NYC May Day Pro-Migrant Rally Recap - We are shaken, but not defeated
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
The low numbers, then, are a clear indication that the
restrictionists--backed squarely by the
The rally began on Thursday, May 1, around 4:00 p.m. at
Having stupidly left my camera in
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
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
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
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
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 . . .
"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
rally. New York
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!"
is much work still to be done.