An account by Mike Hargis of the 2006 May Day immigration protests, which was one of the largest nationwide demonstrations in American history.
It was so incredible: I never saw the beginning of the march, nor the end. I didn’t hear one speech and never even made it to the Loop where the march was supposed to end. There was just this sea of humanity gathered in the streets, flowing in the same direction with the same object in mind: defeat the new, draconian immigration bill known as “The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005” (HR4437).
On March 10 at least 300,000 people took the day off work or school and converged in Chicago’s Loop to protest this bill, which would turn undocumented workers into “aggravated criminal felons” and those who assist them, such as priests and nurses (and unionists) into criminals as well for “aiding and abetting” them. The bill passed the House of Representatives just before Christmas, it is currently being debated in the Senate.
While the crowd was predominantly Latino there were also substantial contingents of Polish, Irish, Korean, Arab and other immigrant communities.
Chanting “¡Si, se puede!” (Yes, it can be done) and “¡El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!” (The People United Will Never be Defeated), factory workers, dishwashers, carpenters, high school students and even small shop-keepers marched from Union Park two miles into the Loop. They carried hand-lettered signs saying: “We are America,” “My Mexican immigrant son died in Iraq,” “I’m a dishwasher – not a criminal” and “Don’t deport my parents.”
More than 100 factories in the Chicago area shut down for the day because so many workers had told their bosses that they were planning on taking the day of for “the general strike,” according to Jose Artemio Arreola of the Coalition Against HR4437.
The predominant colors of the day, however, were red, white and blue as U.S. flags were evident everywhere. There was even one small group who insisted on chanting “USA, USA.” (Were they being ironic, I wonder?) Undoubtedly many were eager to show their fellow Americans that they were just as patriotic as them – that all they wanted was to work, pay their taxes, raise their families and partake of the American Dream. “We are all America” and “We Pay Taxes” were other signs in evidence.
At the rally at the Federal Building local Democratic Party bigwigs spoke to those who were actually able make it there. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Mayor “Little Dick” Daley, Senator Dick Durbin and Congressmen Bobbie Rush and Luis Gutierrez all denounced the pending legislation noting that the city of Chicago was build by immigrant labor. Employers are undoubtedly concerned that this legislation will cut into their profit margins by depriving them of low-wage labor and the politicians want those Latino votes.
A small group of the anti-immigrant Illinois Minuteman Project held a press conference in Grant Park at 10:00 a.m. Their Latina-token front, Rosanna Pulido, declared, “I don’t care if there’s three million people out there, if they are illegal they do not have a voice in America.” What a putz!
The Chicago GMB voted at our March 3 meeting to endorse the protest, at the request of Union Latina. Unfortunately, we were not able to mobilize a visible contingent in so short a time. A call was sent to our e-list to meet up at the edge of Union Park but when I got there with my IWW flag there were already so many people it was impossible to find any other Wobs. Several people, however, did ask me what IWW meant. When I informed them that it was “Trabajadores Industriales del Mundo, mi sindicato” they nodded in appreciation.
March 10 was the largest workers’ demonstration in Chicago history. Not since 80,000 workers marched down Michigan Avenue in 1886 to demand an 8-hour workday has there been such a demonstration of solidarity in the streets of the Windy City. Still, in many ways, it was a conservative movement, aimed at preserving the chance at the American Dream for this new wave of immigrants that was enjoyed by those of past generations. On the other, hand it graphically showed the potential power of immigrant labor when united in a common cause.
Hopefully efforts to organize immigrant labor in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs will be given a boost by this show of solidarity. It should certainly awaken local Wobs up to the need to strengthen our connections to immigrant workers.
Originally appeared in Industrial Worker (April 2006)