Yorkers gather to discuss 'divide-and-conquer' politics
- Author of "Undocumented Fears" discusses ways politicians use fear to rise into power.
Less than 24 hours after hundreds of York residents rallied outside the York City Police Department building to denounce police shootings of black men, a group of fewer than 20 gathered in the nearby Centro Hispano building to discuss divide-and-conquer politics.
Divide-and-conquer politics refers to one group or power breaking another into small factions in order to conquer it. The tactic promotes an us-versus-them approach to political differences.
The discussion, sponsored by York Progressives and Put People First Pennsylvania, was led by author Jamie Longazel, whose book, "Undocumented Fears," highlights his hometown of Hazleton, Luzerne County.
The book focuses on the small town's passage of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which Longazel said came at a time when a historically white community was struggling with a struggling economy, and the growing Latino population provided a scapegoat for larger issues politicians didn't want to face.
Local voices: Carla Christopher, a leading member of both sponsoring organizations and organizer of Friday night's rally, told attendees not to make the mistake of believing this story belongs exclusively to Hazleton.
She read aloud comments York County residents posted on Facebook in response to news coverage of the rally, including: "They should be saying white lives matter; we are the ones paying their bills," "York=thugs and drugs," and "thinning of the herd."
"We, as a county, have created a space that people feel it's OK to say and post these things with their names attached to it," Christopher said. "We, as a county, have failed when we are swayed by fear."
Christopher said she consistently sees these comments on articles from all local media outlets, but she will never "be used to hatred."
"The first place I go is despair," she said of her reactions to such comments. "If people hate because of misinformation, you can correct it, but if it's just ingrained in their minds, how do you stop that?"
Christopher said she is encouraged to keep advocating for peace because she knows there are people whose minds can be changed and children who are still forming their beliefs.
"You just have to keep approaching people until you find that one issue that resonates," she said. "And then once they're in the fold, they're more receptive to learning about these other issues from like-minded people."
Saturday morning's discussion provided that opportunity for those whose resonating issue was divide-and-conquer politics, Christopher said.
Hazleton: Longazel detailed how Hazleton's mayor, Lou Barletta, used divide-and-conquer politics to rise to his current position in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The town attempted to enact an illegal immigration act in 2006, but it was challenged and ultimately did not go into law. It set out to punish those who hired or housed undocumented immigrants, and the national media held Barletta up as a hero for "touching an issue no one else would," Longazel said, specifically referencing a 60 Minutes report.
At the time, Hazleton had lost a majority of its manufacturing jobs, and many residents were struggling financially. Longazel said Barletta's battle against "crime-prone" illegal immigrants resonated with the community, despite statistics showing illegal immigrants accounted for less than 1 percent of the area's crime.
Meanwhile, everybody was ignoring the fact that companies still in Hazleton were paying low wages and little to no taxes because of incentives, Longazel added.
The act created an "us-versus-them" narrative between the growing Latino population and the "hard-working, All-American town" that used to be 95 percent white, he said.
"The struggles these people were facing were real," Longazel said. "So when you get that slight affirmation that at least you're better than this 'other' group, it's enough for you to accept the rhetoric."
The result of that rhetoric, Longazel said, was the degradation of not just illegal immigrants, but all immigrants and Latinos in general.
Trump: Longazel said that same message Barletta used to rise to power from Hazleton is what Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is now using on a much larger stage, noting that Barletta was one of the first House GOP representatives to endorse Trump.
"They share that nativist sentiment," he said of Trump and Barletta. "They focus on being tough on immigration without acknowledging that they're dealing with human people."
Longazel said Trump, more than anyone in recent memory, has given American people a license to voice their prejudices.
"People are struggling, they know the system doesn't work, and they want something new," he said. "For me, that's not xenophobia, but that doesn't mean I don't think we need something new."
Longazel said that his idea of "something new" is people coming together and building a bigger movement that strives for the justice of people over profits.
At Centro Hispano, Longazel was met with many nodding heads and affirming comments.
Christopher, who noted that she saw six or seven people she didn't know at the discussion, said it's vital to keep educating more and different people.
Small discussions of like-minded people are just as important to the cause as large rallies, she said.
"(Friday night's rally) was about having a community that is scared and grieving and letting them know they're not alone," Christopher said. "This is more focused on deep relationship building."
If every person present for Longazel's discussion goes home and talks to people in their neighborhood about what they learned, that's equally or more impactful as a hundreds showing up for a rally, she said.