Chants of “Si se puede!” bounced throughout the capitol Thursday as more than a hundred rallied to protest Utah’s infamous immigration list and Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070.---
While the chants of revolution mixed with refrains from Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” had a powerful echo effect inside the state capitol, the acoustics also tended to muffle the talks given by the numerous speakers who presented at the rally. Still activists came out in strength, wearing “Could I be Illegal” shirts and carrying signs that read “Are you on the list? “ and “Love thy neighbor.”
The gathering was organized by a coalition of progressive activists that included the Revolutionary Students Union from Utah Valley University, MECHa, the Brown Berets, Queer Students of Color, Jobs with Justice and The Mormon Worker.
Speakers decried the list recently released to law enforcement and the media that cited 1,300 alleged undocumented immigrants and demanded their deportation. Shannon Mussett, a professor from Utah Valley University warned that the tactics of list makers was a “warning of things to come if we don’t stand strong against the flaring of anti-immigrant forces in our country.” Mussett like others urged compassion and repeated a message by many that even the language of the debate over immigration was dehumanizing when people labeled undocumented immigrants as “illegal.” “Using ‘illegal’ is a move to label anyone who is undocumented as a menace to our society,” Mussett cautioned.
Speaker Melodia Gutierrez of the Brown Berets called out recent anti-immigration measures in Arizona and the nation as oppressive legislation designed to enforce a specific, and privileged cultural world view. “We are tired of your ideal puritanical, Eurocentric America,” Gutierrez told the crowd. “And we will not let you deny us our humanity.”
While the crowd at the gathering didn’t grow to strength until halfway through the rally the counter protest remained a steady two individuals throughout, who stood on the east steps inside the capitol stoically holding an American flag and signs that read “God save Arizona” and “Don’t use ‘racism’ as an excuse for breaking the law!”
“I’m glad that I live in a country where everyone can speak their minds but it is disheartening to see so many people advocating breaking the law,” said Jamin Merton, one of the counter-protesters. “They’ll carry Marxist flags but they won’t carry old glory,” he said. Despite the heated tenor of the event, the mood was civil and there were no clashes at the capitol. Of course, the counter-protesters largely went unnoticed especially after they were obscured from view when two individuals spread a ten-foot banner in front of them that read: “Who would Jesus deport?”
While speakers came from different agendas ranging from LGBT advocates to environmental activists, all speakers agreed the immigration issue struck at the heart of human rights for all. A simple message echoed by speaker Memi Chibane who asked the crowd simply to “stand up and speak out for human rights.”