I pulled into the parking garage after a long day at work, dreaming of hitting the couch for a little nap. My phone rang with a tip that something was happening on Gay Street and people had been arrested. Showing my true love and devotion for my readers and my city I grabbed my camera and walked out into the 93 degree August heat avoiding even a sideways glance at the couch.
I found Miguel Carpizo of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, with whom I’ve had a bit of e-mail contact in the past, and he filled me in on the events of the afternoon. His group invited another group crossing the country via bus from Arizona to Charlotte and the Democratic Convention to join them in a rally to oppose Sheriff Jimmy Jones’ proposed local involvement in 287g which authorizes local authorities to become more involved in illegal immigration enforcement. (For a full discussion of this law and immigration issues read my previous post on the topic.)
The group of thirty undocumented citizens traveling in the bus have adopted the theme “No Papers, No Fears” and are openly declaring their undocumented status to media. They plan to make a statement in Charlotte for their cause. I spoke to Gerardo Torres, a 41 year old carpenter, who said he is aware of the risk, but simply tired of having to live in fear. He has some hope for help from a second Obama term, though the group’s site points out the record deportations under the current administration. He sees no hope in a Romney presidency.
I pointed out to Gerardo that I would have plenty of fear to speak out in such a manner given that deportation could easily result. He acknowledged that reality, but said he is unafraid, pointing out that perhaps if he is sent back the next group will achieve a better life. To seal his commitment he had the group’s motto and butterfly insignia tattooed on his arm as the group passed through New Orleans.
The arrests occurred earlier in the afternoon when four members of the group, two legal, two undocumented, spread a banner in a Gay Street intersection near the sheriff”s office and sat on it, blocking traffic. Miguel explained that their thinking was that since Jimmy Jones has four times refused to meet with them, they would go to him. The four were arrested, charged with minor offences and at least three were released by the time the group gathered to march to the river for a rally with music and speakers.
The group numbered between a hundred and a hundred and fifty by the time they streamed down Gay Street, carefully obeying crossing laws. The spirit of the marchers reflected more hope than anger, more resolve than bitterness. I talked to one man who said he appreciated my blog about unions and the memorial for the workers who died re-building the Henley Street Bridge. That always makes me feel good.
I talked to a couple from Indianapolis who were curious about what was happening. I explained and told them a bit about our city, which they said they were enjoying quite a bit. The rally and protest didn’t seem to diminish their new fondness for Knoxville. In all, I felt hopeful, too, for these honest people only wanting a better life and for our city which, while divided like the rest of the country seems, at least a bit, more progressive than it has seemed in the past.
I’m not sure if it is the political season in which we find ourselves or if some real sea-change is afoot but, as I’ve noted earlier this year, something’s happening to increase protest activity in our city. I recently found protesters demonstrating against the voter ID and other similar laws which seem designed to suppress the vote. I’ve run into Greenpeace activists on Market Square. Voter registration booths have sprung up at recent events in the city.
In a way, it’s an interesting journey for the city during the life of this blog. One of the first bursts of significant readership for Stuck Inside of Knoxville came in August of 2010 when I covered the neo-Nazi rally against illegal immigration here, here and here (the rally, mostly attended by people from out of state, was roundly ridiculed by large numbers of Knoxvillians) and now we have more of a presence in support of it – at least on the street. Has Knoxville changed? Has the country? The answer to that question is probably long and complicated and the topic for another day.