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LOCAL Commentary :: Labor

Immigrant Voices :: Impressions From The Chicago Immigration Rally, May 1st 2007

I must admit, I am not inclined to mass protests. To me, protest culture seems anachronistic, a product of the 1960’s when large rallies really meant something. However, on May 1st, an estimated 75,000 people marched from Union Park to Grant Park in downtown Chicago. The rally was peaceful, exuberant, and admittedly exciting.
There is no doubting the power you feel when you see tens of thousands of people marching for a cause.

On May 1st, an estimated 75,000 people marched from Union Park to Grant Park in downtown Chicago. They marched for a variety of specific causes all under the banner of loosening immigration controls. According to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a main organizer for the rally, there were four main political goals:
  • legalization and a path to earned citizenship for the undocumented
  • reunification of families divided by broken immigration laws
  • a moratorium on the immigration raids separating families
  • condemn President Bush's anti-family "Z-visas"
People marched carrying a menagerie of signs and banners with slogans like, "No human being is illegal!" and, "Keep families together!" People marched with drums, horns, and noisemakers, cheering as they moved down the steel canyons of downtown Chicago. People marched with flags, predominantly American, and chanted "U.S.A." as they walked. People brought their mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, fathers, and extended families to protest for their rights. The rally was peaceful, exuberant, and admittedly exciting. I was able to capture some of the crowd, along with some of the message, on my cell phone video camera. While the crowd was mostly Hispanic, many marched in solidarity. Construction workers stopped to cheer as the march passed, and whites, blacks, and Asians marched too. Churches, gay rights groups, and schools joined the procession. Socialist symbols were on display, including a poster of Che Guevara with the caption, "The worker's struggle has no borders!" This march was a Mayday event, celebrating the hard worker as the backbone of society.

Construction workers stopping in solidarity with the marchers below.

Sherri Wolf, marching in solidarity, said she was for, "Amnesty for all. If you drive down the wages of one section of the working class then we are all screwed." This year's turnout was smaller than last year's, and Ms. Wolf thinks that's because some illegal immigrants were intimidated by recent raids conducted by immigration enforcement agents. "Bus-loads came last year," she said, "This year they were terrorised into staying home."

Selicia, a mother marching with her family, asked me to take a picture so her children could remember this march. She supports immigration reform. When asked what specifically she supports, she responded, "For the hard workers who can prove they've been working to get legalization." A worthy sentiment in my opinion.


Cynthia, a Loyola student, spoke out in favor of "fair and just immigration policies." Most importantly, she was against breaking up immigrant families, regardless of their status. "The reason people are coming [to the US]," she said, "is because the US is ruining the Mexican economy. Leave our country alone and we'll leave yours alone." She couldn't sympathize with those in the US who are against immigration. "They don't see the realities of what's going on," she said, "They only see [immigrants] as criminals."

As the marchers emptied into Grant Park the size of this rally was clearly evident, with so many people standing against Chicago's imposing skyline.

Was anybody listening to these protesters? I truly hope so. At marches like this it often seems like the participants are talking to themselves. These days, protest rallies are so easy for politicians to ignore. In fact, I feel Chicago found this event decidedly non-threatening. Police presence was extremely light, with cops in normal uniforms stationed every couple blocks, looking mostly bored or bemused. While anti-war demonstrations in 2006 drew police in riot gear, the May 1st march felt like a family affair.

To me, this is encouraging. Immigration is not a threat to our country, and I'm glad it wasn't treated as such. I hope political leaders in Chicago and all over the United States were watching these marches. Those protesting are human beings, and they deserve to be treated as such. In fact, US citizens should be proud so many foreigners want to become Americans. Our forefathers have worked hard to build this country, with many immigrants among them, and we should be happy to share our prosperity with the world. Certainly there are issues that need to be worked out, but I'm convinced our immigration system can be reformed to allow many more workers to enter the US while preserving jobs and our social services for everyone.




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