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Are We Going to Win?

We should fight like Cyrano de Bergerac... with our dying breath

By Rodolfo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: September 26, 2011


Are We Going to Win?


The question that is most often posited during human rights struggles is, "Are we going to win?" Early on I would answer with certainty, "Yes." However, today I am cautioned by the words of Alice McGrath, one of the main organizers of the "Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee."

Alice, at a University of California Santa Cruz lecture, answered the question with considerable insight. Paraphrasing her, "If we are under the illusion that if we put our little bodies into a struggle that we are going to win; we are under a delusion. We don't win that often."

When I filed a discrimination suit against the University of California Santa Barbara in 1991, I knew that the odds were against us. The defendants had "deep pockets" and they could buy or intimidate most of its Chicana/o employees and the courts protected the UC. The judges were UC graduates and our federal judge was active in UC alumni circles. With Armando Duron and lead attorney Moises Vasquez, we pieced together a legal team of fifteen pro-bono attorneys, none of them had experience in civil rights litigation.

We won because of the lawyers and the tremendous community support and the solidarity of the UCSB Congreso and MEChA students throughout California. We won despite the American justice system, not because of it.

This same question has come up in the Save Ethnic Studies campaign against Arizona's SB 2281 which the Arizona superintendents of instruction ‘«Ű past and present-- are using to kill off Mexican American Studies. In my heart, I know that history will show that we are right and expose Tom Horne and John Huppenthal for the racists that they are. However, I am not delusional ‘«Ű it is an uphill battle.

At this point, we are pretty certain that the case law is on our side, but Arizona has been under a court order to desegregate for over 30 years and state and local officials have evaded enforcement. Indeed, Arizona has embarked on a strategy to nullify the U.S. Constitution, thumbing its nose at the Department of Justice and the federal courts. Moreover, the behavior of most state and local officials is irrational ‘«Ű it is as if the Enlightenment never happened.

The old enemy of the poor -- the lack of money and resources -- haunts us as in my case against UCSB. Brown v. the Board of Education (1954) was a landmark case; however, throughout this nation, Latinos and other minorities are more segregated today than in the 1950s and our schools are still separate and unequal.

Other enemies plague us --- they are named ambition and ego. People lose perspective. A lot of people supported me because they knew there was discrimination in the UC and that it was the principle we were fighting for not me. This is often difficult to keep in perspective and some will always make it about themselves.

Unfortunately, there were many who were opportunists. This is inherent in many middle class people who are by nature brokers. That sector often uses the poor as leverage with the oligarchy, brokering between them and the white establishment. Desperate to be recognized they get on committees to meet those on the other side and curry their favor. In my case it was Ralph Ochoa, an attorney doing business with the UC, as well as a Chicana UC Trustee. Brokering is the form of control that I wrote about in the second edition of Occupied America (1980). The discovery documents also showed backroom negotiations between UC attorneys and professors who lacked the courage to come out into the open.

Envy is the most difficult of the enemies to combat. When entering into a struggle, I am reminded of Cyrano De Bergerac, who with his dying breath lashes out at his old enemies, the enemies of justice. Perhaps because he and I both have grotesque noses, I have always identified with Cyrano.

Now to get more pointed. What is happening in Arizona is not an aberration. Extremists on the right are embarking on a strategy of Nullification. William E. Simon, the Secretary of Treasury under Gerald Ford, wrote "A Time for Truth" in 1978 and "A Time for Action" in 1980 that rallied the emerging billionaire cabal to fund think tanks and showed them how they could use the tax codes to create charitable trusts and institutions that would perpetuate their right wing ideologies and their privileges. Since that time, these so-called philanthropists have funded the fight against immigrant rights, affirmative action, the trial lawyers, Bill Clinton, and all forms of multicultural education.

Let me be clear, nullification is sedition. It is as much of a threat to our democracy, if not more, than terrorism. It is irrational because Arizona is dependent on the federal government. For example, while California gets back 78 cents for every dollar paid in taxes, Arizona receives a $1.19 ‘«Ű it should be grateful. Barack Obama is not Abraham Lincoln and the reason the traitors are able to get away with it in Arizona is more a case of Obama's weakness than his fairness. The traitors get away with it because no one will call them on it.

Aside from small time charlatans, like the members of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, this nullification is being motivated from outside Arizona. Some of the funding comes from within such as the Tucson Republican Party that has used the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to raise funds. But most of the funds come from outside, donated by the families William Simon addressed in 1978. They fund sedition and get tax breaks to boot. The horror.

So getting back to "Are We Going to Win?" I sure hope so. However, I am not delusional; I once had faith in the U.S. Supreme Court until I read history and rulings such as Gore v. Bush (2000) and Citizens United (2010).

This should, however, not stop us from fighting injustice and we should fight this enemy like Cyrano ... with our dying breath.

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