Around 15,000 March to Protest Policies of Sheriff Joe Arpaio
The day began early, at 7:30am when we packed into my rental car and ventured to Falcon Park in West Phoenix. We arrived a little after 8:00am, two hours before the festivities were due to begin. As 10:00am approached, more and more people started gathering in the park, bringing with them homemade signs or grabbing one of the thousands made by Puente Arizona, the group of dedicated people who made the march possible. The first 100 people who signed in received a t-shirt as well as a sign. The entertainment started just after 10:00am with music blasting out from the stage as well as a traditional tribal Mexican dance which lasted well over 30 minutes.
Many thousands of people were in the park now with people still streaming in. People dressed in Sheriff Joe effigies were popular amongst the marchers who stopped to take pictures with them. All of the march leaders took to the stage as well as Linda Ronstadt who urged everyone to remain peaceful as the march began. The traditional dancers, many of them barefoot led the way while Zach De La Rocha, leader singer of Rage Against the Machine, and others followed behind holding a large banner. I walked between the banner and the dancers, about 4 rows from the front of the march.
The organizers did a fantastic job along the 3 ½ mile walk towards the Sheriff’s Office/Jail and spirits were high with many chants of ’si se puede!’ Many onlookers bellowed encouragement to the marchers and some of them joined the march after some coaxing. Each time a new person joined from the sideline large cheers and applause followed. As we approached the jail however, the atmosphere changed. A sense of fear and anger took a hold of many of the marchers especially when they saw police officers standing with arms crossed on the grounds of the Sheriff’s office.
Some of the protesters broke the line to get closer to the officers and yelled things at them before moving on. As we approached the turn in the road, we saw dozens of police in full riot gear as well as mounted police. The mood shifted again as we turned the corner towards the stage at the end of the road, which signaled the end of the march and the beginning of more festivities. The music started playing and well over the estimated 7,000 people poured up to the stage. One small incident occurred towards the end of the long line of marchers when a few young anarchists decided to challenge the mounted police which resulted in pepper spray being recklessly discharged by the police who made some arrests. The incident did nothing to dampen the mood as some of the marchers sat and ate ice cream with their families while others flocked to the stage to sing and dance to the music. The march leaders then took to the stage along with Zach De La Rocha and activist icon Delores Huenta who all made compelling speeches to the crowd. De La Rocha fired everyone up with a hard-hitting speech accusing Janet Napolitano of allowing Sheriff Joe Arpaio to operate without fear of punishment. This declaration brought chants of ‘no more Joe.’
The march ended with a powerful display of unity as the remaining thousands of people joined hands in prayer. As I left the march, I knew that I had been a part of something extremely positive and groundbreaking. It was only when I returned to the Quaker house that I learned the two most compelling aspects of the march. The first, was that the police estimate of the number of marchers was more than double the optimistic estimate of 7,000 predicted by the march organizers. Somewhere in the region of 15,000 people took to the streets of Phoenix on Saturday.
The most inspiring story from the march was told to me by Peter, a resident of the Quaker house who told me about helping an older woman find a seat near the stage after the march. After he got her some water he began talking to her and asked her why she was here. She responded by telling him that she was 73 years old and that she had marched the full 3 ½ miles for her caretaker, an undocumented mother of three from Mexico. “I walked all this way for her” the old woman told Peter, “she like almost all of the undocumented people in this country are here to help their families and nothing else, something must be done to help her.”