Racism and Illinois 6th CD

Barring an October surprise, the Republican ultra-right is staring at a potential historic defeat on Election Day, one that will create a more favorable environment for labor and its allies to wage the fight for a new agenda. The Republican Party is in emergency mode to save what seats it can. It is abandoning races where it faces certain defeat and going all out to construct a “firewall” to save its majority.

Two of these “last stand” seats are in Illinois congressional districts where Republicans have historically had a registration advantage. These are the 8th CD where Rep. Melissa Bean faces arch-reactionary Republican David McSweeney and in the 6th CD where Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth is battling Bush-clone state Sen. Peter Roskam for the open seat vacated by Rep. Henry Hyde. Both districts cover a wide swath of the suburbs ringing Chicago.

While Bean leads in the 8th CD, the Duckworth-Roskam race is a toss-up. The 6th CD is the heart of the state Republican machine, but its demographics have been changing rapidly. Many working-class families are moving in from Chicago and nearly 30 percent of the district is Latino, Asian or African American. The largest share of the electorate is now independent voters.

It is therefore to its eternal shame that the Republican Party is constructing this “firewall” with the bricks of anti-Mexican racism and immigrant-bashing. They are flooding the airwaves with hysterical scenes of Mexicans scaling border fences and flooding into the U.S. illegally.

Duckworth, they say, can’t and won’t stand up to this onslaught and in addition, supports legislation sponsored by liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy (no mention of Republican co-sponsor John McCain) providing amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

This is a desperate and despicable act by the Republican ultra-right, who have lost the majority of voters, including a sizeable section of Republicans in the district, on every other issue — such as fighting terrorism, the Iraq war, Social Security, health care reform, minimum wage increase, stem cell research, and reproductive choice.

Whipping up the dust of anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant hysteria can result in blinding the electorate to Roskam’s extremist positions. The racist appeal is directed to the undecided 17 percent of voters, mostly Republicans, who strongly dislike Bush but who are not yet convinced to vote for Duckworth.

The anti-Mexican racism is a cousin of the infamous Willie Horton ad of the 1988 presidential election, the massive Republican-engineered disenfranchisement of African American and other minority voters in the 2000 and 2004 elections, and voter suppression in this election.

Roskam supports HR 4437, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner and passed by the House of Representatives, which would criminalize the 15 million undocumented immigrant workers and those who aid them. It was introduced to divide the electorate, appeal to people’s fears and turn out the Republican vote.

Duckworth, who is of Thai ancestry and whose mother became a U.S. citizen, supports the McCain-Kennedy bill and its companion HR 2230. This legislation creates a process for undocumented immigrants to gain conditional legal status and eventually citizenship. It has some provisions unacceptable to the AFL-CIO, immigrant rights and other organizations. But other unions, immigrant groups and business associations support it as an acceptable compromise for the time being.

A recent town hall meeting on immigration sponsored by immigrant rights and religious groups extended invitations to both candidates. Not surprisingly Roskam never responded. Duckworth accepted and was sharply questioned about her position. Noting the presence of a Roskam campaign camera crew in the hall and acknowledging that everything she said would be used against her, she stuck with her support for McCain-Kennedy.

Even though Duckworth’s response included an emphasis on heavy border security and wasn’t everything many of those present wanted to hear, they nonetheless gave her a standing ovation because she represents a voice against the anti-immigrant racism of Roskam.

Will racism and anti-immigrant hysteria be rejected on Nov. 7? Labor and its allies, who have been knocking on thousands of doors in the 6th CD and who are gearing up for a massive get-out-the-vote effort, fully expect the answer to be a resounding yes!

John Bachtell (jbachtell@rednet.org) is district organizer of the Communist Party of Illinois.