NYC May Day Pro-Migrant Rally Recap - We are shaken, but not defeated

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Here are my belated scattered observations from the May Day rally at Union Square in New York City last week. 

This was the first May Day march I had participated in.  It was a lot of fun, and emotionally and (in a strictly secular way :-)   ) spiritually uplifting, but I kind of felt like I had missed the party.  I heard about crowds exponentially larger in 2006 and substantially larger last year.  But apparently, frustration in the pro-migrant community with the lack of progress toward comprehensive reform and fear instilled by widescale raids over the past year-and-a-half had combined to ratchet down participation in this year's march.  (With my own eyeballs, I estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 marchers--not something you see every day parading down Broadway, but certainly not the numbers seen in recent years.)  It's a shame, because things are about as bad now as they've ever been for migrants in the U.S.  It's a shame, because the "Operation Return to Sender" raids that have terrorized migrant communities across the country were a direct response to the restrictionist backlash resulting from the remarkable pro-migrant rallies of early 2006.  DHS Secretary Chertoff has explained that the raids are a tool to push businesses and migrant groups towards a comprehensive solution.  It's also part of the "enforcement by attrition" policy promoted by restrictionists and adopted in recent years by the Bush administration.  If Bush is a pro-migrant president, he sure has a funny way of showing it. 

The low numbers, then, are a clear indication that the restrictionists--backed squarely by the U.S. government--currently have the upper hand in the public square.  But that's not the whole story by any means . . .  

The rally began on Thursday, May 1, around 4:00 p.m. at Union Square in Manhattan.  Around 5:45 p.m., those in attendance began marching down Broadway toward One Police Plaza near City Hall downtown.  I believe the terminus was selected as a symbolic statement against the Sean Bell murder and recent verdict acquitting all the officers.  What went unsaid, at least to my ears, was the fact that One Police Plaza sits kitty corner from 26 Federal Plaza, the main federal immigration building in New York City.  ICE, USCIS, and the immigration court are all located there.  I'm sure this didn't escape the attention of some of the marchers, who must have been there at one time or another trying to resolve their own immigration matters or those of family members. 

Having stupidly left my camera in Utah last weekend, I have no protest pictures to share.  But check out Kai's photos from the rally for a taste of what it was like.  Also see this video from the rally in (I think) L.A. at A Dream Deferred.

The marchers were a wonderful motley band of people who shared a feeling that something is not right in our country today and it is up to us to do something about it.  There was a contingent of New Yorkers protesting the Sean Bell verdict.  There was a hipster marching band clad in green, with dancers sans flags or rifles.  There were Koreans chanting along with the other marchers in Spanish: "Sí, se puede!" and "Somos obreros, no criminales!" and "El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!"  There was a group of black-clad, black-flag waving, tight-pants-wearing anarchists, a few of whom carried a banner asserting "Government Is Violence."  There were several Central American community groups from around New York City, including Centro Hispano Cuzcatlán from Queens

The GOP talks about a big tent, but only on the left will you actually find such a disparate, diverse collection of people all marching in common cause.  Of all the people present, though, I estimated that between 70 and 80% were affiliated with the pro-migrant movement and had come to protest our unjust immigration system. 

It was impossible to ignore the heavy police presence.  Taken on their own, the police would have comprised by far the largest single group at the march, numbering in the hundreds.  The NYPD have certainly not always treated protesters well at past rallies (Nezua can tell you more about that than I can), but I was impressed by the neutral and professional way the police handled this march.  Their sole purpose appeared to be to keep marchers from getting run over by frustrated drivers or from overrunning the sidewalks.  They were more human buffers than law enforcement officers, at least for the hour or so it took to walk from Union Square to One Police Plaza.  Now the anarchists present might note that such a massive show of force always has a larger purpose, that the threat of state violence inherent in the presence of so many police officers undermined, possibly irreparably, whatever puny message the protesters were trying to communicate.  I'll note that argument but set it aside for another day.

There were a number of people handing out fliers for one cause or another, many migration-related, some not.  A woman gave me a PETA flier and explained that the meat industry is one of the migrant-heavy industries with the fewest protections for workers and the most dangerous working conditions.  Fair enough--as a vegetarian, that is an argument I find compelling.  But the animal slaughtering industry also employs a large number of migrants, helping them feed their families, and, as my (also vegetarian) wife later pointed out, some of the worst abuses of migrants have come in fruit and vegetable-picking operations. 

I brought fliers as well--fliers promoting the Rapid Response Network hotline for immigrants to call when ICE is knocking at the door to better assert their constitutional rights (fliers in English and Spanish (pdfs)).  I learned that flyering is a learned skill like any other.  It's more effective when people are moving and you are standing still, not when you are moving and they are standing still.  Handing out fliers, even to probably the most sympathetic target audience possible, as was the case at the rally, still involves a kind of missionary zeal that brought back uncomfortable memories of tracting with the LDS missionaries on "splits" as a teenager.  But once I got my feet wet and saw how interested people were in what I had to tell them, I felt much more at ease evangelizing for immigration reform and peaceful resistance than I ever had for a religion that always seemed two steps out of my grasp . . .

At Union Square, one young man handed me a single page and mentioned that it contained a speech that he had been able to read part of from the podium.  His name was Fausto Sicha, and he must have spoken to a reporter, because his words were picked up in this Reuters article. 

"It's too late for this president to do anything on immigration reform. We're looking to press the next president hard," Fausto Sicha, 27, an Ecuadorean student, said at the New York rally.

Agreed.  Here's what was written on the page he gave me.

Two years ago we started writing a new page in the history of this country.  It was on May 1st 2006 that thousands of immigrants, a number much larger than you can see around the country today, went to the streets and with a firm and a strong voice demanded an immigration reform.  Two years later that dream remains to be achieved.  Two years later that movement seems to be vanishing, seems to be falling a part. 

Being aware of this reality I came here my friend to ask you some questions.  Are we going to give up now?  Or are we going to go ahead despite our challenges?  Are we going to wait for Congress to do something?  Or are we going to do something and push Congress to come up with an immigration reform that will bring us out from the shadows into the light?  What are we going to do my friends?  What are we going to do?  I will ask all of you to follow the example of Martin Luther King, Jr.--do not give up now. 

Do not give up now even if this fight means that your liberty is in jeopardy.  Do not give up now, the fact that we don't see the light does not mean that we are not going to get there.  Do not give up now, there is no future in the shadows, there is no hope of a better life if we don't have the papers to go to school, and there is no liberty to live as human beings if we don't have our residence. 

. . . I am also aware that you my friends from the media, have done little or nothing to help us.  Do you see these people around you?  Do you see these people standing beside me?  Look at them.  Do you see their hands?  Are they the hands of someone who lives from the welfare system or someone who works hard?  Do you see their bodies?  Are those the bodies of someone who lives from the welfare system or someone who works hard?  Do you see their faces?  And what do you see there?  I see suffering.  I see pain.  I see fear.  But I also see courage, and I see that they believe that one day we will win this fight. 

I stand with Fausto. 

On the streets, the movement appears weak and faltering.  But online, underground, in migrant communities around the country and in their support networks abroad, in churches and community centers, in homes, in the hearts of those not willing to submit to fear and ignorance, not content to settle for a life without dignity, the movement está creciendo--it is growing!  A powerful new pro-migrant website, the Sanctuary, is one manifestation of this growing movement.  

And even in decreased numbers, under siege from every side, migrants rallied last week to say, "We are here and we will be heard!  We will be respected!"  

But there is much work still to be done. 

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kyledeb said:

I would even go further than you yave. I would say it's amazing that so many people went out to march on May Day, considering all the repression they've had to go through. The U.S. government has spent billions suppressing the pro-migrant movement, not to mention the terrorism of nativist U.S. citizens. The fact that thousands showed up, should be reported as strength, not as weakness, like it has been in the media. Still working on my May Day thoughts.

Fausto Sicha said:

Dear Yave, thank you so much for quoting my words I am honored to have someone who actually read my speech, and just in case my position about immigration is not clear or unknown this is what I think about it;

I am an immigrant, and I believe that the right of a man to emigrate from one country to another, is one which belongs to him by his own constitution and by every principle of justice. It is one which no law can alter and no authority destroy.

We will win this fight, believe it, we will win it.
Fausto Sicha

symsess said:

Thanks for the great write-up yave. I thought one of the most powerful moments was when the Native Indian group performed. Their sound left me in awe of the beauty of the Earth and everyone around me. When we marched it felt as though we were being heard. I was proud to be there and I'm proud to be here.

Thanks to everyone who works to get the message out and my heart goes out to all of those affected by injustice everyday. We will win.


Crissy said:

Really detailed post-- much appreciated. We are trying to rally as much as we can now online to give our side a strong voice, but it also important to physically get out there to show that people are for the movement for human rights and due process for all immigrants.

Thanks for your post,


Ummi said:

Hi all. There are admirable potentialities in every human being. Believe in your strength and your youth. Learn to repeat endlessly to yourself, 'It all depends on me.'
I am from Antigua and learning to write in English, give true I wrote the following sentence: "Our goal is to provide you with flea pest control options for the health, safety.Shop a real flea market with real flea market prices the jj flea market is not just another market enjoy fine food in the flea bite cafe, authentic."

Thank you very much :D. Trula.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on May 4, 2008 11:46 PM.

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