Letter to the Editor
Phoenix Rises with Questions
Last week, I had the honor of being one of the hundred arrested for doing civil disobedience in Phoenix, Arizona. By blocking the
road in front of Arpaio’s jail and office and flooding his jail with over 80 people on July 29, we kept his forces too busy to be able to do
the raids on Brown communities that Arpaio had been bragging about for months. Physically, with our bodies, we prevented Arpaio’s
assault on our communities for one day.
People had told me before my visit that Arizona is a police state. Nothing could have prepared me for the gross oppression I
witnessed and heard in people’s stories during my brief three-day visit. We know that all over the country, it’s criminal to “drive while
Black/Brown.” Usually the police at least have to make up an excuse for harassing you. In Arizona, though, the police just say, “you
look suspicious” meaning “you are Brown.” I did not find one Brown person in Arizona who didn’t have a story of being on their way to
work or to get their kids when they were stopped, arrested and forced to endure a day in Arpaio’s hell-hole of a jail — deprived of sleep
and food, treated like dirt by the guards, and mentally broken by the psychological warfare of the entire system’s design — only to be
released with no charges. People’s freedom is literally being taken away every day in Arizona, especially if you’re an immigrant and
you’re Brown, but even if you’re Native, Asian, Black, Arab, or a poor White person.
I feel a fierce rage in my belly when I think of Arizona and then I think: Do I feel the same rage with 287g, the so-called “secure
communities” law that allows local police to act as ICE agents; the ways the ICE are constantly deporting our neighbors, friends, and
families; the hardship immigrants have in finding work, accessing healthcare and other social services, and traveling? Do I feel the
same rage from the ways Black people, Indigenous people, and other communities of color are inflicted with poverty, violence, and
prisons? Am I willing to put my body on the line for these “every day” struggles? Is it the time to use civil disobedience as a more
common tactic in our movements? Why or why not?
I think to a generation before me and the decisions we were making then. Recently I read of another White person from Wisconsin,
James Zwerg, who decided to participate in the Freedom Rides through Alabama in 1961. One Freedom Ride had already taken place
and they faced brutally violent mobs and a bus that was set on fire. Being clear in their message that your violence cannot keep us
from building our movement, the Freedom Riders decided to take a second shot at a ride knowing they may be killed. The night before
he left for the Freedom Rides, James Zwerg wrote a letter to his parents apologizing that he had to give his life for the cause, but hoped
one day they could understand. James was viciously attacked the next day and, though nearly killed, survived. In making a choice to
stand for justice that day, James was taking a risk that was literally about life and death. Countless others, especially Black people and
Brown people, gave their lives for the cause. Let us remember them.
What are the risks we take — or don’t take — in these days and times?
When my mom found out about my arrest, she immediately worried I would lose my job and my whole life would come to an end.
How much we have internalized fear, how much we believe that making the system shake just a little bit would have such harsh
repercussions that life as we know it would end. My partner, who is Black, said afterward how much she wanted to go with me and
take arrest, but she feared they would beat her or do other especially horrible things to her in jail as a Black lesbian. Another friend
said her grandfather taught her that whatever you do, as a Black person, don’t let the police arrest you and get you on track to be
another pawn in their prison industrial complex. These fears and the white supremacy within the system are real. Yet at the same time,
we know that sometimes it’s necessary to take direct action even with the fear and the risks.
How do we reconcile all this within ourselves? How do we hold the fact that people of color will always be hit harder than Whites
from taking direct action and that we all will have to deal with some consequences, and also know that the work must be done by
somebody? If not us, who? If not now, when? After all, for many of us, we’re risking a short stint in jail, a blemish on our criminal
records and we continue on in life. I think to our ancestors in the struggle who gave their lives for us: Give us the strength to make the
necessary decisions of our times. As a friend of mine, Max Rameau, says: We owe it to history and to our ancestors to forward the
Many of the women I was arrested with endured great pains to do direct action. Most were mothers; one woman was pregnant.
One mujer valiente, Asuscena, is the super momma of 6 children — one still a small baby. As we sat in our cell, she could feel the
pain of her baby not being able to breastfeed and kept hoping someone would hold him for her. Yet she still acted. A strong older Black
woman, Audrey, took arrest and endured a day of solitary — which is psychological trauma — because of her disability. She said she
knew she had to take a stand for immigrant rights because otherwise she’d be like White people who say they want to do something but
aren’t willing to take action when it comes right down to it. She said it was especially important for her as a woman of color to be
present with her body and that, even knowing the trauma that would be especially targeted at her, she would do it all over again in a
heartbeat. Audrey took action.
As I feel that nervousness, that self-doubt, that voice that says, “Oh, someone else will do it,” I remember these courageous
Freedom Fighters and the 27 hours we spent behind bars and become grounded once again. If Audrey can do it, if Asuscena can do it, I
can do it. I am incredibly grateful we’re not yet at a crossroads of choosing to risk our lives for our movement, at least not yet. As I
think of all the people we left behind in jail — the Black man with hair awry who has clearly been psychologically tortured, the White
woman beat up by the sheriff’s forces leaving a hallway full of blood, the migrants being bashed by ICE and set up for deportation, and
all the women trying to sleep away their endless despair of being controlled by other inhumane beings — I ask within myself: What am I
willing to do, what am I willing to give so that all this needless suffering and oppression stop? These are the questions of our times.