DRM comes to Texas, Erika get roughed up
“Excuse me, did you come with them?” asked an intense, middle-aged blonde woman with a small green badge, the center of which was occupied by a white star. By then, Erika and Cesar were already in holding. Within five minutes, I would officially be detained by the Secret Service. “Yes, and I’m looking for them, so take me to them” I said somewhat dickishly, sensing there was no need for or appreciation of patience in this particular case and having no clue what that little green badge on her lapel meant. From her tone of her voice, you could tell that nothing coming out of my mouth mattered much to her. “Come with me” she said and briskly led me to an office filled with police and a few guys in suits with the same little lapel badge.
The venue, Southwest Office System’s HQ, was packed so full that the fire martial stepped in before we could get the rest of the other demonstrators in. Talking with the crowd, however, nobody seemed particularly impressed. “Roger Ailes is pissing himself, they didn’t want this guy, and neither did the rest of News Corp. They wanted anyone but him really if you look at the time they gave even Herman Cain, but they’re stuck with him now” said one man inside the venue in the spillover area. Outside on line, I spoke with an independent voter who wasn’t sure who he was voting for. Next to him was a man who was 68 who had to file bankruptcy, sell the stock in the company he created and was currently working two jobs. He spoke about how he wished that there was still a real conservative like Rick Santorum in the race, saying that he wanted Romney to be more conservative, especially on the issue of healthcare.
The true cherry on that crowd’s sunday, however, was when that 68 year old man told me that he wasn’t racist, just prejudiced against lazy people. I was a bit confused because I hadn’t mentioned anything about race. Issues of race aside, it was easy to see that this guy was the backbone of Romney’s support: an old man who lost it all, blamed it on Obama (even though I’d wager it was more Bush’s fault) and now bought into the rhetoric that a successful CEO will necessarily be good on the economy. Historically this hasn’t panned out: the last CEO we had in office was Herbert Hoover. Creating profits for a small margin of people is much more easy than making sure that everyone, from the shareholders to the guys working on the factory floor, has a good job, affordable healthcare and decent standard of living. Like before, however, this unenthusiastic crowd would collectively shit itself when Romney came out, complete with old, fat ladies struggling to stand up on chairs near the back of the seats to see him when he got a standing ovation. If for nothing else, they were doing it for the pure celebrity appeal.
Southwest Office Systems, the business owned by the Mexican-American Puente brothers that were hosting the event, was sweltering; even the native Texans fanning their sweaty selves. There was no ventilation, and the seating was shoulder to shoulder for those who were lucky enough to come early. It had a bit of a depot feel, largely because I’m pretty sure it was also used as a depot in addition to an office headquarters. We were shooed away from an automatic fence that threatened to be tripped and injure someone, while some of the best country music my yankee ass had ever heard was blasted from seemingly everywhere at once. All around us were stacks of cardboard boxes on green metal shelves against the walls. Around a podium in the middle of the room was a small sea of seats, filled by uncomfortably humid people. Behind the rows of seats that held a few hundred spectators there were some bleachers where the press were taking photos and video.
Within the press section, someone from Univision practically jumped on Erika for an interview in Spanish. They spoke about Romney’s policy on immigration, his record as governor of Massachusetts, and Erika mentioned the Veto Romney campaign. It wasn’t too surprising that Univision jumped on Erika and Cesar when we thought about it: even though this was supposed to be a part of Romney’s Hispanic outreach, there were roughly a dozen or so Latino police officers there, outnumbering Hispanic Romney fans in his own Hispanic outreach rally at least 2:1. He may be bending over backwards every which way, but when it comes to the big three for mixed-status families and communities (DREAM Act, Self-Deportation, SB 1070) he’s leaving it completely alone. It brings to mind a man who is taking everything he can get his hands on for a snake bite except the anti-venom.
I snuck into the press section through the back, and started snapping some photos. Romney had the usual fluffers for himself, being introduced by a few local politicians and then the Puente brothers. It was actually a truly magical occasion: the sons of a Mexican immigrant had made their way up the business ladder, and were now able to donate unlimited amounts of money to a plastic man who would have sent their father back to Mexico if it was politically convenient. That’s when you can tell that you’ve really made it: when at least a few people in your group are either kicking the little man, or giving money to the politician who makes his stance on kicking the little man. Speaking as an Irish Catholic, now all Mexican-Americans need is a JFK to break the public in to thinking that they make good presidents.
The crowd screamed “WE LOVE YOU MITT!!!” in the margins while I recorded Romney. Romney spoke about the usual topics, giving safe anecdotes about businessmen like the guy who started Nuvasive, the company responsible for fixing Nate Quarry’s spine so he could get back into the Octagon, and how Americans rocked in general. It’s sort of like electorate candy.
Romney stepped a bit close to religion, an uncharacteristic move for the Mormonator, saying that it was the creator, not the government, had endowed us with our rights. “Among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we would be free to pursue happiness as we choose, not as the government tells us.” This sounded somewhat ironic coming from a guy whose family fled persecution in the United States to set up a polygamy commune. “And because of that freedom, people came here from all over the world seeking opportunity, ours is the land of opportunity.” This was another ironic note: my friends, who were currently unzipping Erika’s bag and pulling out a sign, were protesting because their opportunities were being denied. Thanks to the ten year ban, if you’re in the United States for longer than a year without documentation (such as every DREAMer I’ve ever met) you’re banned from re-entering the country for 10 years. That’s 10 long years of forcing families to choose between whether they let one member go to Mexico alone, or uprooting their entire family and trying to start again in a country known for poverty and violence. Where is the opportunity for my friends?
Romney droned on about free people and free enterprises, attempting to look less robotic in front of a southern crowd that had not appreciated his comments on grits and a “y’all” in the past. It was at this time that Cesar and Erika took out the sign they had made out of a bed sheet and some markers between the rows of seats and media section. They unrolled the sign, which read “Self-Deportation is not an option for my DREAM,” and started chanting “education not deportation.” Within a few seconds, the crowd drowned them out like they almost always immediately do. There were several police and Romney staffers who ran over and tore the sign out of their hands. Erika tried to hold on to it, and was put in a combination chicken wing and half nelson, meaning that a cop literally twice her size was cranking on her shoulder and neck hard enough to injure her.
I wish I could say that our demonstration was particularly spectacular, though it was still admirable: Erika and Cesar were right in front of the Univision camera that Erika was nice enough to give a Spanish interview for. Her being abused by someone 5 weight classes above her who looked like he was ready for a UFC debut quickly became the media takeaway for all Spanish media there. Fireworks and numbers aside (most of our group was stuck outside giving interviews due to us being filled to capacity), however, this was actually pretty huge for them: Cesar and Erika were the only two Latinos in there besides the cops and Puente brothers who owned the building, and they were hitting Romney with everything that was available to them. It was a demonstration that Romney was completely inept with Latinos, his Latino outreach being packed with nearly all white people, at least one of whom seemed comically racist.
And now here we are, back with me in the hallway, sipping water from the fountain while I pretend not to notice two women who have stopped and asked each other “hey he was with them, right?” The small badge pin on her shirt marked the intense blonde woman as a member of the Secret Service, who were assigned to protect Mitt Romney. No longer was he guarded merely by his sidekicks of Bieber Hair and the Grey Menace, the original bouncers to this Caligula-esque epicenter of wealth that is Mitt Romney’s campaign. No, it was now a small battalion of green badges with considerably more authority behind them. We were busted for protesting, or at least Cesar and Erika were. Much like in Boston, security largely ignored the adjacent white guy with the camera up until I started looking around for them in case I had to bail them out, get a precinct, write down a docket number or any of those other things that Occupy told me was a good idea when your buddy gets busted.
The intense woman led me into a room filled with cheap office chairs, police and Secret Service lapel pins. The Secret Service was actually pretty polite, seemingly completely removed from rooting for the guy that they were guarding. The police were standing around the chairs that Cesar and Erika were sitting in, writing down their information. Secret Service took me aside so that I couldn’t talk with them, and asked their names, which organization we represented, if we had ever been arrested for protesting before, where we were all from and about half a dozen other questions that I wasn’t quite sure what their significance was.
The police and Secret Service figured out pretty quickly that we hadn’t come to try to assassinate Romney, and weren’t too unfriendly for the most part. I think that they actually sympathized with us much more than Romney, but there was one cop whose name I don’t think I’ll be forgetting any time soon: deHoya.
deHoya was debatably a woman, though she seemingly had more testosterone and a more masculine figure than anyone else in the room. As soon as I came into the room, she asked someone (I believe her commanding officer) if he wanted my camera confiscated as evidence. This was quickly shot down by a few of the other officers there, who were joking with me about how uncomfortable their black uniforms were in the sun. When we were taken to a narrow part of the hallway, guarded on either side by other, much more friendly officers, she delighted in reminding us that she could hit us with her tazer if we got out of line. “Yep, I’ve got my own electric chair” she said. “More like an electric stool, it’s not particularly big” I answered.
Cesar and Erika spoke in Spanish like they often do, and deHoya told them “Speak English only.” Other than being the manliest person in the venue, deHoya was also the most Mexican-looking person there. Erika looked at deHoya in a bit of disbelief, asking her why. “How do I know you two aren’t plotting to kill me” she said. I looked around and figured that I would last less than 15 seconds before being hit with around 5 tazers, assuming I didn’t catch a bullet first. “Hey, we’re a couple of nonviolent protestors, I’m a pacifist hippy” I told her, to which she sneered and said “sure.” When she walked off, Erika turned to Officer Valdez and asked him if he spoke Spanish. He answered yes, but preferred to speak English on the job. When she asked him if he was Mexican, he said it didn’t matter. I then said “hell yea it matters, coming from a ginger who dries up and combusts in 5 minutes out in this Texas sun, being Mexican is an asset out there,” to which he laughed “true enough.”
In the end, a detective came over to explain that we were going to be given a Criminal Trespassing Warning. He asked us if we knew where Romney was going, and we told him that, if it’s public knowledge, other organizers most likely do. He recommended that we lay a little low and not cause any commotions inside of any Romney events, but assured us that we weren’t under arrest or being stripped of our First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble.
I’m not sure if the owner of the property could have pressed charges, but I’m pretty sure there were 2 reasons why they didn’t want to anyway: 1) We were demonstrating for Latino rights, especially Mexicans, who look just like the Puente brothers, just like their Mexican immigrant father, just like their uncles, cousins, etc., and 2) They didn’t want to be the giant, evil corporation sticking it to the little Latino civil rights workers hard enough that it made the papers the next day at a venue which was being used for Romney’s Hispanic outreach.
“You’ll have to sign these papers, meaning that you got and understand the warning. The owner doesn’t want you here again, ever” said deHoya. I have no idea why she thought we cared, but she was really trying to rub it in. After she was done talking with us, we were brought to an uncomfortably hot, cramped cop car where everyone inside sweated until we were brought to the rental car to show some more ID, sign the forms and bid farewell to one of the most unusual experiences we’ve had along the road so far.