Submitted on Sun, 04/16/2006 - 8:21pm
By Dean Dempsey; photo by Walter Parenteau - Industrial Worker, May 2006.
It is estimated that over 2 million people participated in marches, walk-outs, demonstrations and other forms of expression as part of the National Day of Action in support of immigrant justice and to eminently oppose anti-immigrant legislation. The bills presently under debate in the U.S. Senate promise to charge the roughly 12 million undocumented migrants as felons and criminalize churches, day labor centers, humanitarian aid organizations and other individuals who help or have established relations with those without papers. HR4437 alone has been considered one of the most repressive anti-immigrant legislation in over 70 years, attacking not only community groups in association, but primarily workers of color.
Actions occurred all across the country, from Arizona to New York, from Alabama to here in California’s Bay Area. Momentum for this new movement for immigrant rights and amnesty to all those undocumented is growing, and is being called the next civil rights movement.
An example of the daily resistance in the San Francisco Bay Area was on March 21, as approximately 50 people gathered outside the San Francisco Federal Building to take part in a week long hunger strike in protest of HR4437. Camped outside for 24 hours a day, one participant was an IWW member displaying the Wobbly banner outside of her tent. When fellow worker Patricia Nuno was asked why she was involved in this hunger strike, she said, “I have been inspired by the IWW and our historic and current organizing for a more dignified reality for immigrants and all the workers of the world, and I still want to take it even further. I participated as a first generation in this country, and as a Wobbly, showing my solidarity to all the immigrants who live without rights and are fighting for equality.”
Following weeks of walk-outs, hunger strikes and protests, the Bay Area was another contingent in the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice. The local April 10th event was organized by Compañeros Del Barrio (or Friends of the Community), a local organization in the Bay Area. We began to congregate at the 16th street train station, in San Francisco’s heavily Mexican, Central and South American working class Mission District, in a rally with various public speakers.
At the starting rally, the crowd stood at about 1,500 people (over a dozen of whom were Wobblies), pouring onto the streets that we would soon take for our march. The crowd was heavily enthusiastic, and among their various chants was: “!Las calles son de la gente, la gente donde esta, la gente esta en las calles demandando libertadad!” (“The streets are of the people, and the people, where are they? The people are on the streets, demanding liberty!”) People of all ages, races, genders and industries attended the event, carrying American, Mexican, anarchist and various Central and South American flags, along with thoughtful and straight-forward signs that expressed both the frustration and will of immigrants and their allies. The overwhelming demand of the crowd was for the general amnesty of all those undocumented, and for some, the abolition of the border, seeing it as an arbitrary division that divides working people. The message was clear: No to all forms of repressive anti-immigrant legislation; No to the militarization of the U.S. and Mexican Border; and No to the assertion that any people be deemed “illegal.” The public response was overwhelmingly positive. On this movement for immigrant justice, fellow worker Walter Parenteau says, “I think there’s a great comparison to be made between the civil rights movement and what seems to be happening today. In both situations we have a silenced and frustrated minority. As in the civil rights movement, undocumented workers are finding their voice through solidarity and organizing.”
When reaching our destination, our numbers had swelled to well over 2,500 people, as those in the busy Mission street decided to join us. We ended at another train station, entirely occupying the intersection for over two hours during rush-hour traffic. An entertaining alternative to the speaker’s platform was provided by Aztecan dancers, who moved rhythmically to a drum’s intonation. Inside this circle of dancers were not only those who were well-practiced (seniors and children alike), but others who simply wanted to participate. This ceremonial dancing provided an optimistic air, energizing the crowd into chants and discussion.
Shortly after 7 p.m., the police dispersed the crowd with threats of arrest. However, Fuga, a cumbia-influenced music group, spontaneously converged on the street corner, carrying on the celebratory atmosphere of music. Their music dealt with issues that were personal to the crowd, many of whom were immigrants themselves. They played moving songs about the struggles faced by the international worker, the deadly border and the life of the migrant. The crowd made up of marchers, jornaleros, and those lucky enough to be walking past, clapped their hands and sang along to the poignant but empowering music.
The next National Day of Action is being led by a coalition of immigrant right’s groups, and will occur May 1, the international day of worker’s struggle. They are calling for “A Day Without an Immigrant,” a day in which immigrants and their allies are encouraged to boycott work, school and the economy, to demonstrate just how important the immigrant communities of America are. Updates can be found on http://www.immigrantrights.org.
As this new civil rights movement continues to materialize, it is developing in different directions. A conflict in the Bay Area, and perhaps elsewhere, has been over the use of flags, particularly national flags. For some, the Mexican, Central and South American flags create potential conflict, fearing that it can be seen as proof of the alleged “invasion” to anti-immigrant fundamentalists. The same people generally encourage demonstrators to carry American flags. Although this particular use of the American flag is much different than the way in which for example, the Minutemen, have used it, it is still problematic to some. But the U.S. flag remains a symbol heavily utilized in the immigrant rights movement, and is clearly not used to demonstrate imperialist sentiment, but rather to express how such a large number of American people (with or without papers) have a vital role in the American economy and want to be treated as full citizens with full rights.
However, many groups, such as Deporten a la Migra (Deport the INS/ICE) based out of San Francisco, do not ask their supporters to carry a U.S. or other national flag. Other groups have supported the red and black workers’ flag to represent not a nation, but rather a people united through their class for the liberty and self-determination of all workers, regardless of the land they call home.