By Nativo Vigil Lopez
What would the California economy look like without Mexicans and Latinos? This is precisely the message we intend to send to the new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. To his implacable opposition to the law, SB60, our answer is an economic strike. The Cedillo Law, known popularly as the driver’s license law and carried by Senator Gil Cedillo for five trying years in the state legislature, is about to be revoked this week with the signature of Gov. Schwarzenegger one product of the special legislative session.
However, it is not only due to Schwarzenegger that the new law runs the risk of not being implemented in January. The Republican legislators are behind the petition-gathering campaign to qualify a ballot initiative for the March 2004 elections, which seeks the repeal of the Cedillo Law. The conservative Republicans know better than anyone that it is more than probable to qualify any ballot initiative for the elections if sufficient money is invested to collect the signatures. Second, according to exit polling during the recent October recall election, the majority of the electorate, Anglos by a large margin but also a considerable percentage of Latinos, indicate disfavor with a law to give a driver’s license to persons who are not legal residents of the U.S.
Simply for being unpopular, however, does not mean that a law is not fair and correct, as Senator Cedillo has reminded us. Slavery was maintained in this country for two centuries with the ideological acceptance and political support by a majority of the population even though it was an inhumane system and economically illogical. The disgraceful and illegal separation of the races in the southern states of the American Union, both by law and subsequently by social practice, existed for decades after the formal dissolution of slavery thanks to the favorable majority opinion of whites.
We know that prior to 1992 and 1994 the immigration status of applicants for a driver’s license was never an issue. Driving a vehicle on the highways has nothing to do with the immigration status of a person. But, it does have everything to do with whether that person has knowledge of the rules of the road. It was during perhaps the most hateful period in California, in terms of public policy towards immigrants during the 1990s, that the driver’s license law was changed. The controversy has not ended since then.
An economic strike is a non-violent answer of non-cooperation and non-participation in the economic system that denies us our basic rights. It is similarly recognition that we do not have the votes in the state electorate to prevail over the legislative attacks by the political conservatives.
During the decade of the 90s close to two million permanent residents became U.S. citizens, and later voters. We successfully elected the largest number of Latino legislators in the history of California, and these legislators responded to their electoral base by pushing for the passage of favorable legislation such as the Cedillo Law. We played by the rules of the political system and we won. Now, the Republicans seek to change the rules of the game through a ballot referendum. They know full well that Latinos do not even reach twenty percent of the state electorate, even though we represent 34 percent of the 34 million population, and 45 percent of the workforce.
We are now more than a critical mass in any sense of the word. The California economy, like so many other states, could not function properly without our participation. We have now arrived at the moment to demonstrate the economic power of Latinos in the local, state, and national economies, but for our political goals.
We have chosen December 12th to launch our first economic strike because of the symbolism represented for all Mexicans and Latinos a day of special reverence for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Mother, our banner and protector in this struggle to defend SB60 and our families against the new attacks. We are asking the Latino community to not go to work, not shop in the stores, and not send their children to school on this day. In other words, do not participate economically. Use your individual and family economy as an instrument of social struggle for the well-being of your family.
Those who attack us will have to pay the economic consequences for their racist actions. This is only the beginning of a new phase in the movement for the defense of our families through the use of non-violent economic tactics of non-cooperation and non-participation. We will shake the economy until we are treated with the dignity and respect that we deserve for our tremendous contributions to this country.
Nativo Vigil Lopez is the National President of the Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana and the Mexican American Political Association, MAPA.