Statewide Civil Right
Summit Focuses on Equal Justice and Immigration Rights
By Hazem Kira
to right: Jo Chamberlain, Pete McClosky, and Dr Agha
CA: Over a hundred delegates from a rainbow of political,
social, and religious organizations gathered at a statewide
civil rights’ summit in Newark’s Chandni Restaurant
to discuss strategies to reverse the attacks on civil liberties
and immigrant rights.
Representatives of about 20 civic groups, including the American
Muslim Alliance (AMA), National Association for the Advancement
of the Colored People (NAACP), Green Party, Libertarian Party,
Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), California
Faculty Association (CFA), Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition,
La Raza Centro Legal, Inc., San Francisco Day Laborer Program,
Hayward Demos Democratic Club, Pakistan American Democratic
Forum, Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights,
and United Muslims of America (UMA) attended the 2007 Civil
Rights Summit organized by the California Civil Rights Alliance.
Delegates agreed to work together for fair and equitable immigration
policy as well as restoration of civil liberties and human
rights for all. Speakers highlighted the lingering effects
of modern day racial and labor economic inequalities, deficiencies
in the current immigration legislation, and condemned the
curtailment of constitutional freedoms of speech, privacy,
and due process.
“The increasing threats to constitutional guarantees
faced by Muslims, Latinos, African-Americans, and growingly
Caucasian Americans have created a natural alliance,”
said Dr. Agha Saeed, the National Chair of the American Muslim
Alliance, a founding member of the coalition.
Overall, this summit was a noteworthy expression of bottom-up
planning and activity. However, one could not help notice
a few samples of trickle-down-politics as well. Karl Hoffower,
who chairs the NAACP Resolution Committee, told the audience
that the President of California NAACP has recently introduced
a strongly worded resolution in support of Palestinian statehood.
Hoffower said that the NAACP president had decided to take
this action “after reading former president Jimmy Carter’s
book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid”.
Jo Chamberlain, a nationally recognized Green Party leader
and a co-founder of CCRA introduced the summit as "a
multi-religious, ethnic and ideological assembly of people
coming together." Summit organizers had structured the
event as a strategy primer for the 2008 presidential elections,
to create the foundations of a unified strategy to make civil
liberties a leading issue on the election agenda.
Since 2001, multi-level coalitions have sprung up to unite
the most unlikely of political allies. 2004’s presidential
election saw an organized movement towards creating a civil
rights bloc vote, where progressives, libertarians, minorities,
as well as majority represented organizations coalesced into
a noteworthy voting bloc. Since then, these coalitions have
gained greater prominence, unity, and a more formal structure.
“The solution,” said the event’s keynote
speaker former Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who
has recently joined the Democratic Party, “is to register
more people and show candidates on Election Day why our vote
can make a difference.”
McCloskey was recognized by the group with its highest honors,
the Lifetime Achievement Award, in appreciation of “showing
courage of conviction in upholding American ideals, demonstrating
total honesty and integrity in dealing with fellow Americans
of all religions, colors and creeds, and doing the right thing
at the right time and for the right reason while consistently
maintaining political integrity.”
"I'm honored,” said McCloskey, “because people
facing government harassment and obstruction need representation
more than most to have the courage to lead as these people
Also recognized by the group, in absentia-- due to recovery
from cancer, was former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate
Peter Miguel Camejo, who was given the group’s Strategic
Thinker Award, for “speaking truth to power, strategizing
progressive approaches for the attainment of due process and
equal justice, raising consciousness about issues vital to
human survival, building multilevel coalitions to help immigrant
communities gain inclusion as equals, and providing a role
model for those who aspire for politics of dignity and integrity.”
Renee Saucedo, a member of La Raza Centro Legal, who spoke
at the first panel titled ”Civil rights and Immigration
- Three Perspectives,” said she was with a group of
100 people outside Feinstein's San Francisco home early that
morning, protesting her support of the immigration bill.
"We had a protest yesterday in front of her office, and
this morning we showed up at her house," Saucedo said.
"After about an hour and a half, she came out and told
us what the immigration reform bill included, and we said
we're here to tell you why we disagree."
Although Feinstein and other supporter claim that this bill
would provide a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented
immigrants in America, immigration activists strongly disagree.
Saucedo said hat the bill is "an empty promise,"
and at most, only a few thousand would be able to complete
all the steps to legalization.
David Bacon, respected labor journalists with a weekly radio
show on KPFA, called for the “restoration of due process
rights, equal access to the courts and meaningful judicial
review for all immigrants.”
“All legal residents, including newly legalized people,
should have the same labor and civil rights as the general
population, in accordance with the US Constitution.”
Agreeing with her co-panelists, Evelyn Sanchez called on legislators
not to support the comprehensive immigration bill currently
in Congress, likening it to the Bracero program which is well
known for its gross violation of human rights mandates.
The second panel devoted to “Strategy Building”
was addressed by civil rights attorney and activist Eric Vickers
and Nativo Lopez, National President of the Mexican American
Political Association — a member organization of the
CCRA. “The new immigration bill is a modern day form
of indentured servitude, merely serving the interests of corporate
America,” said Mr. Lopez.
“The essence of the current immigration debate, in fact
raging for the past fifteen years, essentially is the management
of an ample, but vulnerable, labor supply for corporations,
large and small, urban and rural, and on their terms. At the
heart of all the proposals this is the bottom line. And, this
can be observed in the initiatives submitted by both Republicans
The surnames of the authors may be different … but the
parameters of the deal are within the same ballpark of comprehensive
reform... No matter how many times comprehensive is repeated
in the press releases of the advocates of this type of ‘reform,’
it will never make it fair, humane, or rational.”
Civil rights attorney Eric Vickers, who spoke alongside Lopez,
said that Martin Luther King’s approach of civil disobedience
was one method to consider in changing the status quo. Vickers
said minorities have to be willing to disrupt the majority’s
complacency — like both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm
X — to gain power in America.
"Can you imagine if a million Hispanics marched on Washington,
DC? That's the kind of thing that has to happen to make change,"
"Many still are clinging desperately to the status quo
or have exaggerated security fears,” Vickers said referring
to the USA Patriot Act and other such legislation. "We
have to be just as passionate in opposing them and shedding
light on their unconstitutional and xenophobic attitude."
The panel on Coalition Building was addressed by Dr. Kim Geron
and Dr. Agha Saeed. Dr. Kim Geron, who was representing the
California Faculty Association (CFA), argued the UN posits
education is a human right, which is currently being systematically
dismantled by the present state and federal governments.
Dr. Saeed said the “Latino-Americans and Muslim-Americans
are natural allies” because, historically, in the United
States any attack on civil liberties has invariably been accompanied
by an attack on immigration of Third World people.
For example, “the draconian National Security Act of
1950, introduced by Sen. McCarran, led in 1952 to the Eurocentric
and anti-third world McCarran-Walter Immigration Act.”
On the other hand, passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964
led to first non-racist immigration act of 1965.”
Today, “the passage of the USA PATRIOT ACT has been
accompanied by HR 4437, which sought to criminalize 11 million
undocumented workers and implicate priests, teachers and social
workers who may try to help them exactly the same way as those
helping run-away slaves.”
The summit closed with the passing of a resolution, introduced
by Hayward Demos Democratic Club’s Harry Scott, which
called for fair immigration legislation, closing the Guantanamo
Bay prison and repealing the 2006 Military Commissions Act.
“Such events encourage and enshrine public dialogues
aimed at building broad-based coalitions which in turn can
help restore civil liberties and develop fair and just immigration
policies,” Libertarian representative Mark Hinkle said.