The Minutemen claim to be protecting America from hordes of undocumented workers crossing the border. In fact, they are unleashing a campaign of terror on brown people all over the country whether they have papers or not.
Vigilantes have a sinister history in the United States. In the 1830s, the Texas minute companies rode the frontier and stole land from Native Americans using deadly force. In the 1930s, growers organized vigilante gangs to intimidate strikers. Today, these racists include Jim Gilchrist, a bona fide segregationist, who is running for Congress on George Wallace's American Independent Party. These days, it is not polite to say "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever" in public, so Gilchrist has cast his bigotry toward brown people instead.
Last Wednesday's events show the Minutemen's true colors and how they hide behind legitimate groups to get their hateful message out. Gilchrist was invited to speak at Columbia University by the College Republicans. This is typical of how racist organizations get onto campus in the first place. Someone has to invite them. Shame on the College Republicans! In response, the International Socialist Organization, the Chicano Caucus and other groups organized a nonviolent protest. During the 45-minute introduction, students heckled the speaker and turned their backs to him. Then, when Gilchrist was introduced, several students brought a banner onto the far side of the stage that read, "No One is Illegal" in English, Spanish and Arabic.
That was when the trouble started. Students engaging in nonviolent disobedience have been misrepresented as the instigators of the violence that took place on stage. Contrary to the article written in The New York Times, it was the protesters who were attacked by the Minutemen and the College Republicans. Watching the Univision video on YouTube.com, you, yourself will attest to this fact. In a move that represents a microcosm of the relationship between politicians and vigilante racists, one College Republican on the stage can be clearly seen pointing out a Latino walking by below. A Minuteman obliged and kicked the student in the face. While we can't tell what the College Republican said to provoke the violence, we can assume it was something to the effect of "he took your job!"
After the violence on stage, Columbia security was forced to shut down the event. They quickly ushered Gilchrist off the stage only seconds after he entered. What a victory for our side! A rabid racist was silenced. I hope he feels as demoralized as I am energized. Outside, the students staged a victory rally with chants like "Sí Se Puede" (yes we can) and "Sí Se Pudo" (yes we did). However, the students who held up the banner are now under investigation by the university. You can show your support for them by signing the online petition at www.petitiononline.com/nominute/petition.html. There were more than 1,500 signers as of Tuesday.
How did the Minutemen respond? When Marvin Stewart was interviewed on the O'Reilly Factor, he claimed that he "was informed that the Arabic writing [on the banner] stated that the Holocaust did not happen." Lies and slander! He probably says that about anything written in Arabic. Consider how his views on immigration line right up with the neo-Nazis'. We all know how much the Nazis love the Jews. What a hypocrite! Apparently, slander and violence are the only tools the Minutemen know how to use.
Finally, I'd like to analyze Gilchrist's claims that his right to free speech was abridged. At the end of the day, it was his and the College Republicans' choice to attack the protesters and require police intervention. He should expect to receive peaceful opposition wherever he goes. It is impossible for him to hide the fact that he participates in and promotes racist violence. The Columbia students sent a similar message to supporters. They said, "We celebrate free speech: for that reason, we allowed the Minutemen to speak, and for that same reason, we peacefully occupied the stage and spoke ourselves. Our peaceful protest was violently attacked by members of the College Republicans and their supporters, who are the very same people who invited the Minutemen to our campus in the first place." Their full statement is available online at www.counterpunch.org.
The student organizers at Columbia have established a precedent for how we should fight. Whenever racists come to campus, we need to unite and challenge them. This action shows that when we go on the offensive, we can win. We don't need to hide behind politicians or beg for a seat at the table. We should demand it! In this spirit, I encourage readers to attend the immigrant rights organizing meetings that will be announced regularly on campus. For more information, go to www.april10youth.org.
Alex Stone is a senior studying computer science. He has been a member of the International Socialist Organization for three years.