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May Day 2001: Human Chain Links Struggles for Human Rights

On May Day, 2001, activists from the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty and Peace in Vieques and many others will join hands along Ashland Avenue from 60th Street in the South to Howard Street in the North to demonstrate their solidarity with two important human rights struggles.
On May Day activists from the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty and Peace in Vieques and many others will join hands along Ashland Avenue from 60th Street in the South to Howard Street in the North to demonstrate their solidarity with two important human rights struggles. They will call for an end to the U.S. Navy's bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and for amnesty for all immigrants within the United States. Similar demonstrations will take place in twenty different states.

Juan Marcos Vilar, a coordinator with the National Boricua Human Rights Network, explains that calling for amnesty for all immigrants and for peace in Vieques "are two concrete ways Latinos and other immigrants can struggle together. The fact is that Vieques affects all US military policies towards Latin America. All major military operations in this hemisphere have been launched from Roosevelt Roads [the main Navy base in Vieques]. By joining together our hope is to Latin Americanize the issue of Vieques." The Paz Para Vieques contingent will meet at Western & Division at 4:30pm. They will march along Division street to Ashland & Division where the Paz ParaVieques contingent is expected to be strongest.

Diana Valenzuela of Pueblo Sin Fronteras stressed that Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and other participants are "seeking dignity and justice" not just legislation on immigration. She explained that peace in Vieques and amnesty for all immigrants are "two issues which link all Latinos and the more united Latinos are, the stronger we will be."

In addition to Puerto Rican and Mexican community

organizations, Polish, Korean, Vietnamese, Pakistani, Peruvian, and Guatemalan groups also plan to participate. Margaret Power, an activist with Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, explained that she supports the event

because "it's important that white people demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Vieques and with immigrants because that way we will help to build a more peaceful inclusive society". Anna Myrick, another activist who plans to be a link in the human chain, quoted the Sandinista saying, "solidarity is the tenderness of the people of the world."

Activists will gather on Ashland Avenue beginning at 5:00pm on May 1st and stretch out along Ashland. At 6:00 pm, participants will join hands for 11 minutes for the

estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Valenzuela explained that it is "not much to ask for, since some people are not just being stopped in their cars, but are being killed crossing the border."

Organizers expect the human chain to be much bigger than the marches last May Day which supported the same demands. Last year on May Day, a march titled "Global Crimes, Local Action" started at the corner of Division Street and Western Avenue in the Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park. Members of the Humboldt Park community then marched to the Division-Ashland intersection in West Town, where they joined with Mexican demonstrators. The march included demands for unconditional amnesty for immigrants; the release of all political prisoners; an end to police brutality; an end to sweatshop labor and the exploitation of women; and the demilitarization of the Philippines and other countries occupied by the U.S. military, including the withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from Vieques.

The idea for the human chain came as a result of another march last October for immigrant rights and was developed jointly by Mexican and Puerto Rican activists. This is the first time this form of demonstration has been tried in Chicago. If it is successful it may become another May Day tradition.

Last fall, over the weekend of October 14-15, at least 30 demonstrations were held around the U.S. to demand unconditional amnesty for undocumented immigrants. The rallies, coordinated nationally by the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty, were aimed at supporting legislation that would legalize the status of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

In Chicago, the October 14th march called not only for amnesty for immigrants, but also for an end to U.S. Navy bombing of Vieques. Some 5,000 people took part in the March for Dignity and Amnesty and Peace in Vieques, with large contingents from Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. Three contingents marched from Chicago’s North side and two from the South, ending at a rally at Federal Plaza. In the crowd there were Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American, Chinese, Palestinian, Korean, Polish, Lithuanian and many other contingents. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) demanded full unconditional amnesty and an end to the Navy abuse of Vieques.

Vieques, an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, and home to 9,400 people, has been occupied by the U.S. Navy since 1941. It has been used as a bombing range for live ammunition, shelling, strafing, and illegal chemicals such as napalm and depleted uranium, contributing to deaths, injuries and a cancer rate among Viequenses which is 26.9% higher than the rest of Puerto Rico.

After a U.S. Navy bomb killed David Sanes, a Viequense civilian, and injured four others on April 19th, 1999, the decades old movement to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques was intensified and several civil disobedience camps were established in the Live Impact Area, where protesters acted as human shields to prevent the bombing.

The struggle against U.S. colonialism is at the root of many of the demands of both the Puerto Rican and Mexican peoples. On April 19th at a conference sponsored by the National Boricua Human Rights Network at UIC, former political prisoner Luis Rosa explained how the struggle for peace in Vieques and to free the remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners were tied together; "It's about colonialism." In 1898 the United States seized the island of Puerto Rico. Today Puerto Rico remains a U.S. colony.

The struggle for human rights faced by Mexican immigrants also has it's roots in U.S. colonialism. In 1848 the northern half of Mexico was ceded to the U.S. as part of Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. Although the treaty guaranteed the property rights of the Mexicans who remained on the land in a hundred towns and villages in the territories which became Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California through a combination of taxation rules, legal maneuvering, and even a U.S. Supreme Court decision, they eventually lost much of their land. Today Mexicans are criminalized for crossing into what was once Mexican land. Trade agreements like NAFTA guarantee the free movement of merchandise but not on the free movement of people across the border. The United States has excluded immigration from the context of financial free trade agreements while simultaneously militarizing its' border with Mexico.

"We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us" says Roberto Martinez, director of the U.S. Mexico Border Program for the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego and a Chicano rights activist for 25 years. Martinez worked on a recent study with researchers from the University of Houston which shows that 1185 people have died crossing the border from 1993 to 1996. 500 people died in Texas alone, by drowning and in the desert. Martinez predicts that the situation is "going to get worse with the military operations and the triple fencing." Currently there are an estimated six to seven thousand armed guards in the INS Border Patrol.

Here in Chicago many Mexican and other immigrants without legal papers, particularly women, end up working in sweatshops. The Department of Labor defines sweatshops as places of employment that violate two or more federal or state labor laws governing minimum wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation or industry registration. Last February Dr. Reek Levin of the Center for Impact Research and Dr. Robert Ginsburg of the Center for Labor and Community Research released a report on sweatshops in Chicago. The report quoted Latino and Polish workers describing overcrowded and unventilated working spaces and locked doors. When Ginsburg spoke at the University of Chicago soon after the report was released he said that if undocumented workers would be in a better position to struggle against these dangerous working conditions if they were not criminalized by their immigration status. He explained that amnesty for immigrants is an important part of the struggle against sweatshops.

The march for immigrant rights last October had been preceded by another march on September 23rd, in which 10,000 people demanded a general amnesty in Chicago. The event, organized by the Chicago Grassroots Collaborative, included churches, labor unions, immigrant coalitions, students and grassroots community organizations. Immigrants from Latin America, Poland and Ireland were present in large numbers. Both events testify to the deep base of support for amnesty here in Chicago.

The organizers of this year's May Day event hope to demonstrate support for HR500, a bill sponsored by Representative Gutierrez introduced in Congress February 7th. The bill would grant amnesty to any immigrant who entered the U.S. prior to 1997. Gutierrez aide Bill Weinberg said that the amnesty would cover about 5-6 million people. This new bill would be similar to the one signed into law in 1986 by President Reagan, which allowed 3 million undocumented immigrants to become legal U.S. residents if they could prove they had entered the country before 1982 and lived here continuously. Of the 3 million who were eligible, 2.5 million applied and 2 million obtained permanent residence. About 5 million illegal immigrants lived in the United States in 1996, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Fifty-four percent of them came from Mexico. A new report by Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies estimates, however, that there are actually 11 million people who lack legal immigrant papers in the U.S.


Calls for amnesty for immigrants and for peace in Vieques challenge the fundamental assumptions of capitalist globalization and its' prerequisite, U.S. military hegemony. On May Day the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities of Chicago and their friends and allies will be celebrating their collective resistance to a global system whichvalues the luxuries of a few over the suffering of world's poor.

For more information about the May Day human chain for human rights please call The Puerto Rican Cultural Center (773) 342-8023 or Centro Sin Fronteras (773)772-8383.




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