Tavis: Alfredo Gutierrez is a former Arizona state senator who now publishes the online magazine “La Frontera Times.” He’s also one of the organizers for this Saturday’s big immigration rally in Phoenix, which is where he joins us from tonight.
Senator Gutierrez, good to have you on the program, sir.
Alfredo Gutierrez: Thank you very much; it’s an honor to be here.
Tavis: So what’s happening this Saturday?
Gutierrez: Well, it’s going to be a massive march. I think it’s impossible for us to estimate the number, but we believe it’s going to approach 100,000, perhaps larger. It’s especially impressive – it’s going to be over 100 degrees. It’s a six-mile-long march, some refer to it as a death march, but it’s a heck of a sacrifice. But people by the thousands are signing up to do it.
It’s the last protest before the summer heat comes into Phoenix. We want it to be a massive one; we want it to inspire the entire community, because it’s going to be a summer of action, a freedom summer, that’s inspired by the ’60s in the southern United States where the civil rights movement took hold. This is the second coming of the civil rights movement.
Tavis: What do you expect, politically, Saturday’s rally will accomplish?
Gutierrez: Well, it will unify the country. I think it will propel the issue of immigrant rights and the issue of the increasing hostility against immigrants in this country into the consciousness of everyone in this country, particularly the White House, particularly the administration, who has throughout the campaign made inspirational promises, made extraordinary promises, but since taking office the president has decided that we’re the third rail of politics, decided that we’re much too controversial and decided that the violation of our rights, the resolution to that issue, could wait till a second term
That clearly is unacceptable and we hope to make that point to him, not only with this march but with an entire summer of action and civil resistance.
Tavis: Is it your read, Senator Gutierrez, that the White House is suggesting that they can’t get to this until the second term, or they can’t get to it right now?
Gutierrez: Well, the read is they can’t get to it right now, and they can’t get to it right now for a set of conditions that they describe that are only apparently going to get worse. So that if we’re waiting for the conditions to change, they’re only going to get worse. If we’re waiting for lightning to strike or an extraordinary act of courage, miracles do happen.
If we’re waiting for the likelihood of when they’re going to work based upon the political calculus that they’re using, then it’s the second term. I think we can safely say that.
Tavis: To your point about political calculus, earlier this week on this program we had as one of our guests David Gregory, as you know, the moderator of “Meet the Press” on NBC. David, if I recall the conversation correctly, used the phrase – suggested that the issue was not yet politically ripe – R-I-P-E – that the issue wasn’t yet politically ripe.
He went on to explain what he meant by that, but his point, as I recall, was that the president doesn’t have the kind of bipartisan support that he needs. He keeps asking for Republicans to join him in that; indeed, the president met earlier this week with Republicans, trying to get some understanding of what could happen on this issue.
But again, Gregory’s point is that the issue hasn’t come to a ripeness yet that makes it possible to get through Congress. Your thoughts about that?
Gutierrez: Well, I admire Mr. Gregory, but on this he’s dead wrong. The fact of the matter is that nothing this controversial – the extension of rights, the imposition of evil externally, the fight against that happens easily.
If you recall the civil rights movement, if Lyndon Johnson had waited for the Southern senators to all of a sudden have an epiphany and say, “Wow, we’re going to vote for it now,” if he’d waited till that moment, we’d still be waiting today.
The fact is that at some point or another, the president of the United States, in that case Lyndon Johnson, said, “Enough already. This has to be resolved. America cannot tolerate this any longer.” That’s what we expected of President Obama.
Some of us – I never stopped by the Hillary Express. Some of us went directly to support President Obama because frankly we thought that the son of an immigrant, who spoke to us in such clear language, would keep his promise, would understand the courage that it would take for an issue of civil rights to be resolved in America.
It only comes about when men of courage, when women of courage forge that consensus, and that’s what’s lacking in this White House. What’s lacking in this administration and this presidency is the courage to forge a consensus.
Tavis: Do you buy the White House’s argument, though, that the president, that he can’t do this without Republican support?
To your example of LBJ, you’re absolutely right – LBJ was quite courageous, no doubt about that. But LBJ was able to get some support across the aisle. He twisted a whole lot of arms and maybe that’s the point you’re trying to make, but how does the president go about getting the Republican support that he does need?
Gutierrez: Well, it appears that their point of view is that if they sit and talk about this long enough it’s going to appear. I guess I see that as a fundamental misreading of history. My example of Lyndon Johnson is that it didn’t happen. He had to go twist those arms. He had to go do the horse trading that was necessary. He had to take the political risk that was inherent in taking such a courageous act, and he did.
This country – this country, the country you and I share – is extraordinarily better because of it. I can’t imagine, and Mr. Smiley, I suspect you couldn’t imagine living in a country where the Civil Rights Act had not passed.
Tavis: No doubt.
Gutierrez: That’s where we find ourselves today. But this time, the crucible belongs to President Obama and he has chosen to ignore it.
Tavis: Let me offer this as an exit question, a politically incorrect exit question, but what option do Hispanic voters really have? So the president and the Democrats don’t get to it this year, they don’t get to a second term. What are you going to do?
Gutierrez: Well, look, we have no options. We’re pretty realistic about this. But in order for President Obama to become president it took an historic vote of the Hispanic community to make that possible, an historically high vote. That came about because people believed him. It came about because people believed he would once and for all keep his word.
If at the end of his term he’s just another politician we may well end up with the other guy because there may be simply not the enthusiasm, amongst Democrats, but particularly amongst Latinos, to come out and vote in record numbers. That’s the risk he’s taking by ignoring us for another year.
Tavis: Former Arizona state senator Alfredo Gutierrez, one of the organizers and leaders of the big rally expected to take place this weekend in a hot Phoenix, Arizona, raising the states on this issue of the immigration debate happening in Arizona and for that matter around the country these days.
Senator Gutierrez, good to have you on. All the best on your rally this weekend, sir.
Gutierrez: Thank you, sir.