Xavier Omar Otero
On Sunday, Aug. 13, approximately 2000 concerned citizens of Tucson took to the streets and sidewalks to demonstrate to the rest of the community that bigotry, hatred and violence on rise in America, enabled by the POTUS himself, is just not acceptable. Same thing happened around the country.
With 24 hours to organize, an assemblage united in solidarity for Tucson’s March Against White Supremacy in direct response the violence and deaths at Charlottesville, Virginia's Unite the Right (a white nationalist) rally.
Disconcertingly, the Alt-Right Movement has grown exponentially over the past eight years and comprises a portion of Trump’s voter base.
The Tucson streets overflowed with peaceful protesters—serpentining from Hotel Congress downtown north along 4th Avenue, past the rainbow crosswalks at 6th Street up University Boulevard, with stops at the Islamic and Hillel Centers—to send a resounding message that the Old Pueblo condemns acts of hate and white supremacy.
Many chants were heard throughout the march: “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.”
“Whose streets? Our streets.”
Many marchers said they were met with jeers and pro-Trumpisms when the procession advanced on University Boulevard, through the historic neighborhood strewn with fraternity houses. I didn't hear that. I did, however, encounter a young woman standing with tears in her eyes, who’d stopped marching and was on the side of the road upset that someone in the multitude had castigated her that it was not okay to chant Black Lives Matter.
“I want my country back,” she lamented to her companions, trying to regain her composure.
Upon arrival at the Islamic Center, marchers were greeted by gracious Islamic sisters with smiles, water bottles and in some cases with hugs. Humanity everywhere. Over here, a greybeard in Birkenstocks said to a fellow marcher, perhaps with irony, “The absurdity of white privilege marching for democracy?” Then, over there, I heard a loud “White silence is violence” from a group of college-aged women in bold unison, as if responding to the greybeard.
“Black lives matter.”
“Make love, not war.”
It echoed, like Ochs and Dylan protest songs, from the beginning of the march to the end, calling for a sea change
After pausing in the parking lot adjacent to the HIllel Center, a megaphoned speaker addressed the crowd, expounding on the importance of solidarity. The procession resumed, working its way back to the starting point.
Once there, on the enclosed patio area at Hotel Congress, where marchers were too numerous and spilled over onto surrounding sidewalks, various community leaders gave impassioned speeches.
Joel Feinman, a march organizer, functioned as an enthusiastic host. He struck a chord with the assembled: “Today, is a moment for soul searching. This is what democracy looks like. No justice, no peace.”
Then the first speaker, joined by his young family, took to the podium: Rev. Owen Chandler (of Saguaro Christian Church). “This is not the time to stop. If anybody can embody community and what it means to love thy neighbor...Tucson can. So I want to encourage you. Tonight is going to give way to tomorrow. It is easy to ease back into our comfortable numb lives. Resist it,” the reverend said. “Because friends you are guardians of some of the greatest truths; of justice, of love, of hope. Let us claim those ways in which we are complicit in the systems of white supremacy, of racism. Let us always do better. And use it for redemption of the heart of our country." The audience cheered.
Organizer for LUPE Tucson, Zaira Livier spoke next. L.U.P.E. is a grassroots community organization dedicated to the active struggle for immigrant rights. She has first hand knowledge of what it means to be an immigrant. “I came over that wall myself.”
Livier called for a moment of silence "for our comrades who were injured yesterday in the horrific events in Charlottesville.” She then spoke of systematic oppression. “We are not only seeing a rise in state violence. We are seeing a pattern in which leftist activists, marches and rallies are being targeted across the country while fascist rallies are being protected and freely allowed to manifest their hate.”
Then she hammered strident points: “To address this issue, we must tell a full story. The system of violence has not only been uplifted by the right. It has also been created, normalized and excused by the liberal establishment. Let us remember that Clinton was the godfather of mass-incarceration. We have three-strikes and welfare reform ... that is killing the black and brown community.” Livier expands, “Then we also have Obama, who deported more people than any other president in history …”
“What is violence, if not poverty. Poverty is traumatic,” Livier specifies, “gutting of Social Security and health care is state violence.”
Livier offered a solution, “We need a people’s movement with an uncompromising progressive platform that places human needs over corporate profits at all levels.” She closed by stating, “It is up to us the people, to create change. ...”
Lynn Hourani, Treasurer and Secretary of the Islamic Center of Tucson, spoke next.
“It is not easy to stand up to hate. It is not easy to give a voice to the voiceless. And it is not easy to demand the rights of those whose rights have been infringed. What it is easy is to sit back ... I think that the time has come to stand up and address hate in all of its ugly form.” Hourani concludes, “If we don’t stand up for each others rights ... then there is nothing left.”
Activist, member of Black Lives Matter, Najima Rainey stepped next to the podium. Her commanding voice shook.
Xavier Omar Otero
“This is about white supremacy and the privileges that people refuse to give up. It is hard to be in the oppressed minority. It is grinding and you’re aware of it. And the weight of it. When we were marching, there were a bunch of kids sitting on a porch jeering at us, laughing. It broke me down for a bit …” Rainey becomes impassioned, “Because why am I standing here telling you that I am fucking human being?”
Rainey continues with command in her voice, “Our lives have not mattered here in a long fucking time. We have never been considered a part of this country. If your skin is brown, if you’re disabled, if you’re LGBTQAI, if you’re anything outside of the mainstream this country has said your life doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t give a shit what they do they do in DC…” Rainey elevated her voice to a scream, “I am going to fight for the soul of my town! But do not think that this enough. You have got to get in the streets and start fighting because they are bringing the fight to us and it is real. Naziism and fascism are rising. Are you going to stand up? Are going to fight? Are you going to say not in this town? We are fighting for its soul. And we are going to save its soul.” Rainey closes, “These streets and this town belong to us.”
Clearly moved, along with everyone gathered, Feinman returned to the stage, “Holy shit, goddamn,” before introducing the next speaker: Lena Rothman, from SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). Feinman adds, “I don’t know what I could say after Najima.”
Rothman urged introspection; to peer into the mirror. And, for those with an entitlement mentality to have the courage to recognize that they may in fact be the problem.
The penultimate speaker Jenny Culver-Hill (founder and director of Angel’s Purse, an organization that provides practical assistance for the families of children with autism).
Xavier Omar Otero
Culver-Hill told of a valuable lesson learned at very young age when she challenged her mother’s racist stereotyping. “When I was 4 years old something happened. We were living in El Paso, on the air force base, and my mom told me to go play outside. I stood by a tree and I watched a crew of hispanic men roofing a house. When they took their break for lunch they all sat in a circle. The crew chief [motioned and] invited me over. And every man gave me a bite of his lunch.”
Culver-HIll never forgot this small act of sharing and kindness, despite her mother cautioning her that those brown-skinned men were inferior and not to be trusted.
The final speaker was, Jim Byrne, from Tucson Anti-War Coalition.
Byrne spoke of the evils of the Military Industrial Complex and rebuked Donald Trump’s isolationist, America first mentality. “People are clinging to nationalism. But it is a narrow white nationalism.” And made a strong point about priorities. “[We spend billions, trillions of dollars on defense. Elderly folks, people who need a lot of medical coverage...we can’t seem to find a dime [to fund] that? Yet, we [have enough to] buy those A-10 warthogs?”
Byrne’s indictment of the conservative right’s obsession with militarism brought the rally to a close.
The bigotry in Charlottesville is nothing new. It is heartening to see that tens of thousands of Americans came together at marches and vigils across the nation. In communities large and small, outraged citizens, who have had enough, rose up in protest. After all was said and done, I walked away from Tucson’s March Against White Supremacy with a clear message: That racist ideology, on the rise in America, by the perpetuation of biased beliefs often passed down from generation to generation, is at the root of white supremacy and must be held culpable. Infants are not born with racist DNA. They are taught it. And for Americans to continue to remain silent in the face of intolerance and injustice, to sit idle and refuse to call it out, only emboldens its perpetrators. What’s more, it is our responsibility to be like Gandhi; “To be the change that we wish to see in the world.” Our energies, in the days to come, must be put toward striving to abolish hatred. For the fight for equality and social justice must never cease.