Religious witness at Tent City

As I write this, Unitarian Universalists and local allies are holding a protest rally, or “religious witness,” at Maricopa County’s infamous Tent City. The local temperature is 101 degrees (38 C.) right now, at nine o’clock at night: that’s the kind of temperatures prisoners have to endure during the long summer months at Tent City, which is part of the reason why many people consider Tent City prison to be cruel and unusual punishment, and inhumane.

The Web site for 3TV Phoenix News interviewed Sheriff Joe Arpaio yesterday, and reported: “‘They’re not going to stop me with their little demonstration,’ said Arpaio.” This is a true statement: the voters of Maricopa County have kept Arpaio in office for the past two decades, and a couple of thousand people protesting at Tent City is unlikely to influence the electorate.

I decided not to attend the religious witness at Tent City tonight. I’m not doing well with the heat, I’m trying to get another article written for the uuworld.org GA blog, I’m past tired. But I’m also wondering how this is religious witness action is going to make much of a difference. I hope our presence heartens our local allies; I hope it makes us feel less powerless ourselves. But on the other hand, Joe Arpaio loves this kind of controversy: it gets him press coverage, and gives him additional publicity for his nasty agenda.

I’m watching live streamed video from OPHKMickey — here’s a screen shot showing people streaming in to the protest site:

Update 11:00 p.m.:

A newly-posted video on 3TV Phoenix News shows Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a microphone flanked by Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Bill Schulz. Arpaio says exactly what you’d think he’d say: “[unintelligible] for people to come in here from out of state, think they’re going to tell this sheriff how to run his operation.” No one likes outsiders telling them what to do, and Arpaio is obviously milking that for all it’s worth.

9 thoughts on “Religious witness at Tent City”

  1. Hey Dan – lots of good food for thought as usual. I will say that the local activists, who risk and suffer so much more than we do and have been fighting Arpaio for years, were so so grateful and comforted and inspired by our massive presence of solidarity. I’m also hopeful about the interfaith coalition being built around this issue (which UU’s need to forge more of!). But you’re right that this alone won’t stop Arpaio. Maybe, hopefully, the media coverage might raise more concern/questioning of his behavior. Sigh…

  2. PS: UU’s would have been better off inviting Libertarian Prez candidate Gov Gary Johnson to speak. He was Gov of neighboring New Mexico. He’s also the only Presidential Candidate who allowed himself to be interviewed by Pagan News.

    http://ivn.us/2012/06/22/presidential-candidate-former-new-mexico-gov-gary-johnson-immigration-policy/

    While both Obama and Romney promise to further complicate immigration policy with more rules, policies, projects, and programs, Johnson’s goal is to make it simpler: “A rational immigration policy, to me, involves making it easy for an individual to come over to the United States and work, make it easy for an individual to get a work visa.”

  3. I didn’t go thinking we were going to change Sheriff Joe’s mind about anything. For me, the vigil served at least three purposes: 1) we hearten and strengthen our relationship with our allies here in Phoenix, the people who are fighting for justice every day 2) we affirm and deepen our own religious identity as UUs (spontaneously singing Spirit of Life on buses and as we stood in vigil will do that for ya) and 3) we help change and shape how something like tent city gets talked about, locally and even nationally. If you’ve studied MLK at all, then you know that media coverage is EXTREMELY important for pushing for change, and we’re getting lots of media coverage this morning. It matters that there were thousands of us, that the buses kept coming, that we were wearing our SSL shirts and stoles, that we sang of peace and love. It matters that more religious leaders are stepping up to raise their voices with us. And when we can change the framework and language of public discourse around tent city, then our fight for justice will succeed.

  4. Were those (or some of those) in the tent prison able to see the rally or otherwise be aware of it and know its purpose?

  5. Betty-Jeanne — If we provided moral support to local people who have been taking these issues on, that for me makes it worthwhile.

    Bill — You write: “I think you’re giving the Sheriff a bit of a boost.” Touche.

    As for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, you have an interesting point. Obama and Romney appear to be fairly close to each other in their immigration policies. Johnson’s is a refreshing voice in the debate.

    Sharon — I’m in agreement with you on all your points. When you speak of media coverage, though, that raises a question for me — to what extent has this event furthered our opposition to SB1070? In the media coverage, I’m seeing little mention of immigration issues. Instead, media are presenting this as a protest against Arpaio.

    Erp — Reportedly, prisoners inside Tent City were quite aware of the protest. This is another positive result of protest.

  6. re: …media are presenting this as a protest against Arpaio.

    Rev Morales sadly personalized the conflict rather than focus on the policy / moral issues. That’s a huge mistake and not how Social Justice should be practiced.

  7. Part of the challenge with media, of course, if that almost nothing is covered in-depth. We’re all just images and soundbites, on all sides of these issues. Let’s face it, the media was hoping the protest would turn violent because that’s more exciting for them. It’s probably the main reason there was so many reporters there.

    So…this is one of the reasons the Standing on the Side of Love campaign is so powerful for us. We’re visible in our yellow shirts and stoles. The name is memorable. SSL was named in the AP report of the vigil. So anyone with two seconds of curiosity to google that will find us, and THAT’S how we get people reading and thinking more about immmigration issues.

    And for those without curiosity, I think they will still remember “religion” and “love.” Considering that fundamentalist religion usually gets all the press coverage, I am heartened to have liberal religion make the news for once. I think that advances our immigration work, even if it’s indirectly.

  8. @Sharon.. The Media may be all images and soundbites but that’s not a good reason for us to respond in same. This was a bad move. A Catholic Bishop wouldn’t have yielded gravitas to Arapio by sharing a pulpit with him. An outsider demonstrating at a real disadvantage to start wtih. An outsider demonstrating and sharing the stage with a guy who got 57% of the vote not smart. They’re going to compare badly with the local and all of that reading and thinking you’ve prompted won’t be what you want. Arapio runs again, he gains points. Witness the gains Walker picked up in the recall.

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