Guest blog by Tony Weigle, Chair, AILA Missouri/Kansas Chapter
On July 1st, I walked into the opening session of the Annual Conference and into my first day as Chapter Chair of the Missouri/Kansas Chapter. As I found my seat, a few of my chapter members informed me that Kansas City’s Kris Kobach and Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio had announced a joint campaign fundraiser – on July 13th. A few hours later, after adjourning the chapter’s annual meeting, a group of us talked amongst ourselves and asked collectively, “Now what?”
That afternoon, I discovered on Kobach’s Facebook page, the following:
Kris Kobach would like to invite everyone to come see Sheriff Joe Arpaio and me at the “ILLEGAL MEANS ILLEGAL” rally at 7pm on July 13 at the Bell Center auditorium, MidAmerica Nazarene University, 2030 E. College Way, Olathe, Kansas. Sheriff Joe, whom I have served as legal counsel, has generously offered to come to Kansas to help my secretary of state campaign. Come hear us share our thoughts on how to stop illegal immigration.
Admission to the rally is free, but I’d appreciate any donation you can make to my campaign. www.kriskobach.com.
If you would like to get a photo with Sheriff Joe and meet him beforehand, there will be a reception for “Sheriff Joe’s Deputies” for $250. To sign up, call 316-210-2450.
I look forward to seeing you there. Bring signs, the protesters probably will!
Thanks to the tireless efforts of chapter members Angela Ferguson, Suzanne Brown, and other key members, our chapter had already developed relationships with a coalition of immigrant interest groups from St. Louis to Kansas. The groups in the coalition were hard at work formulating responses. I quickly became acquainted via e-mail and cell phone with our coalition partners while at the Annual Conference. On the list were new names that span religious, labor, and immigrant interest groups.
One of the first issues had to do with the pre-existing pleas of the coalition partners for the religious university, MidAmerica Nazarene University, to revoke its offer for use of its space for the joint Kobach/Arpaio political fundraiser. From a logistical standpoint, the revocation of the space would create challenges in formulating responses. The coalition planned on conducting a peaceful protest and some form of a press conference. If the location shifted, we would be at a disadvantage. As it stood, we would know where and when they would be, so any attempts to hold a press conference and get our message out could be well-planned, as the university offered the coalition space on campus for use.
The university revoked its permission for the campaign to use its space on July 7th. According to reports, the university President was concerned about the ability to handle the event, citing security concerns. We knew the event would still go on, given the combined schedules of the two men and Kobach’s upcoming August 3rd, Republican primary for the position of Secretary of State, but we didn’t know where. Thanks to reporting through the press, we were informed the political fundraiser was moved 6 miles away at an event facility. As of July 8th, our peaceful protest is resigned to the public sidewalk and our press conference may be held at a nearby park shelter.
Getting to this point has not been at all easy. I now have a much greater respect for “community organizers.” There is no way to prepare to work with diverse coalition members. You have to learn as you go and make a ton of mental notes.
On the other hand, AILA national has provided media training for chapter leaders at the last two Annual Conferences. During this year’s training session, George Tzamaras helped me volunteer to be one of the 3 attendees to do a mock, on-camera interview. I just completed my first TV interview this afternoon with about 20 minutes notice. I haven’t seen the footage, but I didn’t feel like an idiot afterwards. Of all of the tasks associated with the response effort, this was by far the easiest. Although, my 5-year old did ask my wife, “Why did you let dad on TV; he looks creepy.” Sigh.
The preparations for ground zero would not be complete unless one of the most informed, capable voices was available. At the Annual Conference, I approached David Leopold and told him about the event and asked if he would be available to travel to Kansas City. Without hesitation, he said yes. After much effort contacting local media over the last 2 days, we have two TV interviews with national affiliates, one meeting with the largest regional paper, commitments to attend the coalition’s press conference, and possible radio opportunities.
It is strange, but July 13th now seems like it is at least a few months away. There is much left to do, but the sense that it won’t get done in time is gone.
The personalities of Kobach, Arpaio and others, the policies they promote, and the paralysis they have infused on our country’s debate over comprehensive immigration reform are reason enough to make July 13th in Kansas City ground zero for the country’s immigration debate. When you consider the upcoming implementation of SB 1070 in Arizona, the federal government’s lawsuit, and the impact of primary and mid-term elections, the members of my chapter are facing the perfect storm. With support from chapter members, AILA national and our coalition partners, I am confident we will weather the storm.