border Patrol Headquarters in Tucson. Six were arrested for Disorderly Conduct and Criminal Trespass.
This flurry of arrests highlights and brings to the fore what is happening in this insane asylum called Arizona, including the forthcoming attempt to void the 14th Amendment, which guarantees birthright citizenship to all those born in this country. This is also happening amid the constant arrival of racial and political extremists to this state.
As Arizona gets more insane, we have arrived at a moral precipice. Soon, others will face the same question; beyond protesting, people will ask: what am I willing to get arrested for?
In other countries, and at other points in history, this has triggered a different question: What am I willing to fight and die for? Here, that question has been inverted: What am I willing to live for? That such a question is being contemplated tells us that many people here are not content with simply sending emails or blasting text messages to our senators.
And thus, as the anti-Mexican/anti-Indigenous and anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to escalate, the Obama administration capitulates by continuing to further militarize the border. This Arpaioization of not simply the border, but the nation, continues to elicit an unprecedented response. Human rights activists nationwide have united to boycott the state, while more than 100,000 recently protested in Phoenix.
As July 29 fast approaches, the date when the racial profiling law will take effect, people in Arizona, but also nationwide, will face a life-changing decision (We will also face that decision on Jan. 1, 2011, the date when the anti-ethnic studies law goes into effect). Will we commit to mass civil disobedience or will we lack the courage as happened when Americans sat idly by as their fellow Japanese American citizens were illegally and inhumanely marched off to camps during World War II?
This is when history calls upon all of us to make that momentous decision. This time around, hopefully, the right decision will be made.