Activists tell Sinema to 'put people over politics' and call on end to filibuster
Community organizations rallied on Tuesday outside of U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's Phoenix office to pressure the once staunchly progressive lawmaker to end the filibuster to allow landmark election and immigration reform to pass with a simple majority.
Phoenix police responded to the rally near Camelback Road and 33rd Street and ordered everyone — including members of the press — to leave the business complex before arresting 10 people who staged a sit-in near Sinema's office. Police released those arrested shortly afterwards with citations for trespassing.
The rally, where about 70 people gathered under the hot summer sun, was organized by the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, a partnership of more than 40 groups that formed earlier this year. The protest happened as Senate Republicans successfully blocked debate on a bill that advocates say will strengthen voting protections and democracy but that Republicans decry as a nationalizing of elections. .
In a Monday op-ed in The Washington Post, Sinema wrote that she believes ending the filibuster would deepen division and further erode "American's confidence in our government..
"Instability, partisanship and tribalism continue to infect our politics. The solution, however, is not to continue weakening our democracy guardrails. If we eliminate the Senate's 60-vote threshold, we will lose much more than we gain," Sinema wrote.
The Senate is split 50-50, but Democrats hold the tie-breaking vote in Vice President Kamala Harris. Democrats also control the House of Representatives, the first time since 2011 they have held majorities in both chambers of Congress.
While Sinema calls the filibuster a "guardrail" of democracy, Rev. Warren Stewart Jr. and other community leaders locally and nationally call it a "Jim Crow filibuster" because it has been a mechanism historically used to keep Jim Crow laws on the books. The longest filibuster speech, of 24 hours and 18 minutes, happened in 1957 against civil rights legislation.
"This is not 1961, this is 2021," Stewart Jr. said on Tuesday. He represents the African American Christian Clergy Coalition. Over 300 faith leaders penned a letter to Sinema to end the filibuster, but the congresswoman's office has not accepted it, he said. .
"We are here to put Kyrsten Sinema on notice," Stewart Jr. said. "You signed up and you broke your oath office. You have broken your oath to serve the people and you have served your own interests. And your time for office should be up. We are tired of your excuses and your ignorance and ignoring us. We are here to say we will not be quiet. We will not back down. We will make you uncomfortable because Jim Crow made us uncomfortable. So now justice and liberty and freedom and the fight will make you uncomfortable."
Those gathered outside Sinema's office said proposed legislation like the For the People Act, which would implement sweeping election reforms like automatic voter registration and increase campaign finance transparency at a time when mostly Republican-led state legislatures, including Arizona's, are passing laws to restrict access to voting.
Karina Ruiz, a leader with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, pushed back against Sinema's argument that the filibuster rule is important for when Democrats are in the minority party in the future.
"There is no future for my dad. He passed away. We cannot wait anymore," Ruiz said. Her father died last year due to COVID-19 complications. Ruiz shared that her mother is undocumented who could benefit from immigration reform.
"(My mom) can still get to hug my sister only, if only, our Sen. Kyrsten Sinema understands that she needs to put people over politics," Ruiz said. "She needs to listen from the people that elected her."
Several people who worked with Sinema, supported her campaigns and voted for the Democrat to represent them showed up to protest her position on the filibuster.
Gina Griffiths worked for Sinema as an intern at the state legislature, she said. Both were social workers.
"She taught me to fight for LGBTQ rights, and now she is doing nothing," Griffiths said. She was one of the 10 people arrested, alongside with her 18-year-old daughter, Emma, who is trans.
"Now it's personal, because my daughter is in that fight," Griffiths said.
Shirley Tung, 84, said she's tired of Sinema's performative "antics" — her curtsy gesture and thumbs-down vote against the minum wage in March and the viral the photo she posted wearing a ring with the words "F–k off" in April.
"She's doing all these silly antics. It's disgusting," said Tung, a Phoenix resident. "I used to go to her house to make posters 25 years ago. She's a different person now."
Virginia Hauflaire, 68, held a sign that read, "Shame, Shame." The Phoenix native also remembers another time where Sinema lacked leadership in 2011 when different groups mobilized to successfully recall then state Senate President Rusell Pearce, who spearheaded several anti-immigrant laws, she said. Sinema was criticized at the time for not lending her support for the recall, and a year later told party activists that Pearce was "my boss, and that's why I couldn't get involved," the Phoenix New Times reported.
"She's never paid attention to the voters. Back when we were trying to get Rusell Pearce recalled she wasn't involved because Pearce was her boss. That's ridiculous, your constituents are your boss," Hauflaire said.
Channel Powe, a community leader and former president of the Balz Elementary School District governing board, is also disappointed in Sinema's agenda as a U.S. Senator.
"I used to idolize (Sinema). I used to hang out to that woman's every word," Powe said. "Now, I am ashamed of her."
Powe was featured in a TV ad, part of a $1.5 million ad campaign targeting Sinema that launched on Monday.
Erika Andiola, an immigration rights activist and former staffer for Sinema's congressional office, said important immigration reform is also at the mercy of Republicans senators who can use the filibuster like they did in 2010 to kill comprehensive bipartisan reform that would've provided a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants.
Andiola said she doesn't want that history to repeat in 2021.
"As someone who worked for Sen. Sinema in 2013 as her congressional staffer, I am disappointed she hasn't stepped up," Andiola said.
Andiola's husband, Kai Newkirk, leads a progressive organization called For All and was one of the 10 people arrested Tuesday.
"My husband and nine other Arizonans decided to risk arrest and go to jail today because of democracy," Andiola said.
Deanta Salomon and Judge Williams were driving on Camelback Road after checking out of a resort in Scottsdale when they noticed the protest. They decided to stop to check it out. Salomon and Williams, who are both business owners, said they support the protest to pressure Sinema to end the filibuster.
"It's simple what they are asking," Williams said. "It shouldn't be that hard. What would be the big issue with helping people bounce back?"
Salomon said she can't believe Sinema is still a Democrat. During her 2018 campaign, Sinema said that she wasn't proud to be a Democrat.
"I don't feel like she's for us at all," she said. "I hope she comes around. I hope she does what she needs to do."
Duanish Daudi, 19, of Chandler is a member of the Arizona Students Association and said he came out to the rally to hold Sinema accountable for not ensuring that "legislation that her constituents care about" is passed.
"One of the biggest things is holding our representatives accountable. I want to see a government where our representatives listen to the people," he said. .
Phoenix police said in a statement that 10 people were arrested around 11 a.m., cited for trespassing and released at a nearby police station.
In a press statement released by the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, Newkirk — one of the people arrested — said the group will continue to pressure Sinema.
"The choice our nation faces is clear: we can save democracy and advance justice for all or we can preserve the Jim Crow filibuster," he said. "Like John Lewis and those who fought nonviolently to win the right to vote, we must make 'Good Trouble' now to move Sinema and every Democrat to do what is right and end the filibuster."
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.