August 09, 2012
On August 8, 2012 the ‘No Papers No Fear’ riders were welcomed to New Orleans with a tour of the city and its people. We met Ted Quant in front of an obelisk originally dedicated to White Supremacy. He told us about the history of the monument, intertwined with a history of how African Americans in New Orleans and in the south, also relates to fear, legality, and papers.
“No papers, no fear” is a very profound expression for all of us. As the history of this monument tells us, and the history of African Americans tells us, we had to stand up against fear, and we had to fight against not having papers. There was a moment in the south where if you didn’t have papers to show that you worked for a plantation, or you did not have 100 dollars in your pocket - back when 100 was like having 1,000 dollars – you could be arrested for vagrancy.
If you were arrested for that, under the United States constitution, you could be re-enslaved. The constitution says that there should be no involuntary servitude in the country, that means you cannot be a slave, unless you are convicted of a crime. And like this, you can be arrested and they can sell you like a slave under what they would call the ‘Convict Lease System.” So they were able to re-enslave African Americans simply because they did not have papers, or did not have money in their pockets.
The civil war was the extension of the politics of two capitalistic systems, one with free labor, and one with slave labor that could no longer co-exist. With the passage of the fugitive slave act and the Dread Scott Supreme Court decision, the south had extended the reach of slavery into free states and demanded that free people become accomplices in the enslavement of African people. Just as the laws demand United States citizens comply with laws criminalizing immigrant workers in the U.S. today.
If you come to the hospital sick, and you have no papers, ‘let them die.’ This is not tolerable to any human being. People are told if you see a kid in the class room, ask ‘You got papers? You got papers?,’ and you are 3 years old. Come get this kid and put him in jail. This is what we are being driven to do. This is unjust. Just like in the fugitive slave days, our history is connected like this.
Today, with your ‘No papers no fear,’ you are connected to that history. Our history and your history are one history. The history of oppressed people fighting for equality is one history.
In the past, some times we say that ‘I’m helping you.’ Because I got papers. So I’m helping you. That’s the wrong idea. What I do, I do for me and for you, because we are the same. Our history is bound together. It is not about your rights or my rights, because our needs are the same, human rights and justice.
The fight to divide us is going to escalate. Our need to stand with each other is going to become challenged and strained, and we are going to have to hold on tight to the ideals that we believe. With this ‘No Papers No Fear’ demonstration, you are challenging this historic and continuing injustice, of ‘divide and conquer.’ It is an appeal for humanity, a sense of dignity, and fairness.
As you gain attention and respect for your courage, and the justice of your cause, the cause of human rights for all will come into the minds of others and change the tide of history.
Unbowed and unbroken.
No papers no fear.
Sin Papeles sin miedo!
Solidarity for ever.
Ted Quant is the director of the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice, based at the Loyola University in New Orleans.