The Immigrant Rights Movement erupted March 10 when 300,000 immigrants paralyzed the city of Chicago for an afternoon to protest HR 4437. The march stretched for two miles and was one of Chicagos largest demonstrations ever.
Its success was due in large part to months of intense organizing. Activists rented out all available buses to transport immigrants into Chicago from surrounding areas and the event was widely publicized on local Spanish-speaking radio stations.
The character of the rally was decidedly working class. Thousands left work to join the march. As Alex Garcia, who walked off the job with ten co-workers said, Most people dont realize how much work we do Today theyll understand.
Thousands of students also joined in on the rally by walking out of their schools. If the law passes, up to 3 million legal children of immigrants could be separated from their parents. Chicago high school student, Josue Martinez, voiced his concern saying, Were here supporting our parents and our parents parents, who came here and worked hard.
The march was extremely energetic with numerous people carrying signs saying things like No Human Being is Illegal, My Mexican Immigrant Son Died in Iraq, and Im a Dishwasher, Not a Criminal while chants of ¡Si, se puede! (Yes we Can!) thundered through the crowd.
The Chicago protesters inspired millions of immigrants to follow their example in the weeks that followed.
On March 24, 80,000 Latino workers in Georgia took part in a statewide strike and boycott called the Day of Dignity. Josefa Esquea expressed the sentiment of these workers saying, We work hard and do our jobs and want to be appreciated. Were tired of living in the shadows. The striking workers were again joined by thousands of students who walked out of school.
One day later, on March 25, the movement reached new heights when 1,000,000 participated in La Gran Marcha in Los Angeles. Entire families filled the streets, doves were released, and thousands stood along freeway overpasses in what was one of the largest protests in U.S. history. It was so huge, mini-demonstrations involving thousands popped up on the fringes because the main area was full.
Students continued protesting after La Gran Marcha. On Monday, March 27, 25,000-40,000 students walked out of 52 separate schools in the largest of dozens of walkouts throughout the country during the week. Some schools even put students on lockdown, but that didnt stop them.
High school student Jasmine Chavez explains, Our teachers put us on lockdown So I — personally, I jumped the fence. I heard later on that they opened the gates, because they just couldn’t hold the students in.
These massive protests led to the April 10 national day of action. The event was preceded by a gigantic rally on April 9 of 500,000 in Dallas, the largest in the citys history. On April 10 up to two million protested in over 120 U.S. cities and towns. Organizers estimate that 100,000 rallied in Washington D.C., 100,000 in Phoenix, 100,000 in Atlanta, and even places like Omaha, Nebraska drew 12,000.
The power and breadth of the Immigrant Rights Movement has forced politicians to take notice. Sam Brownback, one of the most reactionary U.S. Senators (R-KA), said, Everybody sees the immigrant community as an emerging force they dont want to be on the wrong side, politically, of this group. Due to the massive protests, HR 4437 was effectively dead on arrival in the Senate as more moderate bills appeared on the table.
What can we learn from these historic developments? For years, we have heard the argument that U.S. workers are hopelessly conservative; that militant mass action is a luxury that only middle class students can afford but that the poor cannot take such risks; and that change only happens slowly and gradually by working within the system.
Reality has now delivered quite a blow to these claims. The immigrant rights movement has clearly shown that mass struggle is entirely possible in the U.S, and that it is the oppressed and the working class who are the most willing and capable of fighting. When they move into struggle they have a seemingly inexhaustible willingness to sacrifice. No degree of repression can ultimately hold back a people from rising up.
The recent demonstrations some of the biggest in U.S. history have demonstrated how mass struggles can rapidly emerge, sometimes in a matter of days and weeks. This eruption, however, was the product of a gradual accumulation of grievances from lifetimes of exploitation and racism. HR 4437 was only a catalyst, triggering the transformation of this accumulated anger into an explosion of mass protest.
The movement has demonstrated that change is possible and that determined mass struggle can force the ruling class to make concessions. The mega-protests have rocked the political establishment and sealed the fate of HR 4437, forcing the politicians to try and deliver some reforms to appease our demands. But we will not stop fighting until we win full and equal rights for all immigrants and justice for all working people!
Highpoints of the Immigrant Rights Movement
Chicago: 300,000 protesters
Los Angeles: 1,000,000
Atlanta: 80,000 strike/boycott
Detroit & Grand Rapids: 50,000+
Plus Dozens More Cities and Towns
Student Walkouts March 27-29
Los Angeles: 25,000-40,000 (3/27); 6,000 (3/28)
San Diego: 1,000 (3/27); 3,000 (3/28)
Smaller Walkouts All Week in Dozen More Cities and Towns
New York: 500,000
Washington, DC: 100,000
San Diego: 100,000
St. Paul, MN: 40,000
Protests in Over 120 Cities and Towns