Close to 3,000 progressive activists from all walks of life joined Jim Hightower for his third “Rolling Thunder/Down-Home Democracy Tour” in Tucson on July 26. A traveling extravaganza of grassroots activism, music, speechs, workshops, exhibitions and food, Rolling Thunder’s turn-out in Tucson was a testament to commitment in hard times. Schools and colleges are out of session, August is vacation time and desert rains battered Tucson’s empty downtown, where participants gathered in the convention center.
Those in attendance represented an array of environmental, labor, religious and social justice causes as well as political candidates and parties–Democrats, Greens and independents.
Labor and Democrats are currently embroiled in an intense Congressional primary battle pitting longtime progressive County Supervisor Raúl Grijalva against State Senator Elaine Richardson. Grijalva, with a background in the Chicano and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s, is the strong favorite of the Latino community and environmentalists. Richardson, a more moderate, pro-business Democrat, has financial support from EMILY’s List, primarily because she is a female candidate, and is heavily supported by corporate groups seeking to prevent the populist Grijalva from taking office in the sixty-one percent Democratic district. The EMILY’s List endorsement has so far neutralized national liberal funders like Progressive Majority from supporting Grijalva.
All of which makes Tucson a battleground in two high-stakes struggles: whether the Democrats will retake the House of Representatives in November, and whether progressive Democrats will gain ground over corporate Democrats as the Enron/WorldCom/Halliburton/Harken business scandals continue to hammer Main Street.
The Grijalva forces were heavily represented during the “down home democracy” doings, while Richardson was nowhere to be seen. Longtime activist Lupe Castillo of Derechos Humanos (Human Rights) wanted the outside progressive world to know she is “deeply angered as a feminist at EMILY’s List” for propping up the Richardson campaign. Castillo’s frustration is more than partisan politics; the roots lie in the conditions of anguish in southern Arizona, which call for a national voice of conscience.
Not many North Americans visit the vast Sonora Desert, where the border of Arizona and Mexico, imposed in 1853, is still an open sore in the history of the region. The lands of the Tohono O’Odham, or Papago, people are divided into two areas, each the approximate size of Connecticut, on both sides of the border. Its 25,000 members have difficulty showing proof that they are US citizens, because they were born on tribal land. Two were arrested and deported a couple of weeks ago; a conservative opinion leader called them “indigenous aliens.” A bill to make them US citizens has 123 Congressional co-sponsors but languishes in the Republican House.
In the 1970s a powerful humanitarian sanctuary movement arose in southern Arizona for refugees fleeing our Central American wars. A similar movement is stirring–with little or no national attention except from the American Friends Service Committee–to protect economic refugees from Mexico, who risk their lives to cross the heavily militarized border in search of work.
It is a daily and deadly crisis. Of four people found dead in Cochise County last week, three were from Chiapas in southern Mexico. Most of the other refugees are from Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla. They leave rural Mexico in despair and board buses to Mexico City, and from there make their way to the border in an almost biblical journey by foot and in the backs of trucks. At the border they sleep by the hundreds under trees before they attempt to pass through.