The Lou Dobbs Phenomenon
By José LaLuz
José LaLuz is currently employed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. He is a Vice Chair of DSA. This is a transcription of a presentation given at the Young Democratic Socialists Winter Conference on February 18, 2007.
I wanted to put a number of things on the table for the purposes of our conversation.
This being a nation of immigrants—in fact all of us our ancestors came from different shores—what explains that in a nation of immigrants we are witnessing one of the fiercest anti-immigrant xenophobic offensives in the history of this nation. What explains that?
The other thing is, if in fact the economy of this country is integrating with the economy of other nations in the hemisphere, particularly our neighbor to the south (Mexico), and our neighbor to the north (Canada), making possible the acceleration of the movement of capital, of goods and labor and other resources, how come the question of the movement of people has not been a part of that process? What explains that? This North American Free Trade Agreement or the hemispheric agreement that we know this administration and previous administrations wanted to negotiate. What explains that?
And finally, what explains the vacillations of organized labor and the Democratic Party with regards to the question of immigration, which I dare suggest, next to the question of war and peace, is the single most important issue of justice facing progressive men and women in this country? What explains the vacillation of well-known progressives in the Democratic Party and in the trade union movement with regards to this question? So I wanted to put that on the table and suggest some action.
One has to do with what I call the Lou Dobbs phenomenon. How many of you occasionally watch this man on CNN? I find it repugnant, but I have to watch it, because to me it signals something extremely dangerous. And let me explain what I mean. I decided to go first hand and witness first hand the work of these people that are referred to as “the Minutemen”—you know, you’ve heard of them, right? At the time I was working as a deputy director of organizing for the AFL-CIO, and one of my tasks was in fact to help shape an immigrant organizing strategy. So I figured, you know, why are most unions shy—and I’m being generous actually—when it comes to the question of organizing immigrant men and women. So I figured maybe this had something to do with the climate, the political climate of the nation. So I went to the state of Arizona. I got to Phoenix and drove all the way to the border, and as I was getting closer to the border I began to detect a lot of movement of people that were wearing this military garb, you know, similar to the one you wear in Iraq or Afghanistan. But in addition to wearing the military garb and the camouflage, some of them were actually packing guns. And they were parading back and forth, you know, this thing called the border. Which, if you look at it, it’s hard to figure where the hell is the border. Right? What is in fact the border? So I asked some questions of the folks that were with me, and they said “José, you look like you’re getting a little excited, and we didn’t come here to get into any trouble.” I mean, so I am actually witnessing some of these so-called Minutemen chasing some people, who later turn out to be undocumented immigrants. And things were getting out of hand. Because I was told that all these people were there to do was to monitor things, just to witness things, but they were getting into the action. And so much to my surprise, not far from where this was actually happening, there was a group of cameramen from CNN, and they happened to be from this program called The Lou Dobbs—whatever the hell the name is—Hour, right? And so I said, I have got to see what the hell is going on—what is this? And there was somebody, a young woman actually, interviewing one of the Minutemen that had just been involved in the altercation, in the capturing of some of the undocumented immigrants. And the woman was saying, well, what just happened? “Well, we are defending our nation’s integrity from the threat of terrorism and you know our national security is at risk…” And the interview progressed. I couldn’t help but to feel that this man was made to feel like a hero. And in fact a major network was rewarding the behavior of a vigilante. A vigilante that had decided that he of all people was more patriotic than anybody else and was going to enforce the laws that could not be enforced by the people who are commissioned to enforce them, meaning the Border Patrol.
Had that been an isolated incident, I would have dismissed it. But not far from here in Long Island there were things happening—in fact all over this state, which is nothing but the inheritor of immigrants! I mean, somebody came from Italy, from Poland, from Ireland, right, from Europe, from Southeast Asia, from Africa…I mean, some people came here in chains. They had no option. They were enslaved; they were brought here in chains. And others came here because of wars, because of this phenomenon called colonialism. Because of the phenomenon of empire, which is the other serious challenge that we’re facing in this nation today. The impulse to restore empire. So, then, I’m saying, Oh, my goodness! No wonder Democrats and organized labor are shy about this. The images of the people who are doing the so-called right thing are none other than those of the Minutemen. They are the heroes of this story. The people who are persecuting the immigrants are the heroes. I saw the same thing in Long Island. The TV went there to interview some people, and goodness, what’s going on?
What makes Lou Dobbs so dangerous? Well, Lou Dobbs is particularly dangerous because his discourse, his speech happens to appeal to whom? To the so-called displaced workers and the middle class. It’s right-wing populism. You don’t have to go far in history to discover where this flourished—in a country called Italy, in a country called Germany. Who were the people in the Nazi movement? Who were the people in the Fascist movement? Working men and women. The so-called “trapped middle class.” And so Lou Dobbs has a phenomenal appeal. And even the trade union leaders do not dare take him on. Democrats go to his program, and they don’t dare take this man on. And I think that explains that even politicians that have been ardent advocates of freedom and justice and equality are so afraid of speaking out on this issue. But that’s the explanation. I mean, something is brewing and something is happening in the underground. Right? That is moving people in a very serious and frightening direction.
Remember, it was only two and a half years ago that we could not say a fucking thing against the war. Remember the Dixie Chicks? When they spoke out? I mean it seemed like the whole goddamn world was coming down on them. I mean anybody on the street against the war—Oh my God! A crime has been committed! Frightening, in the country that is supposed to be the most democratic country on the face of the earth, people could not speak their mind on the question of war and peace.
Now things have changed. Dramatically. We have a so-called new majority in Congress, which in fact was elected to do what? To get us out of the god-damned war! And they’re still struggling with that one. So you wonder if they will be able to tackle this question of immigration. I dare suggest that there is a long, hard struggle ahead of us. But you know the most promising thing that happened? That thousands upon thousands upon thousands of the so-called invisible people mobilized themselves, and they said, I am not a criminal. I am a human being. And they showed it with their presence, by taking the streets. And that was one of the most powerful developments in the recent history of this nation, to witness the so-called invisible people coming out from restaurants, off the construction sites, everywhere. You know, in Los Angeles it was almost a million men and women, afraid that they could be rounded up and deported, but they were there with their families. That was so powerful. I’ve not witnessed anything like that. And you know, the response has been a most incredible backlash. Because of all this legislation, Gael García Bernal, the Mexican actor who played Che Guevara, said recently that the wall that was built at the border is a monument to stupidity. He was absolutely right. It does not solve anything. A wall is going to put a stop to immigration? My goodness. Has anybody learned anything from years of history? I mean, the question is: how do we develop trade and development policies that allow people south of the border and in other parts of the world to develop their own economies? And that cannot be done at gunpoint, by pretending that we are going to impose democracy in a country called Iraq.
Democracy at gunpoint? Can you imagine? And the cost. The cost is thousands upon thousands of men and women from working families and poor families in this country. Not to mention the thousands of men and women who are dying in Iraq, and the question is: is the world safer today? I dare suggest absolutely not. I mean, if there is an army of occupation in my country, this country, I will be one of the first people fighting against the occupation army. And that is what’s happening in Iraq. People are fighting against an occupation army. And so I saw Lou Dobbs saying “Oh my god! the Mexicans that are crossing the borders could perhaps be terrorists!” and so they are connected to those people in the Middle East. And those are the connections that are made sometimes in an open way, sometimes in a more sublime sophisticated way. But those are very serious threats that we face, and I do not see anything more important for a young socialist, for an old socialist, and for a middle-aged socialist than fighting against the war and fighting for the rights of men and women who happen to be crossing borders. Thank you.
jason schulman is