On Sunday in DC, I attended the 17th ballpark protest of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2011 baseball season. Like the other actions – in cities from Houston to San Francisco to Milwaukee – people chanted a loud and clear message to Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig: move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona and make the state pay a price for enacting legislation that sacrifices immigrant families at the altar of election year politics. But this demonstration was also deeply different from the 16 others. It was a day of rain, risk-takers, racists, and rancor. And it couldn’t have been more terrific.
First, the protest was publicly threatened by a pugnacious anti-immigrant organization called Help Save Maryland. This past week, I received a series of emails from people claiming to be connected to the group where they threatened to “swamp” the Move the Game demonstration and drive immigrant rights supporters from the park. They also taunted that my writing on the subject had led to them being “overwhelmed with phone calls and volunteers.” For the record, we had 100 people march during the two-hour protest. They had seven. The group was so irrelevant that they went unmentioned – from ESPN to politico.com- in the flurry of subsequent media coverage.
Second, the demonstration outside was combined with actions inside the park where four daring activists stormed the field with one out in the fifth inning, unfurling a banner calling for Selig to move the game. In what could morph into a youtube sensation, an overzealous security guard attempting to accost them, did a less-than-graceful belly flop across the outfield. It might have been the most exciting moment at a Nats game this season. Rosa Lozano, who spent the evening in custody for taking the movement to the outfield grass, said to me after her release, “I did it because when history reflects this egregious time of civil and human rights violations I want to be able to have pride in saying that I didn’t stand idly by and allow human beings to be treated like animals because of their immigration status.” Also, as the four were being arrested, two separate banners with similar messages were draped over the outfield walls. These banner bandits daring to display a message that didn’t say “Drink Budweiser” or “Buy Season Tickets” were banned from the ballpark for a year.
One of them, Brian Ward, said to me afterward, "I find it funny how I am being banned from a stadium that I helped pay for with my tax dollars. I say if that is what it takes to get the All-star game moved, let’s all do actions like we saw today and show that we are willing to do whatever it takes to move this game and overturn SB 1070."
Another banner bandit, Navid Nasr, described to me a scene in the crowd where “Two fans to our left immediately became extremely hostile and attempted to rip the banner away from us. Then something kind of inspiring happened, two or three other fans leapt to our defense, physically put themselves between us and the belligerents and berated them, calling them assholes and telling them to leave us alone and that we weren’t harming anyone and that we have the right to free speech.”
Free speech at a publicly funded billion-dollar park! What a concept! That description of political polarization mirrored what picketers saw outside the park. Some fans were very supportive, even joining in with the chants and doing a couple of turns marching around in a circle, in full Nationals gear. Others yelled, and heckled with all the zeal of Sarah Palin at a book-burning. Two demanded to see the papers of a 17-year-old picketer, Nate Taitano, who happened by sheer and utter coincidence, to have brown skin. After the demonstration, the young man said to a gathered crowd, “I was born and raised right here in DC. I should be asking them where the hell they’re from."
But most critically, thousands of flyers, detailing how people could contact Bud Selig and insist that he move the game, were passed out to open fans. By day’s end, protesters were soaked, hoarse, and happy. As Gary Nelson, a firefighter from Baltimore who drove an hour to be at the demonstration said, “Evil flourishes when good people do nothing. Today we did some good.”