White Supremacy and Obama 2012: a response to Bill Fletcher

Recently BlackCommentator.com editorial board member Bill Fletcher wrote a very strange column. It polemicizes against unnamed, unquoted “progressives” who have “written off” not just Obama but those who gave him critical support in 2008, like Fletcher.

According to Fletcher, these nameless, quoteless progressives won’t make racism, epitomized by the racist assault to keep Obama from being re-elected, central to what they are saying heading into the 2012 elections. This even though next year’s elections are going to be the most racist ever.

Yet Fletcher, despite his jeremiad against those who “have said so little about race, racism, and the discourse of right-wing populism in the context of the upcoming elections” himself fails to say even one mumbling word about immigrant rights, the central issue around which the battle against racism is being waged in the United States most intensely right now.

And I suspect he has that blind spot because, even though Fletcher claims his column isn’t about “covering for Obama,” that is precisely what he is doing, whether he is conscious of it or not.

He says he identifies with “the many of us” who have “criticisms … of the Obama administration for what it has not accomplished, for its advance of a corporate agenda and for the unacceptable compromises it has made with the Republicans.”

But he forgets about one layer of people who were generally pro-Obama in 2008, and today are very critical of him. That’s activists in and supporters of the immigrant rights movement. Because we don’t criticize Obama for compromising with the Republicans: we criticize him for being worse than the Republicans.

Under Obama, deportations are at an all-time high, about 400,000 a year surpassing the worst year of the Bush-Cheney regime. By emphasizing that the administration is targeting criminals for deportations, Obama re-enforces the immigrant=criminal meme created by media and government use of terms like “illegal alien.”

Obama has maintained the carte blanche for racial profiling and arbitrary deportations of the 287(g) program that deputizes local police as immigration agents. And he has greatly expanded many, many times over the “Secure Communities” program, begun as a test in a few places under Bush. Under the guise of deporting criminals, “the worst of the worst,” this program deports mainly people convicted of only minor offenses or with no record at all.

Worst of all, he lulled much of the movement into demobilizing and relying on him and the Democrats because he promised during the campaign that he would get immigration reform done in his first year in office.

He made no effort to keep that promise. Although he had large Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress for two years, he didn’t lift a finger to get immigration reform done. But now that the Republicans have control of the lower chamber Obama has put immigration reform back in play and punted it to Congress, in an obvious attempt to shift the blame for his inaction to the Republicans.

I cannot read what was in Bill Fletcher’s mind or heart when he wrote this column about Obama, racism, and the 2012 elections. But whatever the reason he excluded immigration from his column, it was a mistake. Immigration is the cutting-edge issue in the fight against white supremacy within the United States today.

Even the attacks Fletcher mentions are intimately tied in with this struggle. There’s the birther canard, of course, but also the new “ballot integrity” measures in the South, like shortening the period for early voting or requiring picture ID’s. Their effect will be to keep poor and working people –and especially Blacks– from voting, but the justification is to prevent non-citizen immigrants from voting.

It isn’t Obama’s delay (or capitulation) in obtaining and making public his long-form original birth certificate that emboldens the racists. It’s his non-struggle, capitulationist approach on other issues where white supremacy needs to be challenged, and foremost among them right now in the United States is the issue of immigrant rights.

So while Bill Fletcher invites us to reflect on why those who criticize Obama from the Left don’t say more against things like the birther nonsense, I would invite Fletcher to reflect on whether it is possible to wage a real struggle against racism in the United States today without taking the anti-immigrant offensive head-on.

Race and 2012: What Too Few Progressives are Prepared to Discuss

By Bill Fletcher, Jr. BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board

May 18, 2011

In the context of the criticisms that many of us have of the Obama administration for what it has not accomplished, for its advance of a corporate agenda and for the unacceptable compromises it has made with the Republicans, there is something that I have seen few progressives address. To borrow from a comment offered by television commentator Tavis Smiley, the 2012 elections are likely to be the most racist that most of have seen in our life-times. Given this, what are the implications?

It has been striking that many progressives, particularly those who have not only written off
President Obama but also written off all those who offered critical support to the Obama campaign in 2008, have said so little about race, racism, and the discourse of right-wing populism in the context of the upcoming elections.

We have witnessed the first Black president of the United States questioned about his citizenship and birthplace, yet I have seen precious little from many friends on the left side of the aisle (particularly those so critical of Obama) responding to this. If you put your ear to the ground, however, you hear the murmurings of Black Americans furious that Obama was put in a place where he had to file a petition in order to obtain his Hawaii birth certificate. The murmurings do not stop there. When Donald Trump and other opportunists started asking questions about how it was that Obama got into Columbia University and Harvard Law School (i.e., was he REALLY qualified to have gotten into those schools), for most of us enough was enough. Because this was no longer about Obama and it had very little to do with criticisms of Obama and his policies.

The white nationalist backlash is using Obama as the target but they are attempting to create a white united front to, in their minds, take back the United States. Part of this agenda means delegitimizing the democratically elected President, but it also goes towards tampering with election laws and voting processes in state after state.

In case you have not noticed, in many states where there is a Republican majority in control, efforts are underway to restrict voting, whether by further limiting ex-felons from voting, to eliminating same-day voter registration, to the demand for picture identifications at the time of voting, to the shortening of periods of early voting. The objective is to reduce the potential anti-Republican electorate. This is being done by demagogically and inaccurately crowing about alleged voter fraud. But this happens through the Right racializing alleged voter fraud. In other words, as opposed to a discussion about real voter theft, e.g., the Republican theft of the 2000 election, the right-wing uses black and brown characters as the way of convincing segments of the white populace that something needs to be done, otherwise these colored peoples will be taking over.

The racist attacks on Obama, then, fuse with the larger right-wing narrative: the United States of America is being lost to white people. This has been the core of the Birther message, but it has also been the core of the attacks that contributed to the collapse of ACORN, as well as the blitzkrieg effort of the Right to overturn voting rights. In its more extreme version it is the core of the message that comes out of the fascist and semi-fascist movements among white nationalists such as the Sovereign Citizens (the subject of a segment of the May 15th episode of 60 Minutes).

What we are witnessing is disturbingly similar to the period of the overthrow of Reconstruction and the building of the Jim Crow segregationist system in the South. Appealing to fears among whites, and in a frantic effort to destabilize any efforts at unity between the black and white poor in the South at the end of the 19th century, white Southern elites moved an agenda of voter disenfranchisement, hiding behind various coded concerns, such as the literacy of the electorate. African Americans were completely disenfranchised, and quite ironically, so were many poor whites.

Despite our knowledge of history and awareness of the antics of white right-wing populism, few progressives are discussing the implications of any of this for the 2012 elections. The implications, it would seem to me, are quite profound, and range from what does this mean about HOW to criticize the Obama administration, to how to ensure that the elections are not outright stolen by the white Right.

Just to be clear before some of my critics start yelling that “Fletcher is covering for Obama,” this
column is about racial politics in the USA. The particular flashpoint happens to be Obama but what is at stake, as I have attempted to elaborate, is far more than the political future of a corporate liberal president. Silence on the part of progressives in the face of this situation, despite our own legitimate criticisms of Obama, misses the larger picture. Yes, we must criticize Obama; yes, we must push this administration; yes, we must protest any retrograde domestic or foreign policies. But in the end, we need to be discussing how this is done in the context of fighting a white, right-wing populism that is arguing that Obama is an alien and that he [and the changing demographics of the USA] represents the end of the white `American Dream.’ We should have no illusions that the Republican candidate for the Presidency, irrespective of who gets it, will center their campaign on anything but this one, critical message.

I think it is time to talk about strategy and tactics in the fight for power and against the Right, and not only about matters of policy. Politics is dirty, but it is also very complicated, that is, if one exists in the real world rather than in one’s own playpen.

High school students walk out against Georgia's anti-immigrant laws

By Joaquín Bustelo

MABLETON, GA — About 100 students –overwhelmingly Latinos– walked out of classes this afternoon at Pebblebrook High School in this Atlanta suburb.

“As undocumented youth we can no longer be afraid of those who stand against us, instead we need show them we will fight back. We need to take a stand because if we do not do it no one else will” said Dulce Guerrero, a graduating senior.

Guerrero was one of several students who addressed a rally in front of the school, some undocumented, others who were born here in the United States but have immigrant parents and siblings who are undocumented and live every day with the fear that when they come home from school, their loved ones may have been snatched from them.

Guerrero explained that May 17 had been chosen for the walkout both as a protest against Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal having signed HB 87 into law on Friday the 13th, four days earlier, but also because it was the anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that “separate but equal” was a myth, “separate” when it came to whites and Blacks in the United States was inherently unequal.

The Rev. Tim McDonald, senior pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church, also spoke to the students. “As we remember the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision, we affirm that immigration is the civil rights issue for the 21st century. We will not re-segregate our colleges and university. America must continue its forward progress towards affirming the rights of all people.”

McDonald added, “I am certain if the Reverend Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be here with you.”

In addition to McDonald, two African-American students also spoke to express their solidarity and underline the bond between the struggles by Blacks and Latinos against white supremacy.

There was no attempt by the school administration to break up the protest; police presence was very light and the officers limited themselves largely to asking reporters to stay on the sidewalk, off school grounds.

Guerrero and some of the other leaders of the walkout are part of the “undocumented and unafraid” movement of high school and college age students who are branded as “illegal” by American politicians. In Georgia, they are organized as the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance. GUYA organizers said that they “plan to continue with the direct civil disobedience actions until immigrant communities in Georgia can once again live without constant fear.”

There are an estimated 70,000 college age and younger students in Georgia who lack immigrant status. On a national scale, some two million young people find themselves in the same situation.

The next scheduled protest action for immigrants rights in Georgia is this coming Sunday’s Women’s Walk in Defense of Immigrant Families aimed especially against the “secure communities” Obama administration program. This initiative, while supposedly targeting “the worst of the worst” criminals for deportation, instead has broken up untold tens of thousands of families by deporting people who have only minor violations, even as little as a traffic ticket, and in 30% of the cases, no police or criminal record at all.

Both immigrant and other women and their children have been asked to gather for that action at Centennial Olympic Park at 10 AM, on Sunday May 22 wearing white tops or shirts.

The student leaders emphasized the importance of the July 1 “Day of Non-Compliance” against HB 87 when the entire community is urged to not go to work nor schools nor do any shopping nor patronize any restaurants or entertainment venues.

Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights Condemns Gov. Nathan Deal's Signing of HB 87

[The following statement was released May 13 by Adelina Nicholls, Executive Director of GLAHR]

The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the state’s leading grass roots immigrant rights organization, condemns Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to sign HB 87 into law.

This action is not only an insult to the Latino community and other immigrants, but is also an exercise in cheap political pandering that will cost our state dearly.

GLAHR is advising the Latino community not to panic. This is not the end of the battle, only the beginning of a new stage. This law can and must be fought; and it can and will be defeated.

State and local laws in the immigration field are routinely struck down by the courts if they deviate from what the federal government has decided because only the federal government is empowered to set policy in this field.

In the case of Arizona, the main provisions of last year’s notorious SB-1070 were enjoined by a federal judge pending disposition of the lawsuit charging that the law is unconstitutional. That injunction was recently upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

GLAHR will coordinate with other civil and human rights organizations to make sure that HB 87 is challenged in court. We cannot be certain that the judge who hears this case will grant a preliminary injunction against HB 87, but we think it is likely.

We do not know whether the Federal Government will join in challenging the law in court, but President Obama has criticized the bill for overstepping the limits of Georgia’s law-making powers.
And in addition to the lawsuits, GLAHR is launching the Georgia Human Rights Summer. Organizers will fan out to Latino communities throughout the state in a campaign of education, community organizing and mobilizations. And the Human Rights Summer will continue whatever the fate of HB 87 in the courts, because the defeat of HB 87 is not our only goal.

Another immediate target is the federal government’s “secure communities” program, which instead of deporting dangerous criminals as was promised, is breaking up families all over the country with the deportation of people who have very minor offenses, even just traffic violations, or no criminal record at all.

And we will continue to fight for our main goal, a comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes millions of people whose only crime has been to flee from hunger and misery hoping to find a better life for themselves and their children.

Upcoming GLAHR activities

June-July: Georgia Human Rights Summer (Justice Schools and Community Organizing throughout the state).

May 22: Women’s Walk in Defense of Immigrant Families (Against the breaking up of families through the 287(g) and “secure communities” programs, which lead to arbitrary deporgtations). Meet at Centennial Olympic Park, 10 AM. Wear a white t-shirt or shirt. The Walk is for women and children, including boys.

July 1: Day of Non-Compliance with HB 87 (No work, no school, no shopping.

July 2: March and Rally against HB 87 (Downtown Atlanta; details to be announced. GLAHR is inviting people from throughout the southeast to mobilize for this march.

May Day in Georgia: "We are going to fight to the end!"

ATLANTA-Some 2,000-3,000 people rallied in front of the state capitol here to celebrate May Day and denounce HB 87, a Georgia bill that goes even further than the infamous Arizona SB 1070.

The bill, currently awaiting the Governor’s signature, is even worse that Arizona’s SB 1070 in that it make it a crime punishable by 15 years in prison to get a job using false identity documents. It also criminalizes the transportation or harboring of undocumented people, as well as encouraging or helping immigrants without legal status to come to this state.

The highlight of the rally was the call by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) –the state’s leading immigrant rights organization– to protest July 1, the day when the law would go into effect.

“If the governor signs HB 87, we invite the community throughout the state of Georgia to the Day of Non-Compliance, ” said Adelina Nicholls, executive director of GLAHR.

“On July 1, there will be no work, there will be no shopping, there will be no one to clean their houses or to look after their children, nor workers at restaurants. On July 1, we say NO!”

Nicholls also announced a May 22 Women’s March in Defense of Immigrant Families. This march by women and their children will dramatize how Obama’s “secure communities” program is dividing families.

Under that program, anyone brought into a county jail is fingerprinted and checked against the immigration service’s database, usually resulting in an immigration “hold” placed on the undocumented so they can be deported. Georgia, like most other states, refuses to give drivers licenses to out-of-status immigrants, so even the most minor traffic citation can lead directly to deportation.

The Obama administration has carried out record numbers of deportations, telling the Latino community this was necessary to win Republican support for comprehensive immigration reform. But despite his campaign promise to pass a comprehensive immigration reform in his first year in office, he did not even propose a plan, despite having had at the beginning of his term enough Democrats in Congress to pass it without a single Republican vote.

In Georgia alone, more than 20,000 Latinos were deported in Obama’s first two years –nearly one out of every forty Latino residents of the state.

HB 87 will accelerate this assault on families. In addition to criminalizing the undocumented and those associating with them, it allows police to stop anyone to check their immigration status, with the only restriction that the officer has to say that the person was a suspect on other grounds.

The impact of this on immigrant families had been illustrated earlier in the rally by Berenice Rodríguez, a tenth grade student at a private school in Atlanta. She said that if HB 87 became law, her family would be divided, as her mother and siblings would return to Mexico but they want her to stay to complete her education, since she won a full scholarship for high school and college.

“It’s time we made a difference,” the high school sophomore said. “If you look around you, you will see that you are not alone, and we have to stay together and united to make our dreams a reality.

“I am undocumented, and I am not ashamed, and I am not afraid. And you, too, should not be afraid, because we are going to fight to the end!”

Another undocumented student from the same school, Angel Salomé, also came out at the rally. He said he had won a scholarship in 8th grade, and as soon as he got to the new school he knew he was different.

“I took MARTA to school, while many other students were dropped off in Mercedes or BMW’s,” he said.

“It is a great thing that the son of a woman who works cleaning hotels can have the same education as the children of doctors and professionals,” he said, “and I am proud to be her son.”

“I am coming out as undocumented and unafraid because I’m fed up with lying to my friends, I’m fed up with living with that fear.”

Together with the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), Salome, Rodríguez and others at their school are reaching out to students at other high school to organize undocumented and Latino youth generally into a movement against HB 87 and for legalization.

Also speaking at the rally were Charlie Fleming, President of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, and Ben Speight, organizing director of Teamster Local 728, the largest union local in Georgia and one of the largest in the South. Fleming focused on why the labor movement opposes anti-immigrant legislation, while Speight, recalling the march and rally by 75,000 Latinos held in Atlanta during the 2006 immigrant rights protest, centered him remarks on the importance of organizing, both in communities and on the job.

The rally had been opened by Teodoro Maus, who as Mexican consul in Atlanta played a central (though unofficial) role in creating GLAHR’s predecessor organization a decade and a half ago. “Don Teo,” as his many friends in the community call him, is now retired from service with the Mexican government and returned to Georgia to lead in the creation of GLAHR. He currently serves as president of the organization.

“Welcome to the congress, the congressional chamber of the workers and Latinos, this street,” he said.

Referring to the many times Latinos have rallied on this street to demand that the human rights of immigrants be respected, Maus added, “This street is ours, it has become our office, our home.”

Maus referred to recent comments by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal praising the Latino community. “But the governor separates the undocumented from the documented. This is a grave error. We are all together. We are all undocumented until all of us have papers. The governor needs to understand this.

“We are going to continue with the next step, which is to call for a boycott of Georgia. No one should vacation here, no conventions should come here, no one should come to party or celebrate here, until HB 87 is gone,” he concluded.

The next action planned by GLAHR and other defenders of immigrant rights are a protest at the capitol when the governor announces he is signing the bill. GLAHR and the Georgia ACLU have announced that if the Governor signs HB 87 into law, they will file a lawsuit against it and ask for a temporary restraining order to block its implementation while the lawsuit is pending.