A marvelous May Day here in Los Angeles on Monday. Nobody knows the real count, but something like another half million
or more came out for two competing but complimentary pro-immigrant rallies (my colleague Jon Wiener sorts out
the difference between the two).
I went to the afternoon march and rally supported by the larger institutional players -- organized labor and the pro-immigrant NGO's. The march stretched for miles down the central L.A. thoroughfare of Wilshire Blvd. and culminated with some speeches from the local Catholic cardinal as well as from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (see some of my pictures here
). The Mayor had originally planned to be in Dallas to plead for an NFL franchise, but Mayor Tony has great political instincts. And instead of being a no-show, he stole the show, waving a big American flag and saying how proud he was to be the mayor of all who stood before him in the streets.
I found the entire day-long experience invigorating and rife with the exuberant optimism
that has marked this movement since its public eruption less than six weeks ago -- after all, these are people who are pleading to be included in the American Dream. With what dishonesty and malice do some commentators refer to these demos as "pro-illegal immigration." Quite to the contrary, the demonstrators are asking to become legal, to come out of the shadows and to be recognized for their work.
I had expressed some discomfort last week with that fringe faction of the movement pushing for a boycott. I thought then and continue to believe that a call to boycott clouds the overall message of wanting immigration reform. But the huge turn-out for Monday's protests rendered these nuances fairly irrelevant and, further, I was pleased that the bigger of the two events in Los Angeles was that which did not explicitly endorse the boycott.
Difficult to say what the economic impact of Monday's events were (another reason to oppose a one day boycott). Anecdotally, I can report that along a couple of main avenues I cruised in predominantly Latino South Central L.A., most of the shops and corner markets were shuttered by mid-day. Press reports estimate that 90% of the truckers who service the Port of Los Angeles also stopped work. And about three times the average of 25,000 LAUSD students strayed from classes.
A dazzling discipline, both organizationally and morally, allowed these massive events to come off in absolute tranquility and serenity. One more sign that we are dealing with hard-working people with a very clear notion of what they want. No disturbances, no violence, no arrests. Behind the lines I spent some time with the LAPD field command who were in a mellow and relaxed mode. One Latino sergeant told me: "All's cool. This is what America is all about." The mood among the guys and gals in blue was so mellow I expected that at any moment the lazing cops were about to whip out some bongs.
One aspect that made Monday's march so attractive, at least to me, is that this was an authentic demonstration of workers, for workers and by workers. So many other protests are, to tell the truth, lightly disguised acts of noblesse oblige
-- middle-class and student activists demonstrating on behalf of this or that other group, or for some abstract cause. How refreshing it was, then, to be among scores of thousands of ordinary people protesting on their own behalf. No need for the usual paraphernalia of your standard lefty march. No giant puppets. No freaky costumes and face paint. None of the self-indulgent counter-cultural poses and postures. No Radical Cheerleaders, thank God. Not a single Free Mumia poster. No sad sacks hawking copies of the Revolutionary Worker
. And, best of all, no endless roster of professional activist speakers on the dais shouting out their single-issue slogans, nor a gaggle of frustrated and self-righteous movie stars hogging the mikes.
The only two celebrity speakers were the Cardinal and the Mayor. The handful of other speakers were anonymous workers and students offering peer-to-peer testimonies to the audience. And all of the rally logistics and security in the able hands of unionized janitors, security guards and hotel workers thanks to volunteers from the SEIU and HERE-UNITE.
The operative slogan was: Today We March. Tommorrow We Vote. I think this third wave of pro-immigrant demos will underline that point. I also continue to believe that while those who already have a beef with immigrants will only harden their attitudes, the political momentum is still building for the "pro" forces. Monday's demos contributed to that cause. There will be more to come.
In my incarnation as a USC Annenberg Senior Fellow for Justice and Journalism I did quite a bit of media interviews around Monday's events. Here is the link
to the nationally syndicated To The Point
public radio show where I go mano a mano
with a leading anti-immigrant gasbag.
Kudos to the L.A. Times
which has ginned up an immigration blog.