Carlos returned to Los Angeles in 1977 whereupon he was immediately arrested and charged with the events related to the Biltmore Hotel fires. In 1979, Carlos and allies formed the Free Carlos Montes Committee. The committee linked his case to the movement to free all political prisoners, such a Geronimo Pratt, a former Black Panther, and the case of two American Indian Movement members, Sky Horse and Mohawk. Eventually, the committee helped acquit him of all charges. Since his return in 1977, Carlos has maintained a strident Chicano revolutionary position fighting for social justice, fighting for better schools, fighting against imperialist wars, and fighting for the full legalization of undocumented Central Americans and Mexicans.
In the late 1990’s, the old Community Service Organization was reorganized into the Centro CSO with a re-commitment to grassroots organizing. Under the leadership of Carlos, the Centro CSO with local parents from Boyle Heights led a Clean Schools Campaign, which won several victories for Bridge Street School and other local schools.
Carlos helped to initiate the “Schools Not War” campaign demanding a new high school in Boyle Heights to relieve the overcrowding at Roosevelt HS, and an end to the military recruitment on campus. Mendez Learning Complex, now built at the corner of First and Mission Street in Boyle Heights, was a victory for the community.
Carlos helped found the “Latinos Against War” group in 2003, which led marches and teach-ins in East LA and supported the city-wide opposition to the war in Iraq and fought against the racist military recruitment in the high schools of young Chicanas/os.
In May 2004, he joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 660 as a field representative organizer where he was assigned to the LA County Health Department were he fought for worker rights and help found the SEIU International Latino Caucus. He was later assigned to the LA-USC Medical Center where he organized Black, Latino and Asian workers to unite and work together to improve working conditions.
In 2004, he help organize and initiate a large march and rally demanding legalization and end to the ICE raids at the 10 year anniversary of the mass protest against the racist Proposition 187 state initiative. Carlos pushed SEIU 660 and other locals to support the March 25th and May 1st mega marches that year for immigrant rights and against the Sensenbrenner Bill that criminalized immigrants. In February 2007, Carlos was fired with 14 other SEIU staff, during the SEIU merger takeover and move to a top-down management, staff run, and management labor cooperation union initiated by Andy Sterns, International President.
Carlos joined the March 25th Coalition in early 2007 and became a full time independent organizer to help organize the May 1st actions for immigrants rights. In 2007, he helped organize several marches, rallies and was arrested for civil disobedience protesting the ICE raids and supporting Elvira Arellano, an immigrant rights leader, who was deported on August 18, 2007.
Carlos is currently active with Latinos Against War, and Fight Back News. He worked on the campaign to defeat McCain and continues to fight for immigration reform and an end to the racist ICE raids. Carlos participated in the major protest march against the Republican National Convention (RNC) on September 1, 2008. As in the 1960s and 1970s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began to infiltrate the march on the RNC Committee and the local Anti-War Committee, which Carlos endorsed and helped mobilize.
In 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s under the auspices of the FBI raided his home in the early morning hours. The assault on Carlos Montes and ultimately on Chicano activists characterized the unending so-called “War on Terror” of the 21st century. As in the past, Carlos stood up against the government’s war on dissent and declared victory in 2012 as the charges against him were ultimately dropped because of community support reminiscent of the days of the Chicano Movement.
Carlos Montes’ story is part of the legacy of Chicano resistance against oppression. It is a reminder that the struggle for self-determination begins at the moment when one is courageous enough to say Ya Basta and begin the process of decolonization not only through study, but through direct participatory action. Although Carlos Montes “bought into the American Dream” as a young Chicano growing up in Los Angeles, he ultimately demonstrated the transformative nature of a growing radical awareness evident among the youth of his generation. Carlos’ struggle for self-determination continues to inspire a new generation of young Chicanas and Chicanos.
Carlos is on the Steering Committee of the Southern California Immigration Coalition and a volunteer organizer with Centro CSO organizing parents to promote public education and to resist the privatization attack by charter schools in East Los Angeles. As a soldado de la raza, Carlos has always remained true to the struggle.
– part of an ongoing series of essays on the Chicano Movement, the Brown Berets, and Chicano Studies as part of my thesis/dissertation.