Today, the vigil to stop Arizona’s racial profiling law SB 1070 will draw to a close, on the 103rd day spent on the steps of the Arizona State Capitol.
Now, the dedication and commitment it takes to keep a vigil going for 103 days is remarkable under any circumstances. It takes a remarkable amount of coordination and time to keep people engaged.
But in Arizona’s unforgiving heat, it is nothing short of miraculous. It takes a powerful cause to inspire this type of devotion. But that is the case in Arizona. People who are seeing the anguish caused by SB 1070 firsthand, who are seeing their neighbors pull their kids out of school and leave the state, felt compelled to spend their days and night surrounded by other community members who felt their pain.
The organization leading the effort is a new group, Promise Arizona. This was their first major event.
My organization, the Center for Community Change, is providing PAZ with a lot of direct support in its first year, and so I’ve known of the vigil from its inception and have always been impressed by it.
But until I spent several afternoons fighting off heat stroke, looking for the scant shady spots, it was impossible for me to grasp the magnitude or the spirit of the vigil.
Everyone always talks about the unbearable heat in Phoenix, but it’s always qualified by mention of it being “dry heat.” Now, I’m from South Texas, so I’ve survived summers in searing heat and stifling humidity. But, for me, the Phoenix dry heat was worse. I can deal with high temperatures; it’s not rare when the temperature soars above 100 degrees and stays there for weeks at a time in South Texas.
But 117 degrees feels very different.
Those 17 additional degrees feel like a ton of bricks. It’s hard to move. Everything seems sluggish, too still. The palm trees even seem reluctant to sway. And it doesn’t exactly cool off at night either. When the sun sits low on the horizon as the clock nears 9 p.m., the thermometer still registers 101.
But at the Capitol, it seems no one feels the heat but me. The adults sit and talk with a familiarity born of seeing each other nearly every day for more than 3 months. The children run around playing. There’s food, homemade and restaurant-bought brought to the capitol by the participants. An elderly man sells cold, fruity paletas from a cart. And as the sunlight fades, a group of mostly women kneel on the grass around an elaborate, mobile altar and pray the rosary.
Yesterday, it filled my heart to see pictures of these women in tears, so joyful at the announcement of the court’s decision to enjoin the most hideous, harmful components of SB 1070.
Now that the worst of SB 1070 has been staved off, Promise Arizona is ending the vigil, but their work is just beginning. Now they’ll shift their focus to developing new leaders and funneling the frustrations and passions stirred by SB 1070 into lasting, positive civic engagement. Instead of praying outside of the capitol, they will recruit a legion of volunteers to go door to door signing people up to vote.
So while the work changes, the remarkable dedication and commitment remain steadfast, even in the wilting heat.