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Military/ Veterans Affairs Editor
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April 19, 2006 1000 PST (FTW) - The immigrant uprising of April 1st has given the people in charge cause to reach for the Maalox.
I say immigrants, and not just Hispano-Latinas, because when I was at SUNY-SB on April 5th talking with anti-war organizers there, they described a very interesting phenomenon. At SUNY-SB, a huge fraction of the student body are immigrants, from all over the world. Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, South Asia, East Asia, Africa...everywhere. While the core of the immigrant uprising was Hispano-Latina, when they rose up in conjunction with the April 1st immigrant uprising at the school, the other immigrants were swept up in the energy of the uprising and joined in. All of the immigrant students had various grievances associated with discrimination, stereotyping, and the daily affronts experienced in common associated with xenophobia and racism.
To put the point on it, at the debate in which I participated that evening at SUNY-SB, with around 500 people and at least 40 Muslim students, my debate opponent, a member of the SUNY-SB history faculty, voiced a blatant and execrable Islamophobic screed as his core argument in support of the war in Iraq. The offense given to the Muslim students was incalculable.
The potential of this immigrant uprising is also incalculable.
Certain people have special cultural authority to speak to certain issues. Ex-cops are the best critics of a racist criminal justice system. Ex-CIA agents are the best critics of US covert operations. Ex-soldiers are the best critics of war.
While the war—and with it things like the Fitzgerald investigation—had the Bush administration on the ropes, and while Katrina exposed them even further, the April Uprising has hit them like a surprise overhand right.
Now Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is studying ways to connect with the April Uprising of immigrants, and that could be the step that brings this seismic immigrant uprising together with the anti-war movement.
The political reality is that the war will stop only when masses of people, who have power and leverage over decision makers, force the war to stop. The actual people who are likely to make that happen are already organized, but they are organized at various levels. Everyone is organized. A family is an organization. A workplace is an organization. A sports team is an organization. A bridge club is an organization. A church is an organization. A political party is an organization. Good organizers don't talk people into organizing. They go to where people are already organized, based on the needs and issues of that organization, and identify points of unity and potential for collaboration.
A very high level of organization is a social movement. There are several social movements out there, and they have varying dimensions of coherence and influence. There is an anti-war movement, of which many of us are a part, and for which some of us work. We want to expand and strengthen the coherence and influence of this organization. An organization like US Labor Against the War, for example, is designed to attempt the integration of the trade union movement into the anti-war movement. This would accomplish the unification of two very powerful social movements. Other powerful movements are the Black Freedom Movement, the Women's Liberation Movement, the Environmental Justice Movement, etc. etc. etc.
The job of an anti-war movement is to carry the anti-war message and mission—wherever possible—into these other movements. And their job is to carry their message and mission into other movements. This process of unification is difficult and time-consuming, but it is absolutely necessary to build each of these movements into a more general social struggle for peace, justice, and real democracy.
The size and scope of the immigrants' uprising is hard to overestimate. It came on like a wildcat strike, and it has substantially weakened the very people who oppose us in our mission. And IVAW has a very significant "Hispano-Latina caucus." These are people who have themselves faced everything from garden-variety prejudice to outright attacks on themselves or family members in their own lives. They speak fluent Spanish. There were two issues that preoccupied the demonstrators I saw on April 10th. One was that they all paid taxes (Do we remember “taxation without representation”), and the other was that the government didn't mind recruiting their kids for the military.
That last one is IVAW’s issue.
While the percentage of Latinas in military service in 2000 was 11 percent, compared to a general Latina population nationwide of 14 percent, when the military began to be strapped for personnel with the deepening quagmire in Iraq by early 2004, it turned its eye on Hispano-Latina communities—and the question of citizenship did not escape the Recruiting Command. This had begun with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command's Strategic Partnership Plan for 2002-2007, in anticipation of the Iraq War, which stated:
"Priority areas [for recruitment] are designated primarily as the cross section of weak labor opportunities and college-age population as determined by both [the] general and Hispanic population."
Titus Peachey writes in “Military Recruitment, Communities of Color and Immigrants”:
In July of 2002, President Bush announced that "non-naturalized soldiers serving honorably in the war on terrorism could significantly step up the process of citizenship and apply immediately or upon enlisting."23 While this opportunity is open to all nationalities, the high number of Latino immigrants makes it particularly appealing to this group.
The Hispanic Access Initiative "...provides for ROTC recruiters to especially target colleges and high schools with a sizable Latino student body."24 While the Reserve Officer Training Corps program is officially not a recruiting effort, around 40% of JROTC graduates enlist in the military. African American and Latino students make up over 50% of the participants in JROTC programs.25
A recent policy change in the Army allows the number of enlistees without a high school diploma to rise to 10%, up from 8% last year. While high school drop-outs can be found among all racial groups, the rate is particularly high among Mexican-Americans. U.S. born Mexican-Americans have a drop-out rate of 30%. The number doubles to 61% for new immigrants.26
So it is clear that the very design of military recruitment, with its grand offers of money for college, effectively targets those who do not have other good options. As recruiters strain to meet recruitment goals in an increasingly difficult environment, they put their time and effort into those most likely to enlist, even if these enlistees are pushed there by circumstance. For some, the circumstance is immigration.
Hispano-Latina members of IVAW will speak to this issue in the venues that this uprising will provide and is providing. This is a war issue and this is an immigrant issue. This is one of those key points of unity. And with this population now standing up as a social movement that is losing its fear and sensing its own latent power, the anti-war movement can win over the advanced and even intermediate layers of this immigrant rights movement to a position opposing the war. This substantially strengthens the struggle to stop the war, and to bring down the administration that has presided over the militarization not just of foreign policy, but domestic policy. (That’s what neo-conservatism is, in a nutshell.)
But it also substantially strengthens immigrants themselves. The American business class will not watch a bunch of Arizona “minute-men” dictate a national policy that strips them of this key sector of the American working class. In particular, they are not going to quietly stand by while the inevitable idea of an immigrants’ general strike gestates in the womb of this newfound political agency. So they will be forced to stand down this reactionary impulse.
An immigrants’ general strike would hit the power switch on the American economy. We should sponsor potlucks at our houses and show A Day Without a Mexican, just to make sure everyone understands how powerful this latent power really is.
Now this dominant class is faced with the political crisis of the Republican Party as these calloused workers from the south call the question between the corporate wing of the party and the white theocrats of the reactionary wing. Many of the more libertarian partisans of the party have already abandoned them over the war, the domestic spying and repression, and their fear of the theocrats.
This is an historic uprising, and it is an historic opportunity for IVAW. They have connected with the Gulf Coast, and with it the strategic South and the Black Freedom Movement, during the recent “Walkin’ to New Orleans” march. That was a very important step forward in both their organizational and political development. Now they may be taking another quantum leap.
This awakening giant will need allies. I hope we are all alert to this, and prepared.
Things are getting mighty interesting.