"Peace" grannies on trial in NY for Iraq protest
by Christine Kearney
April 20, 2006

Some hobbled in on canes, others walked gingerly, but a group of grandmothers remained defiant as they faced trial on Thursday after being arrested while protesting against the Iraq war.

Joined by dozens of anti-war activists including Cindy Sheehan, 18 members of a group called the "Granny Peace Brigade" pleaded not guilty to disorderly conduct for protesting outside a Times Square military recruitment center in October.

Sheehan, who has become a leading voice against the war since her son was killed in Iraq, said the grannies spoke "for the people in Iraq who don't have voices."

"When women like grannies are punished for trying to save lives, this country is in a terrible mess," she said.

The group of women aged 50 to 91 were supported by others such "Raging Grannies" from Canada, whose members wore badges, chanted and held banners that read "Arrest Bush, Free the Grannies" and "Can't whip the Insurgents? Whip Grannies."

Assistant District Attorney Amy Miller it was a simple case. "It's not about the war, it's about disorderly conduct," she said in an opening statement, adding the group blocked pedestrian traffic and did not obey police orders to disperse.

Attorney Norman Siegel told the court the group, which includes teachers and nurses, had been locked out of the recruitment center and staged a sit-in protest, although one elderly woman was unable to sit and two other women remained standing to support her.

The "grannies," as Siegel repeatedly called them, were eventually placed in a police van, fingerprinted and held for more than four hours after their arrest.

"We should be praising these grandmothers, not prosecuting them," he said outside the courtroom. "If the DA wants to put the grannies on trial, we will put the war on trial."

While the case will hinge on whether the Siegel can prove the women did not block traffic, many of the women said the trial was a second chance to voice their protest against the war and recruitment methods.

"There was no point arresting us, we were simply trying to make a statement," said former assemblywoman Marie Runyon, the oldest of the group at 91, who held herself steady using two walking sticks.

The trial is expected to last several days. If found guilty, the women could be fined $250 or sentenced to a maximum of 15 days in jail.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters
from URL: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060420/us_nm/iraq_usa_grannies_dc


Viva la Mexico
By Brenda Norrell / Today staff
April 08, 2006

Support for immigrant rights emerges

TUCSON, Ariz. - Waving American flags and Mexican flags, protesters opposed anti-immigration legislation in Washington, called for the ouster of President George Bush and celebrated renewed pride in their Mexican heritage during weeklong protests in Tucson.

More than 1,300 middle and high school students walked out of their classes and marched to the downtown Federal Building to protest proposed U.S. anti-immigration bills.

Pablo Molinar, 18, wore a T-shirt that read, ''Mexican, I'm not Latino, I'm not Hispanic.'' Pablo's sister, Jessica Molinar, 19, wore a T-shirt that proclaimed the indigenous message: ''We didn't cross the borders, the borders crossed us.''

''This country is made of immigrants,'' said Jessica Molinar, voicing opposition to House Bill 4437, which would make undocumented workers felons.

On a bullhorn, protesters supported the La Raza movement and First Amendment rights. Students were linked by e-mail and cell phones to thousands of other student protesters in California, Texas and Nevada.

Outside the Federal Building, student protest signs proclaimed, ''No Somos Criminales!'' (''We are not criminals!'') and ''We are not part of the problem, we are part of the solution.'' School officials arrived with buses, hoping to entice student marchers back to classes with the offer of rides.

On the street, Patricia Flores praised the students for the spontaneous protest against anti-immigration legislation. ''They are picking up where their parents left off.''

The weeklong protests culminated on April 2, with 7,000 to 10,000 marchers joining the Cesar Chavez March through the streets of South Tucson, which borders the Pascua Yaqui Nation and the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Celebrating the 79th anniversary of the birth of the late Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union and champion of the poor, marchers continued their protests through South Tucson barrios waving American flags.

Among those participating in the Cesar Chavez March was Mike Wilson, Tohono O'odham and Humane Borders volunteer, who alone places water on tribal land in hopes of preventing migrant deaths in summer when temperatures reach up to 118 degrees.

Meanwhile, the Minutemen, known as ''armed vigilantes'' patrolling the border for migrants, arrived at Three Points and set up camp near the eastern border of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Chris Simcox, the Minuteman group's national leader, told The Associated Press that four water stations placed by Humane Borders, to keep migrants from dying in the desert, will be among the sites under surveillance.

Back in Tucson, the ''No More Deaths'' campaign held a 40-day fast to remember more than 4,000 migrants who have died along the border of the United States and Mexico.

At the No More Deaths prayer vigil at the El Tiradito Shrine in downtown Tucson, the names of migrants who died on the border were read, with the crowd saying, ''presente,'' to recognize and honor their memory. On the shrine were their names, including those who died as a result of violent assaults and hanging.

''Every day we honor 100 people who died along the border,'' volunteer Sara Launius told Indian Country Today. She was holding the sign that has become widespread on homes and businesses throughout the Southwest: ''Humanitarian aid is never a crime.''

During the weekly vigil, volunteer Mary Ada Vallet relayed the message of migrants: ''We built your homes, we grow your food; why do you treat us like criminals? We are immigrants, offering much for very little.''

In the prayer vigil circle, Roy Goodman said when he hears that a migrant has died in the desert at the border, he thinks of the person's mother and the dreams she once had for her child. Some families never know how or where their children died. Some migrants traveling on foot are abandoned in the desert.

''If you don't keep up, you die,'' Goodman said.

No More Deaths volunteer Shanti Sellz, 23, attended the vigil. Sellz was arrested with Daniel Strauss, 24, by the U.S. Border Patrol on July 9, 2005, for transporting three migrants in the desert to Tucson for emergency medical treatment. Emil Hidalgo-Solis, among the three migrants who were also arrested, was vomiting with bloody diarrhea and collapsed in a ditch.

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations are urging that charges be dismissed against Sellz and Strauss, now facing up to 15 years in prison for rendering aid in the case now in federal court.

Isabel Garcia, attorney and co-chair of Derechos Humanos (Human Rights), told those gathered at the No More Deaths vigil that immigrant labor has served the United States. While U.S. dollars are poured into agents and weapons, Garcia said residents along the border see little benefit from such congressional allocations.

In Tucson, where there is a long history of the Sanctuary Movement and other humanitarian movements aiding indigenous victims of torture and those fleeing political and religious persecution in their own countries, the anti-immigration legislation protests continue.

Opposing H.R. 4437, Derechos Humanos volunteers pointed out that the bill would make every immigration violation a federal crime. The new crime of ''illegal presence'' would become an ''aggravated felony'' and bar ordinary undocumented immigrants (including those with pending applications for relief) from many forms of discretionary relief and greatly restricts judicial review.

''Smuggling,'' defined in section 202, could criminalize the work of churches or refugee organizations acting in good faith. Harboring or helping anyone who is illegally present would be made a crime. An asylum-seeker with a valid claim may be illegally present for some period, which would make it a crime for churches or refugee organizations to try to help them, according to Derechos Humanos.

© 1998 - 2006 Indian Country Today
From URL: http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096412795


Hero or criminal?

by Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today
April 03, 2006

O'odham man works to save lives

BABOQUIVARI DISTRICT, Ariz. - Tohono O'odham Mike Wilson's truck is loaded with water - plastic gallons and huge jugs of it. Wilson is delivering water alone, as he has been doing for the past five years, for dehydrated migrants that he will likely never see - migrants crossing the desert on foot on Tohono O'odham tribal land and struggling to survive.

Along this stretch, in the valleys of the Tohono O'odham's sacred Baboquivari Mountains, migrants die every summer when temperatures soar up to 118 degrees in the Sonoran Desert.

Overhead, a helicopter marked ''police'' hovers; and within earshot on the dirt road, 17 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border, a group of a dozen migrants, who appear to be young indigenous men and women from the south, are being detained and deported by the U.S. Border Patrol.

''I call the Border Patrol an occupying army on borderlands,'' Wilson said of the Border Patrol agents on tribal land.

Wilson is carrying out his weekly routine, replenishing his water stations in hopes of saving lives. In some areas he leaves gallons of water; in others, there are barrels which he fills. He is not harassed this day, but when he began his humanitarian effort in 2001, he was threatened.

Federal and tribal police officials, non-Indians, demanded that Wilson desist from leaving water in the desert on tribal land or face reprisal from the Tohono O'odham Legislative Council and banishment from the tribe.

Wilson did not back down. Wilson contacted Edward Manuel, then-chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Manuel told him, ''No one can banish you. You are O'odham.''

Still, the moral issue remains. Wilson questioned why the Tohono O'odham Nation has taken no action to prevent the deaths of men, women and children from dehydration.

''We know what oppression is; now the oppressed are the oppressors - that is what bothers me.''

When Wilson was the lay minister of a Presbyterian church on Tohono O'odham tribal land, the church's governing body voted in 2002 to forbid Wilson from leaving water in any of the tribe's 11 districts.

''I left and said, 'I will continue to put out my water.''' Wilson also told them, ''I do not know what you are, but you are not Presbyterians. You had rather let God's children die in the desert than for me to put out water?''

In the beginning of his effort, Wilson left gallon containers along washes, the well-traveled routes of migrants, and under bridges. At first, he spent about eight hours pushing the gallons of water in a wheelbarrow to select spots on migrant footpaths. Now, with the paths worn, he drives past the stiff thorns and prickly cactus that scrape his truck. It takes half a day now for him to replenish his water stations.

Wilson doesn't see those who benefit. ''The reality is they would rather not see anyone, and that is fine with me.''

Some, however, he does see: like the 7-year-old girl who was so badly dehydrated that she was passing blood through her kidneys. ''The mother and daughter could not keep up, so the coyote abandoned them out there,'' Wilson said, using the term for those who lead migrants across the border for profit.

The girl lived, but others were not so lucky.

Wilson was cast in the spotlight this year at the Sundance Film Festival during the screening of the new documentary ''Crossing Arizona,'' which includes his efforts. During the festival, he answered questions and was featured in the national media. So far, harassment has not increased for him locally, he said.

In fact, Wilson said, it is the media that saves him from law enforcement pressure and makes it possible for him to continue putting out water: ''It is the only thing that saves my butt.''

Wilson said his water containers have been confiscated.

''It is a crime against humanity,'' Wilson said of the seizure of water containers that could save lives, including those of children and elderly. ''This is not vandalism; it is sacrilege. Confiscating life-saving water is a sacrilege.''

Delivering water alone in the remote desert, which is heavily militarized with aircraft and patrolled by agents in vans, trucks and on horseback, Wilson does not have the option of allowing intimidation.

Wilson is retired from the Special Forces in the U.S. Army. As Wilson drove across the desert, he halted and turned his attention to his water station. All of the 50 gallons of water he left the previous week were gone without a trace. ''I think they have been confiscated.''

There are no signs of the ''slasher,'' the unknown person who slices the water gallons with a knife to let the water drain out. The slasher began when Wilson began his efforts.

''My water stations are positioned to minimize migrant deaths,'' Wilson said.

The drought in the Southwest is obvious here. Somehow, bees have made it into the sealed blue barrels marked ''agua'' and must be flushed out. There is another sign of drought: animals have been chewing on the barrel spigots.

''It is a sign of drought. The small animals have been gnawing on the faucet, and I haven't seen that before.''

As Wilson delivered water, overhead a helicopter bearing the word ''police'' hovered and then left. Apparently Wilson is easy to identify now as an O'odham and he is not harassed. Agents in trucks and on horseback pass by. One uniformed Border Patrol agent with blond hair drove by in an old pickup truck, obviously undercover.

Wilson, a high school teacher at a downtown charter school in Tucson, is teaching Spanish this year. Still, each week he delivers hundreds of gallons of water, repairs spigots, fills the barrels, picks up trash and drives back to Tucson.

When Wilson's water containers were all emptied and the gallon jugs delivered, he stopped along the dirt road to pick up trash. It is the third week of March, and he has already put out 800 gallons of water this month alone. The temperature is nearing the 90s and soon the water could be the difference between life and death for migrants.

Meanwhile, all day federal agents search out, detain and deport migrants. The misery on the agents' faces reveals their job satisfaction.

Wilson, however, smiled. He is at peace. When asked what discourages him, he replied that he is not discouraged.

''I've come to realize I can do just so much. Once I put the water out, I can't control what happens. I do what I can. If it helps one person, then it is worth it.

''It feels good,'' he said as he left the water stations on tribal land. Pointing in the distance 20 miles to the north, he motioned toward the next water station for migrants in the distant mountains. With summer heat soaring to 118 degrees in July and August, the Humane Borders water station off tribal land is nearly 40 miles north of the border. Many migrants do not even know it exists.

© 1998 - 2006 Indian Country Today
From URL: http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096412756