The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Return to Tempelhof, May 1 & the Immigrant Boycott

The Swamp is back in Berlin for a pit stop and landed at the mother of all airports the other day. Flying into Tempelhof during daylight hours is even more thrilling than taking off from it at the crack of dawn. Coming in from the East, we traced the outlines of the Wall; you can see how the Death Strip (Todesstreife) zone has been turned into parks or remains a wasteland. As you begin the final approach, you suddenly find yourself amidst apartment buildings, a feeling some with Kai Tak experience (Hong Kong’s former airport) may be familiar with.

(c) Gordon Ho, (click for more insane photos)

And walking home from the airport was just as exciting as in January. I know. I can’t get over it.

My return is well-timed since tomorrow is a holiday here, May Day. Traditionally ‘tis a day of workers’ rights rallies etc and contrary to European beliefs, it originated in the U.S. But nowadays, unemployment is so much higher here, especially in Berlin (20%) so folks are heading out to "demand"…jobs. Or to enjoy the day off with families. Tomorrow, I plan to attend the Myfest here in Kreuzberg.

This gathering was started as a neighborhood initiative by locals who were sick of vandals taking over their hood on 1 May. So instead there’s food, music and activities for the kids. If I remember correctly some of these activities are quite political with lil kids being told about the ills of this world in pedagogic terms. In particular, I remember a fair trade stand that made some good points, but also employed victimization tactics, painting all folks in poorer countries and multinationals with one broad stroke. These are the same people who don’t want their kids raised religiously because that’s ‘indoctrination’. Interesting standards.

The kind of idiots we don't want
in Kreuzberg

All in all it’s a positive street festival, reclaiming the streets from thugs and hoodlums, who don masks and destroy property. These brave souls are upset by the fact that the police are helping to organize (and protect) Myfest. Imagine that! Welcome to Wonderland.

There will be other demonstrations here and there in Germany, but my eyes will be more focused on the U.S. Across the pond, there have been calls to participate in a nationwide boycott by immigrant workers as well as by all consumers. The way things have been reported here, you would think there was agreement on this tactic and that it will be massive. That’s simply not an accurate depiction of the debate, click here and here for somewhat more sober summaries.

Last week, I attended an unrelated immigration lecture at the Migration Policy Instiute, and one of the head’s of the National Capital Immigration Coalition was there, reiterating that they did not support the boycott. In fact, only ONE of the 47 DC area groups that organized the April 1oth rally support it. There is much goodwill after the rally and employing a French-style general strike tactic may backfire and prove costly. I am not referring to how the Tancredos and Sensenbrenners will react, but to how more sympathetic voices may assess any such action.

For an alternative take, Migra Matters (as always) has up to the minute and topical commentary. Here's its list of related events. BTW, the official name of the boycott "Un Dia sin Immigrante" or " A Day without an Immigrant" is a twist on what was a funny movie "A Day without a Mexican". Check it out, it's available most anywhere.

Anyway, in tomorrow’s Christian Science Monitor, Gail Russel Chaddock reports on the fine line that’s being walked by boycotters:

“Meat-packing plants are planning to pack it in for the day. In Las Vegas, some casinos are bracing for a shutdown, and restaurants from San Diego to Bethesda, Md., are about to test whether senior staff can bus tables or sear scallops.
As companies cope with the hard-to-predict impact of Monday's worker boycott by immigrants and their backers, a big unknown is political: Will the walkout help break a legislative logjam in the Senate over immigration reform - and even affect outcomes in fall congressional elections?
Here's the state of play on Capitol Hill. The GOP-controlled House has approved a border-security bill, including a provision that makes it a felony (rather than a civil crime) to be in the US illegally, that Democrats believe will hurt Republicans in the fall elections. The Senate, in considering its version of the bill, is stuck over whether to include a guest-worker program and path to legal status for as many as 12 million foreigners already in the country.”
(click here to read the entire piece)

And as reported by Tyche Hendricks in the San Francisco Chronicle, there have been plenty of nasty undertones and overt signs of hatred recently:

“Displays of anti-immigrant and anti-Latino anger in California and across the country have increased in the six weeks since massive immigrant rights rallies began, and they’re injecting a new note of vitriol into the nation’s immigration reform debate.
This ire — in radio commentaries, a computer game, Web sites and other venues — gained visibility last week when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger publicized “disturbing and hateful death threats” received by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and other Latino officials. The attacks, none physical, have darkened the backdrop for boycotts and protests planned Monday across the country against a proposed new restrictive immigration law.
The angry messages don’t sit well with many mainstream immigration restrictionists, including leaders of the Minuteman Project, whose members will depart from Los Angeles on Wednesday on a cross-country lobbying tour for tougher border control. And the elected officials on the receiving end downplayed the anonymous messages, saying they get death threats from time to time on a range of issues.”
(click here to read the entire piece)

Far be it from me to trivialize these kinds of threats, violence and xenophobia. All I can is that we won’t be intimidated by what I am sure is sad, sorry minority of hatemongers. Si se puede!

Finally, today’s Washington Post has a brilliant article showcasing how one upscale DC area restaurant The Oval Room illustrates the "bottom line" of immigration. Neil Irwin and Hedgpeth write:

“At table 10 of the Oval Room, a high-price lawyer slurped an $8 bowl of asparagus soup. Over at table 71, a crowd of Office and Management and Budget staffers toasted a retiring colleague, while at table 76, a White House correspondent leaned in to hear what her lunch partner was saying.
In the kitchen of the restaurant, there was a different kind of kaleidoscope. The sous-chef, a Panamanian immigrant, directed two cooks from El Salvador, one from Guatemala and one from Honduras. A Salvadoran immigrant ran the food to the tables. All the activity was monitored by the general manager, an Austrian by birth, who needs to satisfy the owner, originally from India.
Just as all of those workers depend on the swirl of official Washington business for their livelihood, official Washington depends on them. Tomorrow, immigrant groups plan to boycott workplaces and stores to prove just that point. But one day of activity at the Oval Room, a sleekly designed spot a block from the White House, shows how difficult it is to make any kind of simple calculation.
The tangled web of economic connections among immigrants and those born in the United States creates jobs at a Philadelphia seafood distributor and revenue for the local cable company, even as it causes a financial drain on local hospitals and schools. The impacts are so intertwined that significant changes to immigration laws could change the nation's commerce in unforeseen ways.”
(click here to read the entire piece)

Yes indeed. This is a complicated issue that people love to simplify. A little nuance never hurt, now did it?

More about the 1st of May later on in the week I plan to write a diddy or two about recent immigration developments here, i.e. the continued anti-migrant labor (and anti-East European) sentiments in old Europe, citizenships tests, racist attacks and scapegoating. I'll try to find some good news too - after all the World Cup is starting in just over a month!


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