We will not be demonized: Latinos form coalitions against hate

“Our message is simple: we will not be demonized. We will not be scape-goated and we will not be ignored,” says Janet Murgia President of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest and oldest Latino civil rights organization. Murgia is leading NCLR, along with other civil and human rights groups, to challenge the national media and general public to reject the well orchestrated anti immigrant anti-Latino campaign being mobilized by right wing in the media, academia, and politics.

In January NCLR joined in founding the Wave of Hope Project along with allies to challenge the media and expose hate groups located online. They set up a web site at wecanstopthehate.org. Allied in the effort are the Anti Defamation League, Center for American Progress, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Media Matters for America, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The campaign was featured at NCLR’s national conference in San Diego July 12-15 with packed workshops on fighting anti immigrant hate groups. At the July 14 afternoon workshop NCLR Vice President Cecilia Munoz said the defeat of comprehensive immigration reform was tied to the activities of a vast network of right-wing groups popularized by “CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and hate radio” news and talk shows. “Although we know we mobilized a quarter of a million calls to Congress for reform, the politicians told us, the hate calls far surpassed ours” said Munoz.

This does not show “where the country really is” as polls show large majorities favoring reform she said, adding “the debate was not about public policy” but more about prejudice. Workshop leaders exposed how the network of hate has grown rapidly. In 2006 human rights groups tracked 37 hate groups, in 2007 there were 400.

Much of the network is traceable to FAIR, the Federation for Immigration Reform founded by right-wing guru John Tanton in 1978. Since then at least 38 key hate groups have been spun off of FAIR directly, or by groups founded by FAIR or by FAIR staff and funders. These include the Center for Immigration Studies, Immigration Reform Law Institute, US English, and the Minutemen all widely covered in the media. Workshop leaders pointed out that hate groups have been created aimed at labor unions, African Americans, environmental groups, Latinos. Tanton boasts that the US efforts are just a “skirmish in a global war.”

The Wave of Hope Project is developing messaging programs to “create rhetorical space and respect for human rights” says Munoz. The Fenton Communications group who helped develop MoveOn.org are involved and special efforts to reach women African Americans and labor groups are being developed.

The workshop also highlighted a successful community fight back in Providence Rhode Island where a local merchant illegally demanded Social Security cards of Latina shoppers. The community was outraged. Community based agencies responded by mobilizing and reaching out for allies among faith-based and civil rights groups.

NCLR president Murgia challenged the 5000 participants at the group's 40th Anniversary Conference in San Diego July 15: “It is time to take back the debate. It is time to make our voices heard. It is time for us to restore common sense and human decency to this equation,” she said. She stressed that criminalizing immigrants, forcing desperate people farther into the desert, denying care and assistance and raiding workplaces have not worked. Central to the fight back against hate is a massive voter turnout in the November 4 election. To do this NCLR has united with the National Association of Latino Elected officials, SEIU, Impremedia, and an Univision broadcast called Ve y Vota to increase Latino citizenship and is working with Democracia USA to increase the voter turn out.

The National Latino Congreso has launched a massive voter registration drive for 250,000 new Latino registrants and voters. It is also helping to convene a Black Latino Summit to build greater cooperation politically and socially between the communities. The labor movement is standing up to immigration factory raids and faith groups are spearheading a New Sanctuary Movement.