This is the latest post from Standing FIRM’s guest blogger, Robert Gittelson.
On Tuesday night, the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition held a press conference at the Santa Clarita California City Hall, in which we expressed our opposition to the very public anti-immigrant, and anti immigration reform comments of their City Council Member and former Mayor Bob Kellar.
This issue first came to the attention of our members, when the Daily News broke the story of Bob Kellar’s statements, captured for the world to see on YouTube, in which he basically imploded, and bragged about being a proud anti-immigrant racist.
See for yourself:
Actually, the Daily News piece was originally intended to inform the public about the march, rally, and panel discussion that we had sponsored on Saturday. However, when “Bob the Racist,” went public with his ideology against immigrants, it hijacked the story. Therefore, when the actual story appeared in print, our actions were relegated to one or two lines in the middle of the article, sort of as an after-thought. The media responded strongly to our call for a press conference, held just prior to their City Council Meeting, and most of the major news outlets and television stations came to hear what we, and some of our invited speakers, had to say about this issue:
The Daily News came out with a new article this morning, and addressed our press conference:
The demonstrations were sparked by comments from Councilman Bob Kellar, who called himself a “proud racist” during an anti-illegal immigration rally two weeks ago.
He first referred to a statement from President Theodore Roosevelt that said the United States only has room for one flag and one language. He said he had quoted it at a past city council meeting.
“The only thing I heard back from a couple of people was `Bob, you sound like a racist’,” Kellar said.
“I said, `That’s good. If that’s what you think I am because I happen to believe in America. I’m a proud racist. You’re darn right I am’.”
On Tuesday, Kellar said his words were taken out of context and that he abhorred racism.
“Racism is wrong and should never be tolerated,” Kellar said.
But many opponents have seized on it as reflecting the true mindset of Kellar and other opponents of illegal immigration.
More than 150 people packed the council chambers, with the vocal majority applauding Kellar as he entered the room.
“It’s about red, white and blue – not white, brown and black,” said Robert Crooks, a Canyon Country resident and president of a local Minuteman chapter. “It’s about America, we the people. We are not racists.”
Supporters of Kellar held signs reading, for example, “Bob Kellar `patriotic hero’.”
But other demonstrators representing immigrant-rights groups held signs that read “Fire `proud racist’ Bob Kellar.”
“People who share Kellar’s views want to see immigrants in concentration camps,” said Carlos Alvarez, representing the immigrant rights group Answer Coalition.
NBC ran both television coverage and print coverage of the press conference, and quoted our Full Rights for Immigrants member Juan Jose Gutierrez:
“An elected representative gets elected to unite people, to bring people together, not to polarize them, not to pull them apart, not to inject hate and dislike for ethnic minorities,” said Juan Guitierrez, an immigration reform advocate.
When it was my turn to address the media, I made the following comments:
While I normally speak about this issue in National terms, since this is legally a Federal issue, it is on occasions like this when we are reminded that at its heart, this issue affects all of us on a community level. Let’s face the facts; in a country of over 300 million people, there is always going to be some percentage of the population that is racist. I see this every day, because through my writing, I have attracted “hate comments” or “hate mail,” literally by the hundreds or probably thousands over the years. However, when a community leader “leads” this debate in the direction of racism and bigotry, it does a tremendous disservice to the majority of Americans that seek an actual solution to the problems inherent in our broken immigration system, and moves this debate in a direction that is not constructive, sidetracking this issue by playing on emotions instead of a factual analysis of issues. When the media gets sidetracked by hate speech, or anti-immigrant propaganda, that also elevates the agenda of the people or organizations that are frankly ignorant of the true facts about this issue, and brings their divisive fear-mongering of this issue to the forefront of the debate.
Three weeks ago, a study was released by Professor Dr. Hinojosa-Ojeda of UCLA, factually documenting how CIR would benefit our GDP by some 1.5 trillion dollars over the next 10 years. However, in their attempt to project a balanced coverage of that study, one of our major Los Angeles newspapers dedicated half of their article to the academic findings of the professor, and the other half of the article to the “counter-spin” of the anti-immigrant organization FAIR, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The next week, another academic study was released by Professor Dr. Manuel Pastor of USC, which factually documented that the State of California would see its Gross State Product, (GSP), grow by some 16 billion dollars per year through CIR. However, again, a major Los Angeles newspaper dedicated half of their coverage to the study, and in their attempt to display balanced coverage, the other half to the negative spin of the anti-immigration “think tank” the Center for Immigration Studies, which is a sister group of FAIR, as they were both started through the efforts of John Tanton, the renowned white supremacist.
Last week, a major Los Angeles newspaper chose to amplify the comments made to a dozen or so Minutemen by this self proclaimed racist, and minimize the march, rally, and panel discussion that mobilized over a thousand Los Angeles residents about 10 miles away in Van Nuys. There is something wrong with this picture. We need to drive this debate back to the facts, and toward the middle ground, and away from the issues that add to the divisiveness, and distract from the solutions to this issue.
Sure enough, when the news got around the area that the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition was holding a press conference at City Hall, the supporters of Bob Kellar, mostly his fellow Minutemen and John Birch Society members, started showing up in droves, spoiling for a fight.
Confrontation quickly ensued, thus not only demonstrating the divisiveness of the racist agenda, but proving that, as I stated to the press, when we allow our leaders to lead us in the direction of hot tempers and hateful emotions, and away from the facts, it obstructs the path to actual solutions.
In the hours leading up to Tuesday night’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting, the outside of City Hall was turned into an emotional powder keg as Minutemen groups and immigrant support groups clashed — a culmination after more than a week’s worth of controversy over Councilman Bob Kellar’s comments at an anti-illegal immigration rally.
The Minutemen and their supporters held signs calling Kellar “an American Hero.”
Members of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition, and other immigrant support groups, held signs saying “Fire ‘proud racist’ Bob Keller (sic) now!”
Kellar’s speech last week has been polarizing — drawing praise and criticism from people on either side of the debate. Some have said Kellar’s words have been taken out of context; others say his speech violated the city’s code of ethics adopted in May 2008.
Outside of City Hall, some demonstrators got into each others’ faces, yelled and pointed fingers at each other.
“Minutemen are a dying breed,” said Carlos Alvarez, 23, from Los Angeles.
“Racists say get back, we say fight back,” he and others chanted.
“Are you an American citizen?” responded Mountain Minutemen founder Robert Crooks, 59, from Canyon Country.
“Do you have a green card?” Crooks said.
Several television crews and photographers recorded the altercations as the drama unfolded. Several Los Angeles television media outlets descended on Santa Clarita to cover Tuesday’s meeting.
“They’re going to take our guns away,” one man said.
Another man, Ed Ventresca of Santa Clarita, wore a shirt saying, “Stop the New World Order.”
The John Birch Society member passed out literature saying liberalism is an evil conspiracy to destroy the United States of America.
In an interview Monday, Council candidate Harrison Katz, who also addressed the Council, said he agreed that the problem wasn’t Kellar’s stance against illegal immigration, it’s the “divisive rhetoric” Kellar used to explain his position that’s the problem.
“Anytime you call yourself a proud racist, it’s a mistake,” Katz said. “It brings embarrassment to our community.
“It was a very stupid comment,” he said.
Roger Gitlin, the leader of the Santa Clarita Valley Independent Minutemen, told the Council in a prepared statement to add a Council agenda item clarifying the city’s stance on illegal immigration.
In closing, I would note that just prior to the start of the press conference I had an opportunity to speak privately with Roger Gitlen, whose day job is as a Civics Teacher at a local High School. Frankly, we had a very civil discussion. I introduced myself to him, and we started talking. He was there to support Bob Kellar in that evening’s City Council meeting. When he found out that I was there as a Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition member, he said, “Well, I guess that we aren’t on the same side.”
I told him that while that was true, as we spoke, I made a point of demonstrating that we probably weren’t as far apart on this issue as most people would suspect, and ultimately he agreed. I told him that we weren’t for open borders, and that we realized that part of an effective solution to the problem that we both recognized existed was based on enforcement. As we kept talking, I suggested that we concentrate on the common ground that we could start with, and agree to disagree for now about the issues that we didn’t agree upon, such as, as he described it, the “pathway to citizenship.”
When this issue is discussed calmly and quietly, I believe that a solution – which is in reality exactly what CIR is – can be realized. However, it will only be possible to achieve that if we can keep this debate focused on building upon the common ground that truly does exist, and by working in good faith to solve this problem, instead of allowing it to remain as a festering blister upon the civil landscape of our society. It is incumbent upon both the media and the leaders on each side of this debate to make a good faith effort not to allow this issue to spin out of control due to the deeply emotional ideologies that surround both sides of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform argument. If we can all stay focused and well intentioned, we can achieve a solution to this issue in 2010.