R.I. activists protest Tancredo

By Brian Chidester

PAWTUCKET, R.I.--A crowd of 40 people came out to show opposition to anti-immigrant racist Tom Tancredo when he spoke at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall here April 29. It was the second protest against Tancredo that day in Rhode Island--and a clear sign that Tancredo's racist message is not welcome here.

Tancredo--a former Colorado congressman--has called for bombing Muslim holy sites and criminalizing all undocumented immigrants and their U.S.-born children. According to the Pawtucket Times, he told the audience that the Swine flu was "misnamed. It is the Mexican flu...At this point in time, why would you not secure your borders against people who are coming here with a disease that could be catastrophic to us?"

And Tancredo claims not to be racist!

Tancredo came to Rhode Island at the invitation of Youth for Western Civilization (YWC), a shadowy, well-financed right-wing operation whose goal is to smash the left on campuses, promote racism and impose their vision of "Western civilization" on campuses. The Southern Poverty Law Center has linked the group to white supremacist organizations.

The YWC was blocked from bringing Tancredo to Providence College (PC), where they've attempted to build a student group. And when Tancredo spoke outside the gates of PC, he was met by 300 silent student protesters.

Tancredo's evening speech was hosted by Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE), a local nativist group whose members have been known for sending bricks to Congress to "build a wall" on the Mexican border, and asking Latinos for their immigration papers. The mostly elderly attendees were matched in numbers by the much younger protesters outside, who had no problem making their presence known loudly.

Protesters chanted, "We don't want your racist hate--Tom Tancredo out of our state!" and "No Nazis! No fascists! No white supremacists! If you're against Tom Tancredo, raise your fist!" Perhaps the most clever was the bilingual slogan, "Tancredo! Go home! No seas tan cabrĂ³n! (Don't be such a jerk!)"

Organizations represented at the protest included the American Friends Service Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, Youth Pride, Inc., and the International Socialist Organization. Students from PC, Brown University and Rhode Island College also attended.

Unfortunately, the protest drew condemnation not only from the right, but from some liberals who complained that the protest would only "draw attention to them"--and that if ignored, Tancredo and his racist coterie would go away. However, it was quite clear that the local media would have covered the event anyway. By taking a vocal stand against Tancredo, YWC and RIILE, we forced the media to present our side as well.

As protest supporter Eric Rehder wrote on the blog Rhode Island's Future:

If he stands unopposed his racist vitriol gains energy and support. Most of his supporters are cowards. Protest is there to scare away the casual observers. It also makes it clear to his racist thug supporters that we won't take any shit. I don't care what he or his supporters have to say. They are my audience; I'm not theirs.

There is a hell of a lot more antiracist people in this state than racists. This is my audience. We need to be stronger, more united, and more organized.

The conditions are ripe for the growth of their right-wing violent ideologies. They need to be shutdown as clearly as possible.