'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

National Day of Action for Immigrants' Rights (Sacramento): "We Want to Stay Together" 

Yesterday, I participated in the march and rally in support of immigrants' rights in Sacramento. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 people marched to the State Capitol, and through the downtown, in one of the largest protests seen here since Governor Pete Wilson vetoed a gay rights bill, Assembly Bill 101, back in the mid-1990s.

I went over to Southside Park, a gathering place near the interchange for Interstates 5 and 80, about a mile from the Capitol, around 10:00 a.m. For me, it is an evocative location. After struggling through the recession of the mid-1970s, my mother and stepfather were finally able to purchase a home in this lower middle income neighborhood, and lived there until they retired and moved to Nevada. It was, and remains, multiethnic. Before World War II, it was a predominately Japanese American neighborhood. Internment uprooted many of these families and dispersed them.

Upon arrival, I encountered a crowd of about 500 people, predominately, but not exclusively, Latino, and the mood was festive as the organizers attempted to speak to the crowd. The sound system was poor, and I was not able to discern what many of the speakers said, so my attention waundered, and I observed people, many of them families with their children, trickling into the park down walkways in groups of 3, 4 or 6.

They were not activists, but, rather, day laborers, farmworkers, warehouse workers, construction workers, and vendors, along with students, social workers and teachers. And, while they were happy to be together in solidarity, they were angry at the intention of House Republicans to criminalize them and deport them. One common sign read, NO SOY CRIMINAL, and I couldn't help but be amazed at the absurdity of it.

They had built much of this country in the last 50 years, performing some of the most dangerous, physically demanding work, with corporations profitting immensely from their labor, and some had even fought for it, leaving friends behind in the killing fields of Korea, Vietnam and, now, Iraq, but the House Republicans want to arrest them, detain them, perhaps indefintely, in new facilities built by Halliburton, naturally, until they can be expelled.

A country that makes war on Arabs and Muslims is now facing the prospect of initiating a conflict with a substantial portion of its working class. And, so, they were, to quote the title of an Gloria Estefan song, an apparent emerging anthem of the movement, "Coming Out of the Dark". One of the most charming moments was when 4 high school students arrived in the park with a large, simple, crude, spraypainted card board sign, cut into sections. One student was white, one was Latino, one was Asian and the other was black, and each stood, held out a piece, and fit the sign together, until it read, WE ARE THE SAME. It was powerful and spontaneous, all the more so because of its black on brown card board simplicity.

Looking back, I can imagine the four of them together at one of their families' houses earlier that morning, with one of them saying, "we need a sign, a poster, something, we look pitiful . . . ", and then another responded, "let go in the garage . . ", and there they went, breaking down a box, grabbing a can of spray paint, and getting down to business. Maybe, they were from the housing project on the other side of the freeway, maybe they were from Oak Park, maybe they were from Sacramento, McClatchy, Johnson or Burbank high schools. Regardless, they reminded me of that spirit of cross cultural openness and friendship that I have always associated with the best of Sacramento.

Later, the march to the Capitol began. The early morning rain had passed, and the sun was breaking through some of the cloud cover as we walked down sidewalks through streets full of trees with the fresh leaves of spring. Behind me, a young boy, about 6 or 7 years old was walking with his mother. Two or three times, I heard him say, with an affectionate combination of warmth, impatience and firmness, as if he wanted to go out and play, "We want to stay together." I was perplexed, and couldn't put it together with the energy of the march, the crowd, the signs, the police directing traffic, and then, he said it again, and I finally understood.

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