We need the workers, and they need the opportunity, plus respect
The Monday demonstrations by immigrant workers and their supporters for recognition of their economic contributions and their needs and desires were a success.
More than a million people turned out across the country to show the positive impact of immigration on the American workforce, including nearly a million immigrant workers who stayed off the job to participate in the event. Many of those workers had the permission of their bosses to take the day off to advance their cause. About 1,000 of the workers and their backers demonstrated here at the World’s Fair Park, with blessedly few counter-demonstrators to detract from their message.
The true economic impact of one day away from their jobs won’t be measured for weeks, and it will be only a tick in the nation’s economic clock. But if they were to take a week or a month off work, the economy would suffer greatly because the contribution of undocumented immigrants, and especially those who have slipped across our southern border from Mexico, has been and continues to be a major factor in U.S. economic stability.
Immigration reform is necessary, not to further criminalize or to deport illegal immigrants, but to take into account their contribution and to give them a chance to become legally documented. Sealing our borders, which is not a practical possibility, has become a mantra of xenophobes and racists who wish to keep Mexicans from entering, residing and working in the United States without visas and green cards. National security is not an issue.
These are workers, not terrorists, who are looking for opportunity and are making the most of it. We have more than 5,000 miles of land border to secure, 2,000 of that total shared with Mexico, and the cost of sealing off that much territory is prohibitive.
There have been absurd suggestions, including the laying of land mines, to effect border security. And there have been equally ludicrous proposals that the estimated 11 or 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country be rounded up and deported. The prize for stupidity goes to the idea, voiced here in Knoxville over talk-radio, that they be flown over countries that won’t accept the return of their citizens and parachuted to earth there. Such thoughts should seem demented to anyone with a shadow of human decency.
Congress is now debating how to reform U.S. immigration policies to react to the admittedly sticky problem of dealing with illegal immigration and with the status of our undocumented workers. The least we can expect from the lawmakers and the administration of the president, who will have to sign or veto such reform, is that the workers who are here now, earning a living for their families, paying taxes and abiding by other laws, be accorded a full measure of respect. Their courage and their commitment to exploring their opportunities in the Land of Opportunity, and the willingness of thousands of employers to give them jobs, entitles them to such respect.
It’s Knoxville’s oldest annual festival, not counting football season, and some of it never changed much. Like them or not, the dogwood trails have been there every year for half a century. But for perhaps 20 years the most public, downtown parts of our signature festival had lapsed into a sober and doggedly dutiful homage to the least authentic manifestations of Appalachian culture: it was an era of spray-painted pinecones and cornball T-shirts and karaoke evangelism. It was often not even attended by those who, perhaps by habit, supported it.
Pasley reversed that trend and turned Dogwood Arts back into something more like what we hear it was when it began in the early ’60s, an urban arts festival, not just for retirees on church-bus jaunts, but for everybody, including the people of Knoxville. He did so chiefly by emphasizing the quality of the arts as well as the quality of the festivity. He introduced some interesting new features, like evening hours on the square and well-known performance artists; he also reintroduced some forgotten aspects of previous festivals, like participation from well-regarded craft guilds and real bluegrass competitions. This year’s included perhaps the most unusual feature in DAF history, the Sonic Forest.
The 2006 festival, as celebrated chiefly over the weekend of April 21-23 in Market Square and Krutch Park, was a popular and esthetic success. Several attendees and merchants thought it was the best in memory. Although he succeeded mid-tenure in reducing the festival’s debt, by this year it had risen to about $150,000, where it was when he took over. To have improved Dogwood Arts as much as he has while essentially breaking even on debt was an achievement for which Knoxville should be grateful.