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News ::
Immigrants Rights Rally in Harvard Square (english)
03 Aug 2003
Modified: 29 Aug 2003
On Saturday, August 2 about 150 of us gathered in Harvard Square to protest against the racist attacks on immigrants and Muslims by both the US government and individuals. Speakers called the immigrant rights movement a struggle for democracy of the same sort as the civil rights movement. Organizers are dealing with the crisis by organizing on multiple levels and building coalitions across communities.
Rally for Immigrants Rights in Harvard Square
by Matthew Williams

August 2, 2003, Cambridge MA--About 150 of us gathered in front of the Au Bon Pain cafe in Harvard Square to protest against the racist attacks on immigrants and Muslims by both the US government and individuals, including government round-ups of people based on their ethnicity; other forms of racial, ethnic and religious profiling; violations of the civil rights of immigrants from Middle Eastern, South Asian and Muslim countries; and bigoted attacks, including arson and lynching, against Middle Easterners, South Asians, and Muslims. Speakers at the rally called the immigrant rights movement a struggle for democracy of the same sort as the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Organizers are dealing with the crisis by organizing on multiple levels and building coalitions across communities.

The level of government repression and hate crimes since September 11 is disturbing. In Massachusetts recently, a virulently anti-Muslim letter was circulated by a State Senator, a popular DJ called for the deportation of all Arabs and Muslims, there was an arson attack on a mosque in Quincy, and in New Bedford an Indian man narrowly escaped with his life in an attempted lynching by four men. A report recently released by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) documents 700 reported cases of violent attacks on Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims in the first nine weeks after September 11, and 165 more in the following year. Merrie Najimy, president of the Boston ADC, emphasized, “You have to remember these are just the reported cases, so there are probably at least double if not triple that amount--the community is too afraid to speak out and report even within their own communities.” Arabs, South Asians and Muslims also face workplace and housing discrimination and there have been at least 80 cases of members of targeted groups being forcible removed from airplanes, even after they had passed security checks, simply because other passengers were afraid of them.

Perhaps even more alarming is government repression against Arabs, South Asians, and Muslims. The US government has engaged in an extensive campaign of racial profiling, arbitrary round-ups and deportations as part of its anti-terrorism campaign. Najimy said, “The thing to note is that it’s profiling by ethnicity, nationality, religion--and by gender. It’s primarily men between the ages of sixteen and thirty-five who have been the target since September 11.” 8,000 were brought it for questioning by the FBI, solely on grounds of their ethnicity, and interrogated about what they knew about September 11 and their own political and religious beliefs. An unknown number have been detained incommunicado, with Attorney General John Ashcroft refusing to release their names, locations or even the numbers.

The latest twist has been a program of “special registration” run by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now the Bureau of Immigration Control and Enforcement or BICE), which ran from November through April, in which visa holders from twenty-five predominantly Arab and Muslim countries had to register with the INS. They were finger-printed, photographed, interrogated, their phone books looked through, their library and video rental card numbers recorded--and any whose documentation was found to contain even minor irregularities--things that would have been considered nothing before 9-11--were either immediately detained or taken prisoner later. They now face deportation proceedings. Sunaina Maira, an organizer with the South Asian Committee on Human Rights (SACH), said that in addition to being racist, these measures would do nothing to stop terrorists: “None of the people who have detained have actually been linked to terrorism. The FBI, INS and Department of Homeland Security have developed a number of campaigns that are spectacular, and attract a lot of public attention, but are not very effective when it comes to rooting out terror. For instance, with this special registration, a terrorist is not going to go to a federal INS facility and allow himself to be photographed and fingerprinted. It’s a waste of resources and it just ends up being racial profiling.”

The crowd was far more racially diverse than is typical of Boston-area protests I have been to, with sizable numbers of white, Middle Eastern, and South Asian people. The speakers at the rally, predominantly people of color, consistently characterized these measures as a racist attack on democracy, and compared their own struggle to those of the civil rights movement against segregation. Gabriel Camacho, president of the Massachusetts Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and regional coordinator the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) immigrants rights campaign, warned, “There are those in power, from the White House to the Massachusetts Senate, who think justice means abolishing the Bill of Rights.”

Some of the speakers also connected the attack on immigrants’ rights with other issues, including the Bush administration’s aggressive imperialism. Commenting on insults made by the lynch mob in New Bedford that “All Muslims should go back to Iraq,” Maira demanded, “Will Muslims and people of color have to pay the price with their bodies for these wars? We have to stop the war on terror, at home and abroad.”

The one mildly problematic thing about the whole rally was the march and accompanying chanting. Seeing that they had a sizable number of people, the organizers decided to march from the Au Bon Pain to Brattle Street, where more speeches were held, and then back. Brattle Street was probably a better, more spacious place for a rally, but in the march the protesters tended to get a bit lost in the usual Saturday crowd in Harvard Square. Most passers-by seemed a bit mystified by the whole thing, perhaps partly out of ignorance and partly because of a shortage of signs and incoherent chanting. Even those of us in the march sometimes had trouble understanding the chants, never mind the general public. This may have been just as well since some of those chants I did understand were a bit over the top, such as “Fascism! Shut it down!” and “Police state! Shut it down!” I think most of us at the march would have agreed that the Bush administration qualifies as proto-fascist in character, but this charge may seem bizarre to many people who are not politically active on the left. Those of us on the left sometimes forget that we need to frame our message in such a way that it makes sense to people, emphasizing the dangerous character of the Bush administration while being careful how we use loaded terms like “fascism” and “police state” (not that this is an easy balance to strike).

This protest, however, is one small part of a larger strategy being undertaken by immigrants and civil rights organizations to fight back against government repression and hate crimes. In addition to such street actions, various organizations are working on a national lawsuit to force repeal of the repressive so-called USA PATRIOT Act and media education campaigns. Activists also monitored INS offices during the special registration period to keep track of who was released and who was detained. According to Maira, a critical strategy has been “forums where we provide legal counsel to people in the communities that are being affected. We can work on the grassroots level particularly with working class immigrants who don’t have access to lawyers. They have been facing huge attacks on their immigrant and civil rights. May of the people are so afraid of being deported or being detained that they don’t even want to come to a public forum if there are people outside of their community because they’re so worried about surveillance by the FBI.” Fundamental to all these strategies has been building alliances between various communities, including different ethnic and racial groups, and between people of color and workers rights groups and other progressive organizations.

Assessing where the immigrants rights movement stood at, Najimy said, “We have an uphill battle ahead of us, but the good news is that there are a lot of committed people both inside and outside the community, who care about democracy in America and are starting to understand that democracy is in crisis in America and so they’re coming and speaking out.”

****

to get in touch with the organizers of the rally, e-mail SACH at southasiancommit- (at) yahoo.com
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Good article with one silly paragraph. (english)
03 Aug 2003
Silly paragraph:
"The one mildly problematic thing about the whole rally was the march and accompanying chanting. Seeing that they had a sizable number of people, the organizers decided to march from the Au Bon Pain to Brattle Street, where more speeches were held, and then back. Brattle Street was probably a better, more spacious place for a rally, but in the march the protesters tended to get a bit lost in the usual Saturday crowd in Harvard Square. Most passers-by seemed a bit mystified by the whole thing, perhaps partly out of ignorance and partly because of a shortage of signs and incoherent chanting. Even those of us in the march sometimes had trouble understanding the chants, never mind the general public. This may have been just as well since some of those chants I did understand were a bit over the top, such as “Fascism! Shut it down!” and “Police state! Shut it down!” I think most of us at the march would have agreed that the Bush administration qualifies as proto-fascist in character, but this charge may seem bizarre to many people who are not politically active on the left. Those of us on the left sometimes forget that we need to frame our message in such a way that it makes sense to people, emphasizing the dangerous character of the Bush administration while being careful how we use loaded terms like “fascism” and “police state” (not that this is an easy balance to strike)."

Excuse me, Bush IS a fascist and he should be called exactly what he is. The US IS now a police state and should be called for what it is. The general population is a lot smarter than you might think.
you should have joined the capos in the pit! (english)
03 Aug 2003
a few people from this protest actually came over to the pit to check us out and see if we were a counter-protest, because one of us was waving an american flag.

needless to say we were not, and in fact supported your views. why you did not amass around us, in the more high profile space of the pit, i can't understand.

progressives, anarchists, and immigrant groups all have a common foe in this administration, and whenever we have the chance, we must show some solidarity.

don't enrage, ENGAGE!!
gotta break some eggs to make an omlette (english)
03 Aug 2003
sorry, i forgot about the break dancers...(ugh)

some of us went over to you guys, but others were tied down with banners, etc.

in any case, our goal is to make the pit area a locus for unofficial demonstrations by individuals, and if the state sponsored entertainment doesn't like it, so be it.

anyway, i was happy to see you guys out there (and surprised to see Sunaina, whom I knew when she was at Harvard), you should keep it up!
A sprinkle of reality (english)
20 Aug 2003
The Patriot Act revised outdated rules that fatally hampered surveillance of suspected terrorists in America.

Ascrofts staff helped craft plans to monitor the entry and exit of foreign students and to register and track non-immigrant visitors from high-risk Middle Eastern countries. (you know...the same folks that flew the planes on 911)

The results are heartening:
1. The feds have busted more than 20 suspected al Qaeda cell members from Buffalo, N.Y., to Detroit, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

2. More than 100 other individuals have been convicted or pled guilty to terrorist related crimes.

3. The United States has deported 515 individuals linked to the Sept. 11 investigation.

4. Hundreds of foreign criminals and suspected terrorists, plus one known member of al Qaeda, were prevented from entering the country thanks to the National Entry-Exit Registration System

5. Long overdue fingerprint cross checks of immigration and FBI databases at the border have resulted in the arrest of more than 5,000 fugitives, wanted for crimes committed in the United States.

6. And nearly two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, there has not yet been another mass terrorist attack on our homeland.

I don't smoke pot or commit crimes or aid any terrorist groups, so I don't fear the police. I knew two people on flight 11, like them I know who the real enemy is.

Cheers!
Fear (english)
21 Aug 2003
Those attempting resistance to the capitalist state of the world have plenty of reason to fear the government's beefed-up surveillance abilities as well. Not just pot-smokers, criminals, and those aiding terrorism. The fact that the government has the abilities that they do and can use them however they want to is enough to make me afraid to check out radical books from the library, and wary of what sites I visit on the internet. They can use the tools that they have whichever way they wish to, and we have no say in that. That is not what democracy is.

"Real democracy isn’t putting an X in a box and allowing someone else to make decisions which affect your life. It’s discussing things with your friends, neighbours, comrades and colleagues and making decisions about things which you’re personally involved in."
re: Goju (english)
28 Aug 2003
Look, I don't think anyone's going to argue that Islamic fundaemntalist terrorists of the likes of al-Qaeda are not our enemy. Those of us on the left don't like them any more than you do--they represent the opposite of values we embrace, such as democracy, pluralism, women's and gay liberation, etc. And there is a peace group called September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, made up of people who lost loved ones in the 9-11 terrorist attacks (including at least one family whose loved one worked in the Pentagon). We don't want to downplay the evil of what al-Qaeda did. The proper response to such evil is not, however, to engage in parallel evils ourselves, but that is what the Bush administration has been doing.

Moreover, I--and I think most of my fellow progressives--do not think that the Bush administration's policies, either domestic or foreign, are doing anything serious to fight terrorism. Reread the article and consider the matter of the registration of immigrants, which results in the deportation of those who happen to have minor irregularities in extremely complex paperwork not in their native language. Like Sunaina Maira said, this is not likely to catch any terrorists, who would simply not come to register. It simply harms conscientious immigrants, who are trying to play by the rules. It's racial profiling and there's really no excuse for that. Time Wise, a white anti-racist activist, has made the point that if we're going to engage in racial profiling, we should start targeting white people because we are more likely to be child-abusers, drug dealers, and serial killers than people of other races. I hope this helps you see the absurdity of stereotyping people based on race. The vast majority of Arabs, South Asians and Muslims (probably even the majority of Muslim fundamentalists) do not support terrorism and to target them all in the hopes of finding a few terrorists is grossly unfair. There are other ways to go about catching terrorists than using racist, repressive measures.

This applies to the Bush administration's foreign policy as well as its domestic policy. There are no really solid numbers on the civilian deaths from the invasions of either Afghanistan or Iraq, because the Pentagon is simply uninterested in such numbers (a revealing fact). Conservative estimates based on reports in the New York Times produce a civilian death toll in Afghanistan of aorund 3,000. I think conservative estimates for Iraq are something like 5,000. That's more than died in the September 11 attacks. How then are we any better than al-Qaeda if we are willing to kill large numbers of civilians in pursuit of our political goals? It doesn't matter if they weren't killed intentionally, because the Pentagon knows very well that massive civilian casualties are a by-product of the way they wage war, but they use those tactics anyway--which makes them fully cupable. The only way that the civilian deaths could be justified is if Afghani and Iraqi lives are somehow worth less than American lives--which is simply a racist view. In any case, this sort of indiscriminate killing is likely to make people in the Middle East hate America even more, not love us. Fortunately, people I know who have traveled to the Middle East say that vast majority of people there can distinguish between the actions of the US government and its people--they can hate the US government without hating the rest of us. But there will inevitably be people who will racially profile us as Americans and consider us all supporters of this terrorist foreign policy--and therefore all legitimate targets. They will be new recruits for al-Qaeda. And the longer the Bush amdinistration continues on this rampage, the more such people will be created.
RE Matthew (english)
28 Aug 2003
Hi Matthew,

I feel you are wrong, I list several good, factual, real things they are doing that are serious. I’m OK with a few people being inconvenienced by regulations. I'm confused by the tax laws, but I still must abide by them. I feel their pain, however, they can resubmit their application, or get some help with it from someone who speaks the language. However the people killed by terrorists don’t have that second chance.

I think it makes good sense to use criminal profiles to catch criminals. Who cares if they include race? If a gang of Italian, or Chinese, or black, or Mexican etc murderers are systematically killing people…I think it prudent to look for Italian, Chinese etc suspects. No big deal.

Sensible people understand that civilians die in combat, this is nothing new. 100,000 Japanese civilians died in the fire bombings in WW2. Ugly, yes, but war is not antiseptic. Sensible people can overcome this, like we and the Japanese have. Radical Islamic fundamentalists are not sensible. They will hate us no matter how nice we are to them. They believe that it is their duty to kill all nonbelievers, even the “nice ones” who didn’t racially profile them. So if they are offended I'm not losing sleep.

I’m OK with new recruits flocking into their hate groups, they will always exist, that is why we must stand ready, be vigilant, enforce our immigration laws and take a proactive stance against them.
re: Goju (english)
29 Aug 2003
The thing is that people are not just being inconvenienced by these new regulations. They are being deported for minor irregularities--uprooted from their lives and shipped back to a country they may have been absent from for many years, because they forgot to cross a t or dot an i. That is some heavy stuff--it's like burning down a haystack to find a needle, when the needle probably even isn't in the haystack. Also, people are often held immediately and incommunacado, in violation of basic civil rights. They do not get a chance to resubmit their applications. Many people cannot afford help with the legal and translational stuff because they are poor and those are expensive services.

I'd be curious to know where you got your facts from. The government. If so, they may be accurate, but some of them may well be distorted in the government's favor. (All sorts of groups play with numbers like this, including people on the left. I'm not singling the FBI or whoever out on this.) How many of these law-enforcement successes were linked to the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act? how many could have been equally well been done under previous legislation? Were any terrorists actually caught through this registration process? These 515 people who were deported, what were they actually deported for? "Linked to the September 11 investigation" is kind of vague--it could be read as unfortunate people who had done nothing, were investigated and were discovered to have irregularities in their immigration papers.

Based on your reasoning vis-a-vis racial profiling, the police should regularly inspect the homes of all white families, because whites are more likely to abuse their children than members of any other race. There is nothing wrong with saying "the members of this gang are Mexican" or "the members of this terrorist group are Muslim" (assuming that it is true), but then to go out and treat all Mexicans or all Muslims as suspects--which is essentially what we have been doing vis-a-vis Muslims--is just plain racist. It's making sweeping judgements about the moral tendencies of an entire group because of the actions of a very small number of people.

You blithely say that any sensible person knows that civilians die during war. But the mass media feed most Americans a sanitized picture of war and I think most Americans honestly believe that very few Iraqi and Afghani civilians died--and many would be horrified if they knew the true numbers. You seem to accept them--thus you accept the idea that it is alright to kill large numbers of innocent people to achieve your political ends. That is exactly how al-Qaeda thinks. The Bush administrations' foreign policy, which you seem to support, is terrorism on a larger scale than anything bin Laden could fantasize about.