Rise! National Immigrant Power

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Ignoring the invariable warning issued to people wishing to stand up for their rights that it “isn't the right time,� on May Day a million and a half immigrants across the nation boycotted work, school, and shopping and instead hit the street to mark a “Day Without Immigrants.�

Here in New York City, from Jackson Heights to Washington Heights well over 100,000 people turned out to demonstrate.

At precisely 12:16 PM – the time chosen to mark the moment last December 16th when the House of Representatives passed a bill that would turn more than 11 million undocumented immigrants into felons – immigrants and their allies joined hands in human chains. The most massive show of strength took place later in the afternoon at Union Square, followed by a march down Broadway to Foley Square, across from the federal immigration building.

At the Union Square rally, which was emceed by the noted labor organizer Brenda Stokely, many speakers addressed the issue of unity. NYC Council Member and U.S. Congressman-in-waiting Charles Barron stated that people should not allow the Republican Party to divide and conquer them. “It is not the Mexicans that are a threat to African American jobs; it is the Republicans,� he declared.

Barron went on to note that just as African Americans should support the struggle of immigrants, immigrants should support the struggle of African Americans to get jobs and fight racism. “We cannot forget African American citizens who are at the center of discrimination in the job market,� he concluded.

Speaking in the same vein was Chuck Mohan, founder of Guyanese American Workers United. He emphasized the fact that the immigrant struggle is not Latino, African, Caribbean, or Asian. “The struggle includes all of us equally,� he asserted. “There are those who would like to divide us by pitting one group against another, but we can’t let that happen. We must forge a genuine unity that links us with the continued struggle of African Americans, Native Americans, and women.�

Bringing his own message of unity was Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint, who is himself an immigrant from Trinidad & Tobago. He pointed out that American workers need to understand that attacks on immigrants are linked to attacks on them when they fight for their rights. “Your presence out here today makes every American worker stronger,� Toussaint told the crowd. “I call on all labor leaders to redouble our commitment to organizing the new American workforce.�

Also present was Council Member Kendall Stewart who said, “Brothers and sisters, I hail from the Caribbean; I am the Chair of the City Council Immigration Committee, and I am here to say I stand in solidarity with you.� He concluded by calling for his own brand of unity: “Just because some of us are now citizens, we should not forget those who have just arrived.�

A strong solidarity could be felt among the protesters as well. Trinidadian Yvette Rennie said, “It’s very important for us to unite to achieve the so-called American dream. This is not just a Mexican issue but a human issue. We must come together to let the people running this country know we are not going to stand for inhumane treatment.�

Hazel Beckles Young Lao, who is also from Trinidad and Tobago, commented that she remembers when her mother came here as a domestic worker in the sixties, just like Mexicans now. “People would like us to think that the problem is just the Mexicans, but the problem starts much earlier and is with the job market itself,� she explained. “And if they come for the Mexicans in the morning, we’d better watch out because they’re coming for the Caribbeans in the afternoon.�

Donna King, who is a proud member of 1199/SEIU, said simply that along with being in the union, she’s an immigrant from Trinidad, and they are all affected equally by whatever decision Congress makes.

Soon the protesters gathered behind the lead banner – which read “Immigrants Rights Are Workers Rights� in English and Spanish – for their march down Broadway to Foley Square. Leading the march were Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, Council Member Charles Barron, Roger Toussaint and many other dignitaries. Following them were tens of thousands of energetic, vocal people displaying signs in many languages and waving flags. One young man marched in a graduation cap and gown with a stethoscope around his neck. His sign read, “This Is My American Dream.�

As chants such as “Si se puede! – Yes we can!� reverberated through the canyon of buildings, people leaving work stopped to watch the moving throng that extended as far as the eye could see north and south. Many pedestrians cheered the marchers on, and store employees stood in their entranceways, some holding signs of their own, to express their solidarity. In a very appropriate symbolic gesture, some people threw shredded paper from an upper window as though they were participating in a ticker tape parade to honor this nation’s invaluable immigrants and to thank them for their hard work.

Speaking Truth To Empower.� To contact The Black Star News write editor@blackstarnews.com or call (212) 481-7745. Subscribe to this newspaper and advertise to build power.

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