May 1--Again, Major Marches for Immigrant Rights Rocked the Country

Last week, on May 1, tens of thousands of people—citizens, legal residents, and undocumented alike—marched in about a dozen cities around the country for immigrant rights. Chicago, my former home town, had a reported 150,000 people marching (last year, they were the first city to take this issue to the streets).

Los Angeles, which last year had around 650,000 to 1 million people in marches, this year didn’t have as many, although rally organizers say 100,000 people came out in two marches: one downtown through Broadway and another one to MacArthur Park.

May Day, the International Day for Labor, has again come alive in the US, home of the original May Day, although long marginalized and often forgotten here. While this year the marches were smaller, they were still significantly large and important.

All these marches—last year millions marched in more than two dozen cities—were the most peaceful, best organized, and effective marches for justice ever seen in the US. They were bigger than the massive marches at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries that led to the 8-hour day and other labor demands, bigger than the amazing marches for civil rights and against the Viet Nam War in the 1960s, and much bigger than the marches against nuclear proliferation in the 1980s and for a healthy green Earth in the 1990s (by the way, all of these issues are still vitally important, still worthy of our interests, our actions, our feet).

This year’s marches, like last year, were peaceful, full of families and working people, with more American flags than any other (there were also flags from countries all over the world, as well as those from Mexico and Central America). However, Los Angeles again led the repression with an astounding unwarranted attack by police on peaceful marchers at MacArthur Park that reached international news outlets when more than half a dozen journalists, including many in the Spanish-language media, were also targeted. Like innocent bystanders, children, and others, some of these journalists were hit with non-lethal foam bullets (that hurt when shot point blank out of a barrel) and batons. Officers also threw around TV cameras and destroyed other broadcast equipment.

You can get more updates and news video by going to “Epicentro America: Central American Diasporic Art” blog at I thank Epicentro America for getting out the truth of what happened.

Both Police Chief Bratton and Mayor Villaraigosa cancelled or cut back on trips to Mexico and Central America to address the police violence. The community has demanded true accountability about what happened, why the LAPD attacked indiscriminately, and why they didn’t follow established protocol about such confrontations created soon after the 2000 Democratic Convention--in which the police also responded violently to various disruptions among protestors.

I was on Divine Forces Radio on KPFK (90.7 FM) on Friday night with Fidel Rodriguez addressing this issue. US Congresswoman Maxine Waters called and said she would organize a conference at the police commission to demand real action. The Honorable Waters has been a long-time advocate for police accountability and social justice. The next day, she hosted a Cinco de Mayo celebration in South Central LA, which has gone on apparently for 14 years without incident. This is true Black & Brown Unity in Action. And I applaud her efforts.

The day after the marches and the LAPD attack, I was in City Hall speaking to the Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development, headed by City Councilman Tony Cardenas. Members of the Community Engagement Advisory Committee to the Ad Hoc Committee all spoke on a new proposed challenges, additions, and enhancements to the Mayor’s “Gang Reduction Strategy” unveiled in mid-April. Our suggestions and proposals are now in the public record. We plan to take this out in public awareness meetings, some media conferences and on the Internet. I hope we can have it posted on the worldwide web for everyone to read—I think it’s one of the most advanced plans for Street Peace and Justice from any city in the US.

My hope is that the City Council will push through most or all of our suggestions, and that the Mayor will enthusiastically embrace this plan, created by long-time, multi-generational leaders in intervention, prevention, arts/culture, and rehabilitation/restorative justice work—which involves far more imaginative, effective, and long-term approaches to the rising gang violence in Los Angeles than the current suppression strategies that have only squeezed our poorest communities, sent more youth and adults to overcrowded and intolerable prisons, and made the gang violence worse.

We have many years, sometimes risking our lives, in helping young people get out of the dangers and destructive aspects of gangs and drugs by providing treatment, jobs, arts/culture, resources, spiritual growth, and one-on-one relationships. My own work also entails rituals, ceremonies, and spiritual & cultural practices to bring out the gifts and positive energy of our youth (and adults) through their own wounds, pains, and empties. Our very troubles are the pathway to creativity, peace, and change.

If you happen to be in the LA area next week – from May 7 until May 11 – please tune in to the “Front Page” Radio Show with Dominique Di Prima on KJLH (102.3 FM). I will be guest host that week from 4:30 AM until 6 AM. I will address issues of gang peace & intervention, Black & Brown unity, police relationships, the importance of creativity and community-based rituals and ceremonies, and more.

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