Friday, March 10, 2006

immigration rights march in chicago

I went to this immigrant rights march/rally today and it was an awesome experience.

I started here....

and ended up here....the Calder sculpture never looked so good.

from the chicago tribune:

Ethnic groups rally for immigrant rights

A mass of flag-waving humanity jammed downtown Chicago this afternoon as tens of thousands of protesters rallied at Federal Plaza to demand more humane immigration laws.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Mayor Richard Daley and other political figures crowded onto the stage to speak to the crowd.

Noting Chicago was built by new arrivals to this country who simply wanted a share of the American Dream, Daley said, "We are not going to make criminals out of (immigrants). That is not what America has ever stood for."

Rally organizers said they oppose H.R. 4437, a bill approved in the U.S. House of Representatives that would drastically strengthen immigration enforcement, including the construction of a fence along the Mexican border.

Instead, they back a competing bill that would provide legal status for most undocumented immigrants and make it easier for legal immigrants to bring in relatives. That legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), also would expand temporary work visas.

Much of the turnout and energy for today's rally was coming from the local Mexican-American community, the area's largest immigrant group. But the Mexican groups were bolstered by immigrants from Ireland, Poland, China and Ecuador.

The wide-ranging organizing committee also included the Nation of Islam, Service Employees International Union Local 73, evangelical churches and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

Tapping into immigrant growth in the suburbs, organizers rented about 200 buses for immigrants boarding near taquerias and churches in such far-flung towns as Waukegan and Aurora.

A subplot of the day's events, organizers said, was the Chicago economy's reliance on immigrant labor. Organizers encouraged participants to leave work, with some calling for a "general strike" today to underscore the workload shouldered by immigrants, including those without legal status.

Around the area, business owners weighed whether to give the march their blessing or to resist the employee exodus.

Several Mexican box boys in a Montclare grocery store said they saw the march as a chance to affirm their dignity. But their boss Gus Labrakis, a Greek immigrant, was annoyed about how their participation might impact his business.

"I don't think this is a good idea," Labrakis said. "They're inviting even more hate against them. The real problem is at the border. If they keep coming by the millions, where will this lead?"

Antonio Reyes, a box boy at Labrakis' market who arrived from Mexico City in 2000, said the march is an important way for non-immigrants to understand how the proposed laws will affect hard working families.

"We didn't come to this country to rob, but to work and support our families," said Reyes, a father of two U.S.-born children.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a Hispanic, drew cheers as he recognized Irish, Polish, Chinese and African-American rally participants.

"I have never been prouder to march, to show my commitment to a cause, than I have been today," Gutierrez said. "We have brought together the true fabric of what Chicago is, of what our country is."

"Raise those American flags!" shouted Gutierrez. "This is our country, and this is where we will stay."

Even as the rally began, about 2 p.m., people continued streaming into the Loop, the line of march extending as far west as the United Center.

Streets in the immediate vicinity of Federal Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn St., were closed for the rally as a crowd estimated by Chicago police as 75,000 to 100,000 in size spilled off the sidewalks.

And as the afternoon rush hour approached, police issued an alert asking the public to avoid not just the federal building complex, but the area bounded by Madison Street on the north, Roosevelt Road on the south, Ashland Avenue on the west and all points "all the way east."

Police said traffic had returned to near-normal levels by early evening.

Earlier, businesses, restaurants and schools across the region emptied out, and busloads of immigrants from Mexico, Poland and Ireland converged on the protest's assembly point in Union Park, at Ashland Avenue and Washington Boulevard on the city's West Side.

At the park, the participants—representatives of many ethnic groups in addition to the Hispanic community, the event's main organizer—immediately broke into mini-rallies, some speakers grabbing megaphones and rallying participants from baseball bleachers.

The protesters stepped off shortly after noon for a two-mile march to Federal Plaza. They moved amid a sea of flags, including those for Guatemala, Ecuador, Ireland and especially Mexico. But U.S. flags were the most numerous.

Marchers such as Jose Soberanis tried to make the case that the cause of illegal immigrants fits with basic American values. Soberanis, 21, led a group waving U.S. flags and a drawing of Martin Luther King that he created with his 11-year-old sister, Cecilia.

"As the saying goes, 'I have a dream.' Well, we have dreams, too," Soberanis said. "African-Americans were looking for social acceptance. That is what we want, too."

Whole shifts of workers left their jobs to underscore the importance of immigrant workers. One server in a Downers Grove Italian restaurant came in his tie and apron, draped with a U.S. flag.

A Chicago factory worker, Amada Ochoa, 44, said she felt a swell of pride when about 150 employees walked out the doors around noon at their West Side plating company.

"We felt a feeling of unity," she said. "It shows our work is important."

Alex Garcia and about 10 co-workers from a Joliet commercial sign company rode a Metra train to Chicago's Union Station and then walked about 12 blocks to Union Park, then re-traced their steps as they headed back to the Loop.

Garcia, whose company installs signs for McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food restaurants in the Chicago area, said, "Most people don't realize how much work we do, but it's part of their daily lives. We are putting up all the buildings and cooking all the food. Today, they'll understand."

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