This morning Paula and I attended the first Unitariarian Church in downtown Denver. The Unitarians church was her childhood church; I have spoken there previously. We met Jeanette Vizguerra, and this is a photo of the three of us.
This week, Jeanette Vizquerra, a SEIU and immigrant rights activist and a mother of four, took sanctuary there. This is the second person to take refuge at the Church which devotes its compassion and resources to standing up to ICE, a despicable police force under Obama and now revved up under Trump breaking up the families of workers who do jobs in the fields, in garment, in construction which no one else would do (being a farmworker is so hard that latino garment workers in LA who were dedicated radicals went out to help organize in the fields came back after 6 months. It is that hard…). It is reminiscent of slavery…
We can unite and all stand up together. We can defend democracy, and a place where we can all breathe. If students forget about immigrants, however, the ravenous banks can sink them (for many of us, our children) deeper into debt-slavery. They can silence the corporate press (such as it is), the Courts, and academia. If we allow horrors to go on, we will become (America has done this throughout much of its history) hurt. Consider Trump’s bizarre opposition to science, actions to destroy the EPA, and speeding – if we do not support Standing Rock all out – of climate change/death to our species and perhaps life on earth…
Or we can be divided, have a fascist white America a la Steve Bannon. He seems himself as waging an age-old war against the Moslems – see his rare talk to a Catholic conference at the Institute for Human Dignity at the Vatican in 2014 and you will understand how fierce – in this case, ravingly racist – a Crusader Bannon is. A fascist, he speaks of others as Islamo-fascists. Bannon is very knowledgeable about Eurasian expansion in Russia, influential in the Putin-led elite – another fascist, imperial aim modeled on American Manifest Destiny and Lebensraum – the Wild East – for the Pan-German League and later the Nazis. Bannon is even knowledgeable about the “Traditionalism” of Julius Evola, for whom Mussolini’s race laws in 1938 weren’t fierce enough; Evola loved the secret rituals of Hitler’s SS….
And of course, Bannon and Sessions and Trump – and the scary jejune puppet Steven Miller spitting out that racist Presidential power “will not be challenged” on all the Sunday talk shows – are viciously anti-Latino. If they succeed in dividing white workers who are completely right about the exploitativeness of the ruling class but some of whom have chosen a bizarre “champion,” from black, latin and indigenous workers and others, they will not elevate “whites” through a vast public works program for a) it was Bannon’s chief emphasis even in 2014 and yet not a word of this has been spoken by Bannon-Sessions-Trump since the inauguration (now a month and counting), b) the wife-abuser and cheater of his workers/sexist Puzder went down, but with him, the Bannon anti-union vision means that there will be no decent wages on new jobs, even if they come to exist.
As SEIU shows, a union comprising immigrants and hospital workers, creating broad solidarities, decent wages and conditions come only with unions. Where unions are prevalent, wages and social services go up 20% compared to non-union areas. No wonder the “Republican”/imperial/authoritarian/racist party of the .0001% aims to destroy what is left of unions in the United States.
Jeanette and her husband have stood for the solidarity of working people. She has four children. One of her small daughters accompanied her today, and sat in her mother’s lap, Jeanette’s arms around her. It was very sweet (others with children there, too). One wonders about the decency of a country that allows a mother to be almost deported after visiting her dying mother in Mexico, and after 8 years of regular reporting to ICE, attempts to separate her from her 4 children. Thanks to sanctuary, the children can come and be with their mother.
As we walked into the Church, we saw young people with fluorescent traffic vests, volunteers from Black Lives Matter 5280, Surj, and Indivisible, to protect the sanctuary. People from Black Lives Matter also went to Standing Rock and were in the forefront of nonviolently resisting a crazed, racist truck driver who threatened to drive over the resisters. These, too, were fine acts of solidarity and political awareness in a growing common movement from below.
Church workers this week had received a fabulous number of phone calls and emails, 3/4 fiercely supportive, the pastor said, 1/4 racist. But as with the big demonstrations against Trump’s Muslim ban, the KKK/Nazis so far have no urban presence. They are unable so far, as the KKK in the segregated South and the Nazis, to operate violently against protests, except at Trump’s own anti-democratic “rallies.”
The Trump movement is mislabelled the Alt-Right – it is perhaps the old – “alt” – German Right, not an alternative right. More seriously, even Amy Goodman tends to speak of “white nationalists” – but those who imposed slavery, lynching and mass imprisonment are not “nationalists” – they are racist criminals. Nationalism is often a mistake; racism is a crime, and gives rise to the greatest crimes.
The new KKK/Nazi/National Front, etc. are also not, in the false idiom of National Public Radio, “populists.” Populists were a movement of poor black and white sharecroppers who were oppressed, and other working people. This new fascist movement purports with Bannon to represent “European” i.e. white workers, and be “Christian” – again in the KKK sense, opposing, say, Jesus and Martin Luther King and John Brown and many others as vehemently as possible.
Jeanette spoke to the congregation. She thanked everyone for their support – the 400 people are bonded by their real efforts to oppose racism by enabling people to live in the Church. Quakers near DU have provided sanctuary to another woman. I hope every church in the country thinks about taking in those seeking shelter and continuing relationships with their families from the KKK -Bannon-Trump – onslaught.
The First Unitarian Church also has a strong program to feed women who are unhoused and their families.
Jeanette apologized for her English (it is actually pretty good, way better than my Spanish…), but said that her concern for others and love – strong in her family and beyond it as well – is who she is, why she hopes for and is grateful for the welcome she has achieved. Most of us were both cheering and in tears.
I spoke with her afterwards. She worked with Valery Alzaga, an old friend. I once attended an SEIU march (urge everyone to go anytime they organize one) where Valery led the first chorus of chants over a bullhorn, and I chanted the response (accompanied by many others) all over downtown. Valery has since worked to organize workers abroad – in Germany among other places. Multinational corporations and banks – Sodeixo, a French corporation, at DU and on many other campuses throughout the US which SEIU organizes – need an international response. A few years ago, 5 of us on the DU faculty attended a rally, spoken to by a Chicana woman who is a cook at DU – which was part of rallies across the U.S.
It was a good mutual connection.
There are many things to do, many ways to stand up and be counted. Now is the time…
Jack Mudry, my old friend, wrote a note about my post on Rob Prince and Jeanette here
“Hi! Good post and I’m pleased that Rob was able to see her. Just in the interest of accuracy, Jeanette hasn’t worked for SEIU for many years but she still stays in touch with them and has many supporters there. I have been her interpreter there many times. She is also part of CIRC, the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, and she has been a volunteer/co-host of the radio show, a Day without Borders, on Spanish language radio 1150 AM every Monday from 12noon – 1:00 PM.
The struggle continues!