Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wordstrike! Asian American Writers' Workshop builds the Arizona boycott

Last month I received a post from the Asian American Writers' Workshop announcing a new initiative in the struggle against Arizona's racist anti-immigrant law SB1070. This is not the first time writers have addressed this issue. Back in April, novelist Tayari Jones kicked things off with a wonderful post on her blog withdrawing from a scheduled appearance at an Arizona writers' conference. Writer and poet Rigoberto Gonzalez issued a strong, moving call to join the boycott. There's a vibrant Facebook group, Poets Responding to SB1070, which has been very active and where hundreds of poems have been posted. The Lambda Literary Foundation posted my call for LGBT writers to take a stand.

To my knowledge, though, this initiative by the Asian American Writers' Workshop is the first effort initiated and organized by a major national writers' organization to reach out to and enlist writers as partisans in defense of immigrant workers. As such, it is to be applauded. AAWW has given this effort the terrific name Wordstrike, which I love because it delineates this as a workers' issue. As of a July 29 press release announcing Wordstrike, many writers had signed on, and the list of signers includes many prominent authors in a beautiful display of multinational unity. They include Jessica Hagedorn, Victor Valle, Yusuf Komunyakaa, David Henry Hwang, Junot Díaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Laila Lalami, Chris Abani, Maxine Hong Kingston, Wallace Shawn, John Waters and many others. I find this a great development and I hope more writers get on board with Wordstrike to join and build the boycott.

On the activist front, last night I attended a wonderful forum focused on the struggle to overturn SB1070. It was sponsored by the New York May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights. Carlos Canales, a day laborer organizer on Long Island, reported on his recent trip to Arizona. One very interesting facet he reported is the creation of neighborhood defense committees with which, block by block, immigrants are working together to watch out for and protect each other from the Nazi-like depredations of the police and sheriff's deputies. For those of us who follow and support the Cuban Revolution, the formulation "neighborhood defense committee" has a familiar and welcome ring and it was heartening to hear about it. We also heard, via a phone hookup from Tucscon, from Isabel Garcia, a key organizer of the resistance to SB1070 and leader of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition). She offered a sharp political analysis of what's behind the anti-immigrant offensive, talking about NAFTA and the destruction of Mexican agriculture, about joblessness, about the context for what drives migration, as well as about how false and hypocritical, what an exceedingly flimsy cover, is the claim that the Arizona law is tied to "national security."

Both Canales and Garcia also pointed out that the Arizona law is not an aberration. Similar measures are under consideration in many other states. Meanwhile, the Schumer bill, federal legislation introduced and backed by the Democrats, is a broad national attack on immigrant workers camouflaged under the rubric "comprehensive immigration reform." So the Arizona boycott and the fight to overturn SB1070 have to be seen as the foundation for a national struggle.

One other great thing about last night's forum: it was very well attended--the hall was packed--mostly by young people. Which is a prerequisite for any movement to grow and deepen. Among these young people were two to whom the coalition leaders presented an award in recognition of their bold act at the July 29 baseball game at Citi Field. On that evening, outside the Mets ballpark, hundreds of people were picketing to protest the Arizona Diamondbacks. Then word came that inside, these two brave young fellows had run onto the ballfield waving a Mexican flag.