Surrounded by colourful posters decrying the racism of Arizona's latest slew of discriminatory and intolerant legislation (e.g. SB 1070), a group of seven community activists -- whose backgrounds appear to transcend race, class and gender -- animatedly discuss Proposition 107: a November ballot measure that proposes to amend Arizona's state constitution to eliminate "discrimination" or "preferential treatment" based on race or gender in any of the state's publicly-funded programs.
It's the height of Arizona's monsoon season, yet the volunteers for "WE CAN! The Equality and Opportunity Committe Opposing Prop. 107" have willingly eschewed air conditioning and swimming pools (standard fare for combating Arizona heat in the summer) this past Tuesday evening to gather in the cramped front room of their Southern Tucson office for their weekly meeting. Speaking above the constant whir of desk fans working over-time, these seven activists describe their motivations for opposing Proposition 107 to me.
"It's important to show that Proposition 107 was brought to the state by the same people who brought SB 1070 and the ethnic studies ban," says Delores Grayam, the group's registered chairperson according to the Office of the Secretary of State. Grayam serves as the group's co-chair and historian, having worked to oppose earlier efforts to ban affirmative action in Arizona. "We're looking at a convergence of nativists and proponents of free enterprise, who see this as an opportunity to chase people of colour out of the state by a process of attrition and harassment."
"Not a lot of people consider Proposition 200 [and other pieces of legislation, like SB 1070] as part of a strategized plan to capitalize on nativist hysteria for political gain. But, these things are intrinsically tied together, and intentionally so," remarks Melanie Emerson, one of the group's organizers.
Javier Herrera, the other co-chair of "WE CAN!", suggests that Proposition 107 "will divide our communities instead of bringing them together." Herrera argues that Governor Janet Napolitano's appointment to the Department of Homeland Security left a political opening for right-wing activists to force-feed partisan legislation to Arizona voters. "[The sponsors of Proposition 107] went through the backdoor to turn Arizona into a testing ground for their mean-spirited bills. We're trying to counteract this. [We want to] provide opportunities for everybody, so that everybody can have a piece of the American Dream."
History demonstrates that failure to defeat Proposition 107 this November could have dire consequences. Recently, I wrote about how similar measure have already passed in California, Michigan, Washington and Nebraska; and I discussed how, in California, the ramifications Proposition 209 (their version of Proposition 107) have been profoundly negative to the state's small business and educational communities. Here in Arizona, the members of "WE CAN!" worry that Proposition 107 could seriously disenfranchise Arizona's minority residents.
"[This bill will] disconnect people of colour from the mainstream and roll back their opportunities," says Grayam. "[Hispanics] in Arizona may become limited and left out from being leaders." Herrera wonders about what Arizona will look like if Proposition 107 passes. "Are we going to have individuals [in this state] who can't achieve?"
Emerson chimes in, noting that what drew her to the fight against Proposition 107 was the bill's potential effect on Arizona's female voters, regardless of race. "Women have been the largest recipients of affirmative action. We have a responsibility to speak out against this."
Proposition 107 is the brain-child of Ward Connerly's deceptively-named American Civil Rights Initiative. For the past decade, ACRI has used their considerable wealth to ram anti-affirmative action policies down the throats of voters in several states. Here in Arizona, I reported how the ACRI -- based in Sacramento, California -- spent more than $600,000 to place proposition 107 on the ballot this November. Furthermore, though the election season has barely begun, ACRI has already spent another $30,000 of their out-of-state money to mobilize their misguided campaign here in Arizona.
Honestly, when faced with the overwhelming funds that ACRI is pouring into Arizona, I felt as if the prognosis on Proposition 107 was grim. Ward Connerly was going to buy himself a vote this year; what could possibly be done to stop it?
Encouragingly, "WE CAN!" has a broad-based plan that combines efforts to obtain endorsements from Democratic elected officials and candidates, outreach to large- and small-business owners, and door-to-door canvassing to raise awareness amongst the average voter. Although the group still appears somewhat divided about exactly what their campaign's message will be, two websites are already in the works: one that will provide information about Proposition 107 , and another (more broadly-focused site) that will invite bloggers to write about anti-Latino legislative efforts in Arizona. As for fundraising, the group plans to rely on small (and hopefully not-so-small) donations from in-state and out-of-state voters -- basically anyone affected by Proposition 107.
"This is really a grassroots effort," remarks Grayam, as she notes that the group has already received several donations from Arizonans and concerned citizens around the country.
But, the members of "WE CAN!" insist that this isn't just about defeating Proposition 107 in November. Citing their plans to register new voters and improve voter turnout, Maritza Broce discusses how the group can turn "WE CAN!" into a long-lived political outreach movement. "We're going to focus on the electoral portion [of this fight]," she says. "But, we're also going to try to build relationships that can carry forward past November."
But, for now, their eyes are set on the election this fall, nor are "WE CAN!" the only group to begin mobilization efforts against Proposition 107.
AC NOW! To donate (time, money or manpower) to "WE CAN!", swing by their office at 2111 S 6th Ave or feel free to attend their weekly meeting, every Tuesday at 5:30pm. You can also register your opposition to Proposition 107 by joining "WE CAN!"'s Facebook group.