Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Guest Post from Robert Gittelson: My Day Amongst the Anti’s: What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

Just the other day, I wrote a guest post for ImmigrationProf Blog, in which I explained my involvement in bringing the disgraceful and public anti-immigrant rantings of Bob Kellar, a Southern California City Councilman, to national attention. While I discussed the importance of speaking out against hate speech, and particularly hate speech propagated by elected leaders in this country, I also noted that since we had made our counterpoint, (ad nauseam), I thought that the time had come to move on. I believed that it would be constructive to concentrate my efforts, as well as the efforts of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition, (of which I am a proud member), toward the passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I also felt that we should leave Bob Kellar, and his ilk, behind us as a disgusting footnote in the troubling racial history of our nation.

Well, sometimes life doesn’t always work out as planned. At our coalition board meeting last Saturday, when this topic came up, I expressed the above opinion. However, to paraphrase Al Pacino in the Godfather, “Every time I try to get out, they suck me back in.” Actually, I was convinced that we should press the case by my fellow members. In a correspondence with Professor Kevin Johnson, Dean of the UC Davis Law School, I expressed my change of heart:

“As you know, in my last post, I advocated that our coalition move on. However, at our meeting last Saturday afternoon, I was turned around by our members. I said that I thought that we had raised the issue, and created a national dialogue, but that we should now devote our energies to passing CIR. However, as other members spoke earnestly about this issue, I could see on their faces, and through their words, that they needed closure. These people, mostly immigrants, wanted to see Justice done, and they weren't ready to move on just yet. They wanted us to proceed on our threat to pursue legal remedies, and so we are.

It has already started to make news. Yesterday we sent out a press advisory for our press conference for tonight at 5:00 pm, when we will announce the legal actions that we have undertaken to force the City to act under their own Code of Ethics, passed in 2008. The L.A. Times already did a story about this, as did NBC and KABC. I suspect that their will be a lot of media there tonight for the Press Conference, as well as to hear us speak to the City Council.

I do think that it is important that bigotry and divisiveness be confronted, exposed, and marginalized, so that the dialogue about CIR can be discussed on its merits, where I believe that it will win. Toward that end, I am glad that we are standing up to those that would lead us backward instead of forward.”

In fact, at 5:00 pm Tuesday we held our Press Conference, and several of us spoke at the Santa Clarita City Council meeting, myself included. For me, it was the culmination of a very long day of CIR advocacy. I started the day with a 6:30 am interview on the Radio with an extremely anti-CIR radio host affiliated with the hate group F.A.I.R., (no sense always preaching to the choir), and didn’t finish speaking out on this issue until almost 10:00 pm last night. I basically spent the entire day dealing with the most virulent elements of the anti-CIR agenda, and, as the Grateful Dead song goes, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Actually, the press conference was delayed by about a half hour, because supporters of Bob Kellar’s “proud racist” comment confronted us on the City Hall steps, and created a media circus by trying to shout us down, and chanting “Bob Kellar! Bob Kellar!” whenever we tried to speak. Eventually, order was restored, and we spoke to the media to explain why we felt that it was important to confront anti-immigrant or anti-illegal immigrant hate speech, particularly when that speech is made by elected representative leaders. We also explained why we felt that is was important that we press for legal remedies designed to force the city council to enforce their own code of ethics, even when the target of the code violators were, “undocumented.”

The L.A. Times story explained it as follows:

Los Angeles-based immigrant rights advocates announced Tuesday that they have filed formal complaints against a Santa Clarita councilman they say deserves to be censured for violating the city’s code of ethics and conduct by declaring himself “a proud racist.”

The Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition has sent letters to state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that Councilman Bob Kellar “breached the public’s trust and has acted in an unethical, racist, xenophobic and biased manner by making public comments scapegoating so-called illegal immigrants.”

The group also alleges that Kellar violated at least eight provisions of Santa Clarita’s ethics and conduct policy, which requires that municipal leaders be “independent, impartial and accountable to the people they serve.”

The complaint further targets the remaining members of the Santa Clarita City Council, who the immigrant rights’ advocates charge violated their “fiduciary duties and not speaking out and condemning” Kellar’s statements.

When it was my turn to speak to the media, I pointed to the agitators, who were still creating a fuss around the edges of our group. I urged everybody to please calm down, because what I wanted to say was something that perhaps we all could agree with. I explained that the reason that we were denouncing Bob Kellar had more to do with the symbolism that his speech suggested, than simply trying to parse his words as to the meaning of each syllable. I explained that when leaders lead us down the path of divisiveness, it detracts from our ability to come together and actually deal with, much less actually solve the problems facing our society. I pointed out the obvious, as the difficulty that our small group was having in communicating with each other right at that exact moment was a direct result of the divisiveness caused by the remarks of the Councilman. I admitted that the issue of 12,000,000 undocumented immigrants living in the shadows of our society was indeed problematic, but that if we actually wanted to fix the problem fairly and comprehensively once and for all, we needed to pass CIR. I also noted that had Bob Kellar simply apologized for his unfortunate remarks, and tried to walk his comments backwards, all of this fuss could have been avoided. He had a chance to affect positive change on the very topic that he exposed in his now infamous YouTube video, but unfortunately, instead of availing himself of numerous opportunities to do so, had instead elected to “double-down” on his remarks, and stand by them. He brought this negative national attention to the City of Santa Clarita through his remarks, and especially through his obstinate refusal to admit his mistake. I also promised that when I had my opportunity to address Bob Kellar directly through my remarks at the meeting, I would offer him and the City Council the opportunity to make this right, and possibly avoid or mitigate the legal actions that they were forcing us to pursue.

Actually, I want to reference here a very good post by my colleague at the Standing Firm Blog Rachel LaBruyere, titled, “When the Extreme Becomes Mainstream.  In her article, she addresses not only Tom Tracredo’s troubling remarks at the recent Tea Party Convention, but goes on to address the real issue we are confronted with:

Those people who “could not spell the word vote or say it in English” could make Tom Tancredo and his crowd obsolete if they don’t grow a brain (and a heart) and realize that “multi-culturalism” isn’t what’s threatening this country, fear of the “other” is. Don’t let fear dictate politics or policy. It’s time for a sensible and humane debate on the topic of immigration reform and those willing to engage in such a debate will be rewarded.

I want to also specifically mention a comment that was posted on this article, as it is very germane to how and why I addressed the City Council:

  Alex // February 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

I agree that it’s hard to appeal to folks’ hearts when they are so hardened against ‘the other.’ Hopefully a tactical approach will help but the issue remains how do we solve the continual problem of fighting lies and misinformation with truth?

When I had the opportunity to address the Council, I first went off text, (I had planned my remarks to fit into the allotted 3 minutes), by stating that I recognized that Bob Kellar had a lot of public support from his community, and that did count for something. I further mentioned that the Council would also be hearing that evening from my fellow Full Rights for Immigrant Coalition members, and that those members would be detailing the legal complaints that we had filed against the City Council due to their failure to take action against Mr. Kellar for his remarks, pursuant to their own Code of Ethics. However, I told them that it was my sincere desire to allow them the opportunity to walk this back, and hopefully come to a fair and equitable resolution.

Without repeating my whole speech, there were a couple of points that I raised. First, I told them:

“I want to offer you and the city an opportunity go make a clean slate. I am going to make a short statement about Comprehensive Immigration Reform. If you feel that you can endorse my statement, than I will recommend to my members that we withdraw our legal complaints, and move on. We can turn this negative argument into a positive resolution for all of us.”

I then when into some detail about what exactly does constitute CIR. I started with all of the things that I knew going in that they would approve of, such as border security, workplace security, enforcement, etc. I then got into the “tricky” issue of earned legalization, intentionally phrasing the “pathway obsticles” in draconian language that I suspected would help the “medicine go down.”

I closed by stating:

“That is what we mean by CIR. You said, “This is an American problem, and we’ve got to deal with it.” Bob, the only true way to effectively deal with this problem, and not just accept the status quo, is to pass a solution, and that solution is CIR. Will you, or will you not, endorse this call for CIR?”

At the conclusion of my remarks, the Mayor spoke to me. She stated that while it was against their rules for Council Kellar to answer me, as Council members were not permitted to address public comments directly, she informed me that she was very interested in pursuing this. She asked me to send them my information about Comprehensive Immigration Reform in writing, so that they could formally respond.

I see this as a tremendous opportunity. Not only will I take the Mayor of Santa Clarita up on her offer, but I intend to avail our CIR advocate community of this opportunity to make the case for CIR, and to do so in a very straightforward, common sense, and public way. I will offer the case for CIR in the form of an open public letter to the City of Santa Clarita. In fact, already this morning, I have contacted the local Santa Clarita newspaper, to ask if they would run this letter in their paper, and they seem amenable to this proposal.

The paper, the Signal, ran an article about last night’s activities, stating in part:

Members of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition are putting pressure on Santa Clarita Councilman Bob Kellar to apologize for comments he made at an illegal immigration rally in January.

Coalition members handed a formal complaint letter to Santa Clarita's City Council at Tuesday night's meeting, outlining which parts of the city's code of ethics they think Kellar violated when he delivered his speech last month.

They also quoted my fellow Full Rights member Juan Jose Gutierrez, "(Kellar) might think he was galvanizing the troops," Gutierrez said. "But I think, if anything, this experience should teach us all that if we are elected to any level of government, we have to be sensitive that what we say may reach farther than we intend."

Let us hope that Mr. Gutierrez is more prescient than he imagined. Let us hope that the reach of Kellar’s comments, and the positive ramifications that we have undertaken to address those comments, reach all the way to Washington, D.C.

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