Facing South

VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

What happens when the country's largest Legislative Black Caucus comes face to face with nine thousand immigrants -- many of them declaring themselves as undocumented -- chanting aqui estamos, y no nos vamos! (we are here, and we're not leaving!)?

Love. Or a mad crush, at least.

It happened last Thursday on the steps outside the Georgia Capitol, as Republican lawmakers inside moved two Arizona-style anti-immigrant bills through the legislative process. HB87 and SB40 are Georgia's versions of Arizona's HB1070, the racial profiling law that is on appeal after being found unconstitutional by a federal district court.

That HB1070 has cost the Grand Canyon state $217 million in lost conventions and tourism without ever having been implemented has not deterred Georgia's Republican legislators from copycatting.

Nor have pleas from the powerful agriculture industry, which relies on low-wage immigrant labor to turn a profit.

Georgia's immigrants have rallied before -- most notably in 2006, when tens of thousands poured into Plaza Fiesta, the unofficial central plaza of Latino Atlanta -- but never in these numbers in front of the Capitol building, and never so defiantly.

Rally organizers -- the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and the Georgia Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (GIRCC) -- had three members of Georgia's Legislative Black Caucus confirmed on speaker list. But as the rally grew in size and sound, black legislators who were not on the speaker list started leaving their committee meetings to step outside and have a look see. The energy of the crowd pushed some to the microphone.

Representative Stacey Abrams asked to speak and got a roar from the crowd. As the House Minority Leader and the first black to lead the Georgia House Democrats, Representative Abrams had encouraged black legislators to make explicit the connection between the bill's "show me your papers" provisions and slavery.

And so during the floor debate of HB87 two weeks earlier, Representative Al Williams had pulled out a young woman's slave pass from Georgia's antebellum days and read aloud the provisions detailing where and at what times the woman was permitted to walk around by herself.

By the time Senator Emanuel Jones, Chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, came outside, people were packed so tightly that the Capitol police had blocked off the street. Senator Jones took one look at the spirited, mostly Latino crowd and grabbed the microphone to make clear the Black Caucus and the Democratic Caucus had taken a stand against the copycat bills.

"Si se puede!," shouted Senator Jones. The crowd yelled back, "Yes we can!"

A group of Dreamers -- undocumented students fighting for passage of the Dream Act to open a pathway to citizenship for them -- turned the clamor into courage with a chant Dreamers have been using when facing arrest during their sit-in protests.

The Dreamers yelled, "Undocumented!" The crowd responded, "and Unafraid!"

Saying so made it so.

Abrams, Jones, and other members of the Black Caucus, in the meantime, had left the rally to go find Congressman John Lewis. The hero of the civil rights movement was in town attending a luncheon. They showed him pictures of the rally. He left the luncheon.

Half an hour later, the Congressman made his way through the crowd to give what is perhaps his most heartfelt speech in years:

If this isn't love, then grits ain't groceries.

Forty years ago, the Republican's Southern strategy predicted that southern whites would flee the Democratic party once African Americans started voting Democrat. So long as blacks remain an electoral minority, Republican power -- and so, white power -- will be secure.

The culmination of the strategy came during the 2010 elections: in the South, the two parties are now largely split down racial lines, with white Republicans in control of every Southern state.

But what the Southern strategy did not predict was the influx of immigrants into the South. The rally in Atlanta last week suggests there is a counter-strategy in the making.

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re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

Yes! Beautiful and inspiring.

re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

Get loud, get persistant, and never back down!

re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

All immigration pollutes the environment, with the possible exceptions of low fertility gay immigration and those immigrants who can prove that they are permanently sterile and childless.

re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

I wish I had been home in Atlanta, so I could have been at the rally. Thank you for reporting on it - what an uplifting story of organizing courage. Thank you Congressman Lewis and the state's Black Caucus for making the statement that we're all in this together!

re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

How ironic. Illegal alien workers do more to surpress the wages of black people than white workers. If anything, blacks have been hurt THE MOST of any group. If you're hiring someone, and you know the person is illegal, then you know they won't complain too much if they are abused. If you hire a legal black American citizen, you have to pay all the additional costs... and the citizen knows his rights!

re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

I'm tired of illegal immigration being justified by lower produce prices or lack of non-migrant labor. During the depression we had no illegal immigration problem 'cause growers paid enough that out-of-work CITIZENS did the job. Now the farmers are so corporate instead of familial and greed to exceed
the bottom line projections that we excuse illegal activity.

It's time to concentrate border security activity at the employers' level - well, don't abandon border patrol but 60% of personnel should be raiding employers. Employers are the theives, enablers, agents and financial supporters of the republican'ts that keep theis evil cycle stirred.

re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

The Georgia Black Caucus members are well aware of the unbiased studies that consistently prove that black and latino workers do NOT compete for the same types of jobs. Most outside the state do not realize that agriculture is the number one Georgia industry and the farms of (primarily) the middle and southern part of the state hire any willing workers. And the small farmers consistently say they cannot get enough workers. They are not real happy that unfriendly political grandstanding has reduced the number of migrant laborers that used to annually return and bring their willingness to work, their families and their local community spending. The farmers have lobbied at the Capitol (along with other businesses) in support of the Black Caucus position that anti-immigrant proposals do nothing to fix a broken federal system and will only hurt Georgia's economy and people.

The Georgia Black Caucus has long been respected for it's work to bring progressive public policy to the state. Taking the lead on anti-predatory lending, hate crimes and other issues like racial profiling has put the Caucus at the forefront of driving smart policies that benefit all Georgians. Although all discrimination is not the same, it is always destructive. No matter what minority one might come from, if you have been discriminated against you know what it's like and it's wrong. So kudos to the Caucus members who have stood strong against attempts to institute "Jose Crow" laws that would discriminate against Georgia significant immigrant, refugee and assylee communities. And kudos to Kung Li for accurately characterizing the importance of the rally and the future. Read the last line of the story again!

re: VOICES: Georgia, meet your future

Living on the NC/Ga border, I receive most of the local news and programming through Atlanta outlets. It has been remarkable to watch the change in demeanor since the Republicans have taken over. There is a certain mean satisfaction taken in each restrictive piece of legislation passed by this governing body, and a smugness that belies any semblance of concern for the public. The agenda is distribution of wealth indeed, from the middle class and the poor, to the wealthy and the corporations, so that it may be passed back to individual lawmakers by corporate contributions and lobbyists.