Being on a picket line is good for the soul, as my friend Rob Prince's powerful account of demonstrating at the "Aurora Processing Center" indicates (like the Bush "Clean Skies Program" or "Enhanced Interrogations" or the name of companies which engage in backing dictatorships and slaughtering innocents like Xe Corporation, formerly Blackwater, or Consolidated Systems Inc which manufactured every tear gas canister used by Mubarak undergirded by American "aid" against Arab Spring in Egypt). Not honesty and straightforwardness but bizarre euphemisms for criminality is characteristic of government under the latest, increasingly authoritarian and militarist with some parliamentary and rights-oriented remnants capitalism. In addition, America is an empire in decline...). Rob speaks of his family's immigration to the United States, his aunt and uncle being forced to return to Europe on "eugenic" grounds (even the FDR administration would turn away Jews from Europe, so that Hitler could say: "You see, America doesn't want them, either." (see Katherine Ann Porter, Ship of Fools).
My anarchist grandparents emigrated from Prylucki in the Ukraine (the ghetto), his fleeing prompted by organizing in the tsarist army in 1898, four years before the first Russian peasant revolt in the lead up to the 1905 Revolution, and being betrayed. Their names were often anglicized (as with indigenous people, the "superior" race had a hard time with names and often decreed them). But Sofie and JJ Cohen were not, as Rob's were, detained or sent back for an eye infection (the master race is often excessively concerned with "healthy bodies," displaying "Aryan" or "Nordic" children as supposed examples).
Today's wall against immigrants - except for indigenous Americans, this is a land of immigrants spouting false patriotism and nativism - is a silly creation of the Republicans, catered to by the Democrats, to shovel money to the .001%, harm most of us, and get people to blame immigrants (I first saw Obama debate Hillary, defending immigrants against the charge of stealing black teenage jobs - I thought he might get shot for saying such true things...- and Hillary reading from the script of the rich about meeting an unemployed black construction worker in Atlanta who said "that job was taken by a Mexican" and "that job..." (Obama has, except for the dreamers, thus far done a very bad job as President on this issue; people are today picketing outside the White House...).
In my book Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, I begin from a citation from Jefferson about the so-called Alien and Sedition Act (1798) which made it a capital crime to criticize the President (except for a shining moment of advocacy of the Declaration of Independence, the bizarrely reactionary John Adams): "Now that an Alien Act has targeted the immigrant, the citizen had better not be too confident, for already has a Sedition Act marked him for its prey." The Sedition Act sought to suppress a second party, the Democratic-Republicans of whom Jefferson and Madison were the leaders; Jefferson won the elation of 1800 and, thus, created a two party democracy as against single party rule. These were pretty high stakes.
The Alien Act target Scottish and Irish editors of pro-Jefferson newspapers. Oh, those immigrants...
In Los Angeles, I worked, as an SDS organizer, to organize or more aptly, accompany immigrant women in the garment industry and radical farmworkers in Delano (H/t Victor, Enrique and Epifanio, and Staughton Lynd). Today campus workers often speak Spanish and anyone who is not working to become bilingual is losing out. There were huge protests for human rights and decency on May 1, 2011 in Denver. But such divisions are, as Marx said of the English workers who looked down on the Irish (half the work force), "the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its high level of organization." (letter to Meyer and Vogt, 1870). And they are cultivated by the elite "through press, pulpit and comic paper." See Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 4.
My mother Emma was an admirer of Paul Robeson and an early IQ tester; with Rob, I have long fought the eugenics movement. The rationale for IQ testing - a great industry - is little more significant than calling the prison for immigrants a "processing center." "Intelligence" is defined circularly as "what IQ tests test." The result is a rationalization of class, status, gender hierarchies, most fiercely directed at immigrants, blacks and chicanos, and indigenous people. See my Democratic Individuality, ch. 10).
It was wonderful that Rob's grandmother met him on the picket line. This is true, in spirit, for all Jews who fight against oppression - and especially against an Israeli regime which treats the Palestinians, the indigenous people, as exiles and forbidden immigrants in their own land (the same has long been true for indigenous people in America). To oppose racism and fight for equality and decency is the true heritage of those who have gone before...
There are many significances, many stories to be learned, from standing up. Rob's essay (from his blog) is a particularly moving one.
"Bring Them Home – Immigration Rights Monthly Protest At the Aurora Processing Center
by Rob Prince
Such a strange title for what amounts to a high security prison for undocumented immigrants being "processed" ...ie kicked out of the country,"the Aurora Processing Center." It is a fortress with high walls, barbed wire, an enormous facility a medieval dungeon in the 21st Century. But I have passed it many times driving down Peoria Street in Aurora and not even noticed it as it sits a block off of a main thoroughfare. If you didn't know what was going on there, it would not be illogical to think it a meat processing center. After all what is a "processing center?"But this processing center processes people and kicks them out of the country. It breaks up families and crushes souls.Colorado "processing center" in Aurora has one of the oppressive records in the country and this country's president has expelled more immigrants from these United States than anyone in his position in the past. A sorry record indeed and one that continues full steam.
There were about fifty of us out there protesting the treatment of undocumented residents of the United States. One of my daughters, Molly, had asked if I would go with her to the monthly protest meeting - first Monday of each month - at the Aurora Processing Center. A Jewish social justice group (finally!) in Denver, Bend The Arc, is also involved. Many present themselves or family members had been arrested by immigration and are facing deportation. One who had spent eight months inside the Aurora Processing Center was a woman named Kelly. She had been stopped for driving without a license and, her papers not in order, sent to the processing center for deportation. That she was able to get out of the center and remain in the country she credits to the immigration rights movement in Denver that helped her. But it would not have happened unless, as Kelly put it, she "came out of the shadows and into the light, to leave behind the fear"...go public and fight openly for her rights.
Molly had gone to these demonstrations several times before and it was about time that I joined in too. Immigration is a personal issue for me several generations removed. It is both a part of both the heritage of this country and of my own family. Along with many of their relatives, all of my grandparents immigrated to this country from what is today Lithuania, Poland and Belarus in the early years of the 20th century. My maternal grandmother, Sarah Magaziner (name changed to Magazine in the 1930s) was denied entry on her first try as a result of a minor eye infection. For that, - a woman who spoke seven languages fluently (Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Yiddish, Swedish and Hebrew) - eight if English is thrown in - and who had the voice of an opera singer, the daughter of a long line of rabbis and fisherman on the Niemen River - was deemed "eugenically unfit" and sent back to Europe from Ellis Island in New York Harbor.
Sarah Wishejsky - in Bialystok, Poland, shortly before her marriage to Julius Magaziner. She was considered eugenically unfit at Ellis Island and sent back to Europe. He started a grand family pacifist tradition as he was a draft dodger from the Russian Army who escaped to the United States rather than spend twenty years in the army of a country which had organized pogroms (a nice word for massacres) of Russian and Ukrainian Jews.
She found refuge with a relative in Sweden. A few years later, she tried again, but this time her ship landed in Montreal from where she took a train down to New York City. While the Ellis Island entry to New York was as heavily guarded as the Mexican-U.S. border today (actually it is much worse today), there were no customs officers that greeted the trains from Canada to New York. So she slipped in, an illegal, undocumented woman from Bialystok, Poland with her two sons (one of whom died). One who survived, who made both journeys, was my Uncle Lou. Grandma Sarah would have fourteen pregnancies of which seven survived - my uncles Lou, Joe, Hymie, Ira, and Willie, my Aunt Mal (b. Molly changed her name to Malvina because it sounded more exotic as an adult) and the youngest and most pampered of the lot, my mother, Beatrice Magazine, called Beattie by her siblings and friends.
While anti-Semitism is still alive and well in some quarters here in the USA it is nowhere near as virulent today here as it was a century ago. Still it seems to have a life of its own just down the road from us in Colorado Springs both in its born-again mega-churches and as it has been revealed, there is no small dose of it at the U.S. Air Force Academy as well. There are several bigoted "Christian identity" churches in northern Colorado near the Wyoming state line.
For all that, there is very little blatant anti-Semitism in the state and the Jewish Community here - especially in Denver and Boulder has thrived and made its mark. Although there are always demons in the shadows, being a Jew in the United States today is not so hard as it was a century ago when the Prenskys, Magaziners, Wishejskys and Dubinskys - my relatives on both sides - landed in New York City.
Of course they came green off the boat a century ago...and culturally and religiously I suppose - it feels even longer than that. But it isn't - just two generations. Jews in the early 20th century were in the forefront of immigration rights, civil rights movements in part because it has always been an integral part of Jewish heritage - Israel aside - in part because of the very real discrimination my relatives, ancestors suffered, here in the USA and in Europe. But then as things happen and time goes by and prosperity set in, memories of past injustices seem to fade. We tend to forget the thorny path on which our ancestors walked.
But I can't seem to forget. I looked at these young Mexican mothers this evening fighting for their human rights to stay, live and participate in this country, fighting for their children, their husbands, brothers and sisters and I see my grandmother Sarah clinging to my Uncle Lou being forced back to Europe...from whence they made the journey "across the pond" a second and more successful time. I see this highly cultured and beautiful woman, daughter of a rabbi cursed as eugenically unfit, a subhuman by an Ellis Island immigration officer. Grandma Sarah, whose picture I carry in my wallet, speaks to me in her voice of broken English mixed with Yiddish saying..."Robinu, why did you wait so long to join them on this picket line..I've been waiting for you."