First, a confession. I wasn’t at the May Day rally yesterday in the park across from Crown Center. I had thought about taking the kids, but the continual rain, the swine flu scare, my son’s newness with potty training, and the general hassle of entertaining three young children during long political speeches kept me away. Instead, we went to the library and then had Friday afternoon playtime. So, obviously, when I saw the pictures and the report in the paper this morning (the actual paper, since we’re staying at my in-laws’ this weekend), I was remorseful, guilty, and sad.
Three years ago, I was pregnant with my oldest son on May 1, 2006, and I had a table set up at the May Day rally at Liberty Memorial. Estimates of crowd attendance are always wildly inaccurate, but I would say that there were at least 5,000 people there over the course of the afternoon. It poured rain at the very end, and my leaders had to help me throw all of our stuff into the back of my car (I wasn’t moving too quickly by then!). I registered dozens of voters, saw hundreds of friends and acquaintances, and celebrated the successful event with my very good friend Martha Ramirez, whose grassroots group, Sons and Daughters of Immigrants, organized the event and did most of the turnout work.
Even then, though, I had a sense/fear that the unprecedented mobilization of the immigrant rights movement was waning somewhat–this was the third local rally in about 6 weeks, and while the turnout was still impressive, the overall energy seemed a bit lower than at the first two events. There was an understandably growing frustration that the millions of people on the street around the country had not produced the legislative victory they demanded, and many of us organizers were struggling to explain how rallying against something (HR4437 and its overreaches) was, in many ways, much easier than actually winning a legislative victory (which necessarily requires compromise and negotiation) through mass action. Messages that exhorted people to come out in order to win comprehensive immigration reform left little room for the subtleties of legislative process, though, and so some felt disillusioned and even misled.
Now, three years later, the immigrant rights ‘movement’ (there is considerable debate as to whether such a movement actually exists as such) is struggling somewhat to find its message. The flyers for yesterday’s rally call for immigration reform, but no one is exactly in agreement about what such reform should look like, nor is it anywhere on Congress’ radar screen for the next year (which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working on it, just that legislative victories are likely a bit in the future). They also reference student adjustment, which has a more optimistic legislative prognosis in the near term but lacks some of the mass appeal of other issues, since it targets immigrant youth rather narrowly. And, likely in an effort to capitalize on the May Day tie-in and to bring much-needed support from organized labor, they also reference the Employee Free Choice Act, which is vital legislation that would at least begin to make labor organizing a fair game in this country, but which lacks any sense of urgency among the undocumented immigrants who made up the core of the thousands in the rallies three years ago.
None of this is meant as any criticism of those who organized yesterday’s event. Remember, my life has changed to such an extent that I wasn’t even there. Instead, seeing these photos in the paper caused me to pause, and to remember, and to hope that, collectively, those of us who believe that doing the right thing for immigrants in this country would help to restore our democracy, rebuild our communities, and redeem the promise of the American Dream will, together, strike a chord with the American people and give us something around which to rally.