Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona
Demonstrators with dueling banners and ideologies lined the roads of rural Oracle, Arizona on Tuesday awaiting the arrival of 40-60 child refugees. An estimated 150 protesters, dozens of law enforcement officers (including the K-9 unit), and every TV, print, and online journalist imaginable came out to “greet” the bus of unaccompanied Central American children.
The original anti-immigrant protest was organized by Oracle’s self-proclaimed “Paul Revere” Robert Skiba, who was tipped off regarding the busload of refugee children by Pinal County’s Tea Party Sheriff Paul Babeu. Babeu’s grandstanding on Facebook about the federal government’s failed immigration policies, and Skiba’s boasting about a bus blockade to multiple media outlets sparked a counter protest initiated by Oracle residents who were concerned about the welfare of the children. E-mail blasts, Facebook, Twitter, blog posts like this one, and a re-Tweet by Rachel Maddow’s blog brought out the crowds, including sympathizers on both sides who drove in from Tucson and Phoenix.
Much of the media coverage has focused on tiny events that occurred during the four hours that we all waited for the bus to arrive.
CD1 Republican Candidate Adam Kwasman made headlines after he Tweeted about the scared children on the bus. Unfortunately for Kwasman, the two school buses who passed the groups were full of YMCA campers. The Y kids must have thought Oracle was a pretty schizophrenic town. As they passed the refugee supporters, we waved enthusiastically but wondered out loud why DHS put refugees on school buses. (The children and the bus drivers waved and smiled to us; they didn’t look scared to me!) When the buses got to the Tea Party corner, we heard shouting and lots of honking.
Other stories that hit big were the mariachis mixing it up with the Tea Party and Babeu holding court with the media. There has been much speculation– by the Arizona Daily Star, Arizona Central, and Facebook politicos– about Babeu’s motives for tipping off Skiba and firing up the Tea Party and the Arizona State Militia (J.T. Ready’s former group).
The untold story from Oracle is that of the humanitarian citizens who are concerned for the refugees’ welfare. Although there have been many estimates about the crowds, Babeu told the Tea Party camp that just as many or moresupporters were down the road, ready to welcome the children. At one point, there were approximately 100 refugee supporters lining American Ave. and the Mt. Lemmon Highway with Spanish or bilingual signs of welcome. It was difficult to estimate the Tea Party camp, a few miles down the road, since there were so many law enforcement officers and media there. I spent more than an hour at the Tea Party end, and I believe at most there were about 50-60 actual protesters and armed militia.
Throughout the day, there were rumors about when or if the buses would arrive. Although the crowds dwindled some, many held out until pro-pro-refugee organizer Frank Pierson told supporters that Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick’s office told them the buses were not coming that day, but that the children would come to Oracle in a few weeks.
At the supporter end of the road, the day closed with a group hug prayer led by Rev. John Fife, retired minister from the South Side Presbyterian Church and veteran Sanctuary Movement leader from the 1980s. Will there be a repeat of Tuesday in two weeks? Stay tuned.