For some reason, San Diego had its “April 10 National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice” yesterday, on April 9. Folks were gathering in Balboa Park, the starting point for many of the larger protests in the city. By the time I arrived, it was already about four times larger than any other protest I’d seen in the park. And apparently I hadn’t gotten the memo that everyone was supposed to wear white (”for peace”, I guess).
Lotta flags, too. I’d say about 55% American flags, 50% Mexican flags, 5% flags that I mostly couldn’t recognize (”Trinidad? North Korea? Transylvania?”). Lots of pairings of Mexican and American flags. Obviously, the protest organizers wanted to dodge all the criticism that previous protests got for all the Mexican flags (I’m still baffled about that one). I think that the Mexican flags at the student walkouts were more of a show of defiance of Anglo racism, but I think that the Mexican flags at this protest were a show of strength: “look how many of us are here. You can’t ignore us.”
The most popular signs were variations on the title of this post. “We are not criminals”. “Working is not a crime.” “I grow your food, I cook your dinner, I clean your home and you call me a criminal?” I do not know how many of these people were illegal immigrants, legal workers, or citizens, but I think they know the score: mainstream dialogue gets this issue so twisted up with race that an “anti-illegal immigrant” bill will in reality look like an anti-latino bill, whether those latinos are in the country legally or not.
“Official” estimates say that between 50,000-100,000 people attended the march. All I know is that whenever I moved off to the side to watch the crowd go by, I was unable to see the tail end. I mean, on two occasions I stepped aside and watched for 20 minutes, and couldn’t even see the end of the march. The San Diego Union-Tribune says that it’s the largest local protest since the Vietnam war, even surpassing 1994’s “March for Jesus” event, which drew up to 40,000 (sigh).
I saw a single counter-protester, at the beginning of the march. A tall white older man, with an overly wordy sign that tried to be clever, but the “deport all illegals” on the back was pretty simple. I kinda wanted to tell him to go home (”you’re kinda outnumbered”), or go argue with him, but I decided to leave him to his jackassery. He wasn’t hurting anybody, he wasn’t persuading anybody, let him stand there and get sunburnt. Towards the end of the march, someone told me that there were about 50 counter-protesters a few streets over, waving signs, and playing Madonna music for some ungodly reason.
Took some pictures with my camera phone, but I’m still not sure how to transfer them to a usable form. And hell, why look at those when you can look at these instead.
Have I mentioned how many kids were at this event? Not only teenagers who might’ve been walking out of class in the past few weeks, but children. Toddlers on dad’s shoulders, ten-year olds holding hands and chanting “Si se puede!” whenver possible, babies in blankets. I don’t even know how many times someone accidentally rammed me from behind with a stroller (yes I do. Eight). I was also greatly amused by the excited young men who kept trying to get the marchers to do “the wave”, like a crowd at a sporting event. “La ola! WhoooOOOOOooooaaaah!!” It never worked, but it cracked me up every time.
My favorite sign was the one aimed at the would-be border vigilantes known as The Minutemen. It read something like “Minutemen, go work your own fields!” My second favorite was the one that read:
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Fugitive Slave Act of 1793″
Pretty clever. Three race-based attempts to control American labor.
Once we reached the end of the march, the rally and speeches began. As further evidence of my belief that political actions need to have the people doing and not watching, folks left by the hundreds once we arrived. I’ve noticed this again and again, marches that lost all enthusiasm and momentum once people start speaking from a stage, telling us what we all already know. The most interesting alternative strategy I’ve heard of is to have a short rally, and then arm the crowd with flyers and leaflets. Small groups then head out in every direction passing out flyers, putting up posters, and talking with strangers about the issue. I’ve heard this idea proposed several times, but have never seen it in action. Maybe someday I will.
So after our 2-mile march, we all had to walk back and get our cars. For irony’s sake, I made sure to walk through Little Italy, the home of yesteryear’s despised immigrant class. At one point, our mob had to cross some traintracks, but the barriers were down and bells ringing… but there were no trains coming. We waited and waited, and anytime someone tried to cross several cops and train officials would stop them and send them back to wait. I can’t be the only one who saw the parallels.
I would like to also mention that part of the amazing success of these immigrants’ rights protests (besides the intensely personal nature of the issue, of course), is due to the participation of the mainstream Spanish-language media. Local Spanish-language radio stations and their popular radio personalities across the country all plugged the events, talking about how important there were. Stations dropped their competition briefly to all promote the protests (a pretty rare thing), Spanish television talked about them, newspapers, you name it. Reminds you how powerful the media can be, and why we’re all struggling to influence it.