Alex Kack, also known as ‘Green Shirt Guy,’ reminisces about the day he went viral in Tucson. “I was there with my colleagues from Tucson Families Free and Together and the People’s Defense Initiative. We were there because we are pushing to have this Sanctuary City initiative forward.”
That was back in August. The Sanctuary City Act is an initiative that’s been debated in the City of Tucson since the 1980s when it was credited as the birthplace of the Sanctuary Movement.
“Hi, I’m Alex! We are here with some information about Proposition 205,” Kack would say as he went from house to house trying to get people to add their name to the effort.
“Have you heard about Prop. 205, the sanctuary city campaign? We’re just trying to put some new policies in place here in Tucson. Basically, clarifying when, where and why it’s okay for police to ask about someone’s immigration status.”
Kack pushed for the Sanctuary City Act because he believed it was the right thing to do. Sanctuary Cities across the nation grant undocumented immigrants protection from deportation by municipal law, meaning people can’t be racially profiled and approached by police asking about immigration status.
“We had spent many months gathering all the required signatures from voters to get this on the ballot. And there was a formality that was happening at this city council meeting,” says Kack. “Protestors came in, uh, from Phoenix, a part of a group called the AZ Patriots. You know, armed with Big Gulp sodas and some homemade cardboard signs. And a lot of bad information.”
In the video from August, Kack is seen sitting in the front row of the city council chambers at the end of the meeting. Most of his colleagues had cleared out while the protesters yelled in opposition to the Sanctuary City Initiative, but Kack was amused. In the video, he’s smiling wide as he takes in the protesters standing right behind him.
“It was just utterly absurd to (have this) happen a few inches away from you. It also happened that several local TV crews were there. One of them from KVOA chose to zoom in on my face real fast. And I was laughing at the protestors. He put the clip online, and it took off overnight,” he says.
Kack now had a greater platform to speak about People’s Defense Initiative and the Sanctuary City Act.
He said the first three days of going viral were just insane, completely “mad cap.” In the first 72 hours, he slept a total of seven hours, he was waking up at 3 a.m. to do TV interviews on the East coast and in Canada, interviewing back-to-back until around 7 o’clock. Then, he’d run to a coffee shop, pound some coffee until midnight, working on op-ed articles and other things.
Since his 5 minutes of fame, Kack says that things have calmed down, for the most part.
“I’m not trending on Twitter anymore, but this is still a thing that people know about and they still get excited if they see me getting a cup of coffee or at the grocery store,” says Kack. “I still have almost 60,000 followers on Twitter now and I like to communicate with these people daily.”
He’s been meme’d, hypersexualized, body-shamed, accused of inauthenticity. He knows because he followed what was said of him on social media.
“So there’s the people who are just, like, trolling,” he explains. “You know, kind of the crazy right wingers who like are trying to pick fights. A lot of stuff is hilarious. But there are also crazy conspiracy theories about me. People are saying I was a crisis (like the ones) they’ve used in school shootings. And it’s like, ‘No, I just am a white dude and we all kind of look the same.’”
At one point, someone found his credentials on the internet movie database page IMDB from a couple roles he played in independent films and tried to use it as proof that Kack was a paid actor.
Or, they said it wasn’t a real city council meeting. Or everyone at the meeting were actors.
“To me, I think what that really shows is one, Tucson is kind of a unique community. And there were a lot of people who commented on all there like, ‘Well, there’s people yelling and like, this guy’s laughing and there’s a dude with a banjo and there’s like old ladies singing and like, what the hell is going on here?’” Kack says. “And it’s, you know, for those of us who live here and are involved in the community, well, ‘Welcome to Tucson,’ because this is just a really odd city that attracts odd people. And that’s why we choose to live here is because we’re odd balls.”
Truly, the video is a bit absurd. He’s got this bright lime green polo on and this bushy mustache and his laugh is like one of those big belly ones. He’s seen putting his hand over his chest and is hysterical and maybe a little bit shocked and obnoxious.
Those protesting—the AZ Patriots—are loud, they have large signs, they look pissed off. The whole scene is comical, too absurd for real life, and some people have had a hard time believing the video’s authenticity. But according to Kack, Tucson activists like him are a bunch of odd balls. But they’re also fixated on improving the quality of life for people here, as they see it.
Tucson is a Democratic city in a Republican state, but that doesn’t mean that every door Kack knocks on is going to be met with 100 percent support.
At one house he knocked at, a lady answered who was on the fence about the Sanctuary City Initiative.
“What’s making you lean no, if you don’t mind me asking?” he asked her.
“The funding they’re going to stop for schools,” she replied. Kack asked if she had seen some of the mailer ads that his opponents had been sending out and he took the opportunity to clear up the confusion.
“So I’m going to be honest with you,” he told her. “They can’t cut nothing. So there’s two arguments, right? One is about federal funding, the other is about state. Federal funding, they can’t touch. There’s already 30 cities in the country with these policies,” he added.
Places like California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico.
It was working. The more Kack and her talked in her doorway, the more she began to understand how sanctuary would work for Tucson. So this is what the job is mostly about: listening to voters, hearing their concerns, person-to-person, connecting with strangers with like minds and kind hearts.
Kack tries to explain what may have influenced others’ disparate views. “The Oklahoma City bombing, you know, Clinton’s impeachment, the 2000 election, the Florida recount,” he says. “Then immediately after that you’ve got 9/11, the War in Iraq and then the recession. So our whole like childhood through adolescence (and into) early adulthood was shaped by these kind of negative American experiences and this almost waning of the whole American century.” It was hard for him not to be activated to act, he says, watching all of that.
He’s angry that people have stopped caring, and that people take advantage of other people, and he’s angry at the current radicalization and the lack of compassion and ignorance.
On Nov. 5 at the People’s Defense Initiative watch party at the St. Charles Tavern in Tucson, activists had to tell their friends and family and fellow sanctuary city supporters that they just lost. Their 11-month battle had lost by 71 percent.
“So I have good news and I have bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?” asked PDI director, Zaira Livier, as the audience laughed.
“The good news is we’re incredibly good looking,” she joked.
“Even right now, as we have lost an electoralcampaign, I tell you, we are the luckiest people to have the honor in 2019 to take a stand when our elected officials and the highest and mightiest progressives, as they call themselves in this city, failed each and every one of us,” said Livier.
As Livier gave interviews with local media, Kack made his way out into the parking lot. I asked him what was going through his head.
“There’s power in people and I think, win or lose … we showed that you can’t count people out and when people band together and they stand together and they take a stand, that they can do something really truly special,” he told me. “And it’s not the end. Never stops!”
Check out the complimentary piece to get the other side of the story, told by Jennifer Harrison, leader of the AZ Patriots.