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The following speech was delivered by Keith Caldwell, Grassroots Coordinator for the Nashville Peace and JusticeCenter , at the annual convention of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition on November 5, 2006.
The Power of Unity
By Keith Caldwell
I wanted to talk about how powerful we become when diverse groups of people work collectively to effect change in our political structure. It is imperative that we realize that groups of people are systematically excluded so that those who have traditionally held power remain in power. United States history is riddled with these practices from the 3/5ths Compromise, to poll taxes to states to not allowing voter restoration to people that were sentenced with felony convictions that have served their time and paid their debt to society. This is the same spirit at work that seeks to pit marginalized groups to fight each other for poverty stricken wages, fighting for crumbs that have fallen from the table.
This is a diversion designed to keep both groups splintered (African-American and Hispanic) and never able to take their rightful places at the table. It is at this table where the critical decisions are made that will affect us socially, economically and politically. It is at this table that it is decided where all the tax dollars that we all pay are spent, it is at this table that all the bills that make it into legislation and are passed into laws that determine our quality of life are decided.
We are currently witnessing the overly punitive spirit of the law that is fueled by fear towards people coming into this country. We see entire political campaigns run under the banner of which candidate can be most cruel to immigrants or refugees. This spirit rings with haunting familiarity it has been the utter rejection felt by African-Americans since before America was a nation; this unjust treatment is a precarious “dance” that tests America’s ability to maintain direct pressure on groups that it has historically oppressed while shifting its weight to be sure to suffocate its recent arrivals via legislation that is being introduced that deputizes landlords and state workers to be Immigration and Naturalization Services agents.
It is imperative that we work together from the fringes of society that we find ourselves in and weave the richness of our cultures and faiths into the integral fabric of our great nation. While I agree that the current immigration system is broken and badly needs to be fixed I understand that this is not about a hole in the boarder. This is about an unfair trade policy with Latin America and about corporations that exploit human labor.
The Nashville Peace and Justice Center is working with Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition on Black/Brown Dialogue (conversations between Hispanics and African-Americans that serves to dispel commonly held stereotypes held between both groups and move past the culture of accusations and dislike to a more informed culture of community. Where we understand the power in unity and are able to organize across diverse groups of people for a common theme.
In closing, I have to speak to the recent barrage of rhetoric that has saturated our airwaves concerning this perverse clinging to the term “Legal Immigration”. It is this attempt to codify the word legal to a status that is worthy of canonization. We must realize that those that are in power are the ones that make the laws and therefore people make laws that support their self interest. The brutal legacy of Chattel Slavery in the United States was completely legal and all the repressive Jim Crow laws that followed Reconstruction were legal. I heard Dr. King beautifully articulate that everything that Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal, yet had he lived in Nazi Germany that he would have broken the law and helped his Jewish brothers and sisters. We must recognize that what is moral and what is legal are often in conflict. Let’s do that which is morally right and support humane immigration reform.
Keith Caldwell is the Grassroots Coordinator for the Nashville Peace and Justice Center.