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Confused, Sad and Proud: White Solidarity in the Fight Against SB1070

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Aug 05, 2010

I am a white, United States citizen who was involved in a massive demonstration against Arizona’s new law SB1070. I spent $400, three vacation days from work and 13 hours of travel time to link arms with thirty strangers, block one downtown intersection, ignore three police warnings, and be taken to jail in a paddy wagon. I spent a soul-crushing 26 hours in a Phoenix jail, before being released — confused and sad. Then, I called my mom. I told her what happened asked her if she was proud of me. I know that must sound absolutely stupid. My mom is a Jewish, upper middle-class white woman. A kid with a criminal record is an absolute sign of bad parenting.

But to me, even stupider than telling my mom I got arrested and expecting her pride is that I was only one of a 100 people arrested in protest of SB1070 that day in Phoenix. It’s stupid that there weren’t a million of us.

SB1070 is “the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure in decades” (Wikipedia) and has been criticized widely for institutionalizing racism into Arizona law. Although it will spend a long time in the court system, most of its core is already being practiced in Maricopa County, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio bills himself in a self-created media circus as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”

After being in Phoenix, I can tell you what having “America’s Toughest Sheriff” does for white people and people of color. It has everyone living in fear. White people are living in constant fear of the “other” and people of color are living in constant fear of being targeted and picked up by the police and ICE, whether they’re citizens or not.

One of Arpaio’s favorite tactics is to stop anyone who looks “suspicious” while driving. I met an Arizona State University international student who is in the US legally on a student visa, paying $20,000 in out-of-state tuition yearly. To avoid any run-ins with the police, he has mostly stopped driving, unless he’s with white friends. He is planning to transfer to a California school in the fall.

I met a Native American man on the light-rail who has twice been pulled over and released after police demanded his proof of citizenship. Can it get more wrong than a white police officer demanding to know where a Native American came from?

One woman who was arrested with me was stopped one week ago driving near her home. For two hours, police tried to find proof that she wasn’t a citizen and that she didn’t own her pick-up truck. Although her breasts were full of milk, with a nursing child at home, she spent a night in jail. She said she was tired of being quiet and had to fight back.

I also heard white people, outside of the context of the protest tell people of color to “go back to your country” and I saw a couple of white power tattoos. The news features sensational stories of “illegals” raping women, drug trafficking, and job loss. Phoenix is bursting with fear and tension.

But, there are white people who are joining with people of color to create communities that are committed to love and acceptance. I came to Arizona because of a call out from U.S. For All of US, who are encouraging white people to get involved when we see blatant racism at “tea parties,” in immigration laws and policing practices.

The Unitarian Universalists (UUs), who are majority white, have started a campaign called “Standing on the Side of Love” to support immigrant rights in the U.S. Thirty UUs were in jail with me, too. A lot of them were reverends and middle-aged moms who were holding hands singing calming songs in the face of oncoming riot cops. The only African American woman arrested with us was a UU woman, middle-aged and with a painful disability. She chose to be arrested, because she wanted the world to know this is a black issue, too.

While in Arizona, I met so many people of color that thanked me for getting involved. A lot of them had way more to lose than $400 and a misdemeanor. The joy of being in beloved community with them is overwhelming.

In Arizona, the lines are being drawn by white people and for white people. It’s hard to not take a stand as a white person one way or the other. In other states, it is easier to go about our daily lives and not think about it. But, with the coming of copy-cat legislation across the country, pretty soon, we’re all going to have to decide between living in beloved community and living in fear. Now, I’m just waiting for the day my mom calls me and tells me she’s confused and sad, asks me if I’m proud of her.

–Mae Singerman

9 Responses to “Confused, Sad and Proud: White Solidarity in the Fight Against SB1070”

  1. Gary Gletty says:

    Reading this made me furious as well as sad. There’s a political opportunist in my congressional district running for office on nothing but cliches like, “I want to take my country back.” He, like so many of the media and other greedy opportunists are perfecctly willing to take this country away from people or to prevent them from sharing in it. It is shameful, destructive, and a tire iron to the knee caps of every decent human beingin this country who is trying to expand its ideals to include all people. And then they have the clossal affrontery to say that they are the victims. Blessings on you, Mae, and thank you for your commitment.

  2. Mae
    Tears are welling up in my eyes as I read this. Thank you my sister. It is because of courageous people like yourself, willing to spend your own money, risk ridicule and rejection from peers and personal safety to take a Stand for Love. How I honor you and ALL the many whites that stood in Arizona, I honor you, I love you, I ask you to keep moving forward, there is so much work to do
    Thank you for taking the time to share

  3. Sally Burnell says:

    I remember how, after 9/11, there were calls to round up every single Middle Eastern person in this country and deport them. People now are reacting to a sour economy by pointing accusing fingers at Latinos for coming into this country and taking dirty, dangerous and backbreaking jobs that people say should go to Americans, but the problem is that many of these jobs are ones that no one else wants, so companies hire illegal immigrants because they know that they can exploit them, house them in unsafe conditions, make them work for preposterously low wages with no benefits in unsafe working environments all in the name of profit and bettering their bottom line to be able to pay their shareholders bigger dividends. Now a bunch of Republicans want to revoke the 14th amendment which guarantees American citizenship to everyone born on American soil. When any freedom is taken away from any group, it affects all of us. We in turn lose some of our freedom, and that is too high a price to pay for trying to solve the immigration issue. Since 9/11, we’ve already sacrificed too many of our freedoms as it is, thinking that in so doing, we are somehow safeguarding ourselves when in fact we put ourselves at greater risk by so doing.

    I am extraordinarily proud to be a UU and to know that my minister, the Rev. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer (UU Church of Kent, OH), was among those arrested in Phoenix by witnessing for those who struggle against these cruel laws meant to target Hispanics. There are almost as many Irish illegals in this country as there are Hispanics and they are not being at all targeted because they are white and speak English, so these laws are racist in nature and must be opposed. I am moved and proud to know that the Unitarian Universalists who went to Phoenix witnessed against this unjust law that targets a particular ethnic group. Bravo, UUs!

  4. mae says:

    thank you for your comments. audrey, i hope you dont mind me outing you as one of the amazing UUs i wrote about. audrey also has a piece she wrote about her experience and life. so much love and respect for you before and even more after reading about your struggle and journey so honestly and real. see audrey’s story here:

    http://www.standingonthesideoflove.org/blog/reflections-on-my-experience-in-arizona-last-week-my-arrest-what-happened-why-i-chose-to-be-arrested-and-my-hopes-for-the-future/

  5. Bruce Nissen says:

    Mae, excellent story. This reminds me of the song “My Name is Lisa Kalvaledge”, sung by Pete Seeger and Ani DiFranco, among others. Pete Seeger took the words of a woman speaking to the news media after she was arrested and put it to song. Lis Kalvaledge was (is? – she may still be alive) a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen who grew up as a child and teenager in Nazi Germany. She married a U.S. soldier and emigrated to the U.S. She was arrested after “putting her body on the line” in a demonstration against the U.S. aggression and wholesale slaughter of Vietnamese in Vietnam. In her statement she said that in America she was always questioned (“How could you stand by while Hitler . . .”) about her behavior and even more importantly her parents’ behavior during Hitler’s reign. Her statement said that she took her action of civil disobedience so that never would her own children have to be ashamed to answer the question, “Where was your mother when?” It is one of my favorite songs.

    You are carving the same path as Lisa Kalvaledge! I salute you!

  6. [...] to get rest, and I love spending time with family and learning and laughing, but shit, read what my friend did on HER summer vacation down in Phoenix. And another old friend asks some tough, honest questions about moving [...]

  7. Betty Jeanne says:

    Thank you for mentioning U.S. for All of Us! (www.USforAllofUs.org) More and more UU’s and other Standing on the Side of Love folks are joining this network, of white anti-racists nationally stepping for racial justice. Please sign on as individuals, congregations, organizations, etc. – you will be connected with local partners, and part of a coordinated national effort which helped bring folks to AZ, and will be taking further action nationwide.

    Way to go Mae!

  8. Awesome work over again Thanks a lot -)

  9. Good for you, Mae. I know your mom from MU. and Chicago. I am proud of you and your courage to speak out. Say hi to Rachel.

    Harriet Handelman Gordon

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