VOICES: Georgia, meet your future
What happens when the country's largest Legislative Black Caucus comes face to face with nine thousand immigrants -- many of them declaring themselves as undocumented -- chanting aqui estamos, y no nos vamos! (we are here, and we're not leaving!)?
Love. Or a mad crush, at least.
It happened last Thursday on the steps outside the Georgia Capitol, as Republican lawmakers inside moved two Arizona-style anti-immigrant bills through the legislative process. HB87 and SB40 are Georgia's versions of Arizona's HB1070, the racial profiling law that is on appeal after being found unconstitutional by a federal district court.
That HB1070 has cost the Grand Canyon state $217 million in lost conventions and tourism without ever having been implemented has not deterred Georgia's Republican legislators from copycatting.
Nor have pleas from the powerful agriculture industry, which relies on low-wage immigrant labor to turn a profit.
Georgia's immigrants have rallied before -- most notably in 2006, when tens of thousands poured into Plaza Fiesta, the unofficial central plaza of Latino Atlanta -- but never in these numbers in front of the Capitol building, and never so defiantly.
Rally organizers -- the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and the Georgia Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (GIRCC) -- had three members of Georgia's Legislative Black Caucus confirmed on speaker list. But as the rally grew in size and sound, black legislators who were not on the speaker list started leaving their committee meetings to step outside and have a look see. The energy of the crowd pushed some to the microphone.
Representative Stacey Abrams asked to speak and got a roar from the crowd. As the House Minority Leader and the first black to lead the Georgia House Democrats, Representative Abrams had encouraged black legislators to make explicit the connection between the bill's "show me your papers" provisions and slavery.
And so during the floor debate of HB87 two weeks earlier, Representative Al Williams had pulled out a young woman's slave pass from Georgia's antebellum days and read aloud the provisions detailing where and at what times the woman was permitted to walk around by herself.
By the time Senator Emanuel Jones, Chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, came outside, people were packed so tightly that the Capitol police had blocked off the street. Senator Jones took one look at the spirited, mostly Latino crowd and grabbed the microphone to make clear the Black Caucus and the Democratic Caucus had taken a stand against the copycat bills.
"Si se puede!," shouted Senator Jones. The crowd yelled back, "Yes we can!"
A group of Dreamers -- undocumented students fighting for passage of the Dream Act to open a pathway to citizenship for them -- turned the clamor into courage with a chant Dreamers have been using when facing arrest during their sit-in protests.
The Dreamers yelled, "Undocumented!" The crowd responded, "and Unafraid!"
Saying so made it so.
Abrams, Jones, and other members of the Black Caucus, in the meantime, had left the rally to go find Congressman John Lewis. The hero of the civil rights movement was in town attending a luncheon. They showed him pictures of the rally. He left the luncheon.
Half an hour later, the Congressman made his way through the crowd to give what is perhaps his most heartfelt speech in years:
If this isn't love, then grits ain't groceries.
Forty years ago, the Republican's Southern strategy predicted that southern whites would flee the Democratic party once African Americans started voting Democrat. So long as blacks remain an electoral minority, Republican power -- and so, white power -- will be secure.
The culmination of the strategy came during the 2010 elections: in the South, the two parties are now largely split down racial lines, with white Republicans in control of every Southern state.
But what the Southern strategy did not predict was the influx of immigrants into the South. The rally in Atlanta last week suggests there is a counter-strategy in the making.