Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Real American Movement

Yesterday, April 10, I called a friend at a local paper and asked her if she had any idea where any of the immigration rallies might be taking place that day. We were both embarrassed that we were clueless about it, but I could see what I've heard others talking about, the upside of it.

This is different. Unlike the many smaller demonstrations that result in multiple announcements landing in my Inbox, these demonstrations mark a relatively spontaneous movement on a scale we haven't seen before. All of the familiar organizers are not in control of this. Of course, it also points up the communication gulf that divides the relatively small “progressive community” from the rapidly expanding Latin American community.

From my perspective today, that’s mostly good news. Want to close the gap? Just show up. That’s what Lauren and I did last night when we saw that we hadn’t missed all of the day’s rallies because a nighttime demonstration was taking place in Kansas City, Kansas. The 10:00 news TV reporter said that KCK police were allowing the demonstrations to continue, but that traffic needed to keep moving up and down KCK’s Central Avenue, so people were no longer being allowed to stop and get out of their cars on that street. What was happening was a parade of cars looping the area waving flags and honking at the demonstrators on the street.

Lauren said "Let's go," and I have to thank her for that because I was done in from a long day (a sizeable part of it spent driving to all the wrong places, apparently, trying to find out what was going on) ending in an unproductive evening. My shoes were off; my allergies were driving me nuts, and I was feeling like turning in early, and without her shove I wouldn't have rationalized getting back out there. But she redeemed the whole day. Though the demonstration was a good 15 minutes from where we live now, I lived just off Central for the first 5 years of this decade, so it was like coming back to our home turf. But neither one of us had ever seen anything like it before.

Though the demonstration was focused around 10th and Central, we took the Central exit off of 18th, and we were almost immediately a part of a long line of slow moving cars, honking horns, waving hands and flags at the hundreds of people lining the sidewalks waving hands and flags back.

I don’t know how long that drive through the core of the demonstration took, but it was so beautiful, I wouldn’t have minded it lasting much longer. Although I’m sure all but a small fraction of the people involved were Hispanic to some degree, every race seemed to be represented (of course, this is true of the Latino identity anyway, and it's certainly true of the immigration issues). We immediately felt not separate from but a part of what was going on. We honked and waved, and folks waved back, everyone cheering everyone else on.

Since we had no flags, as we neared the center of the demonstration, Lauren held up a copy of the Tribuno del Pueblo newspaper which has a big, bold photo of a child waving both the Mexican and the American flag on its cover. We had hoped to find some centralized area where we might talk to someone about distributing the paper, but this impulse really arose from the perfect imagery on the cover.

Almost immediately, a group of young people shot out of the crowd and asked us if they could have a copy, and then, with some immediate unspoken understanding, the group along the sidewalk took all of the papers and began passing them out into the crowd. Maybe a minute passed from the time we showed that cover and when we were out of the 50 or so papers we had. We only wished we’d had more.

After all, we write for and distribute the Tribuno’s sister publication, The People’s Tribune, and our goal for this issue was to bring some specific historical and political context to the government’s current attack on immigrants as well as to underscore what unifies these struggles with others going on around the country. What we saw in the demonstrators' reactions to the newspaper was natural, welcoming recognition. We didn’t have to explain why we had a stack of papers to hand out; the demonstrators just got it.

When we reached the end of the route, we decided to turn around and plunge back in. The trip was even longer the second time because the police were beginning to flex their muscles, firing up sirens in all directions, racing through the crowds and routing cars off the main drag. But though things quieted a little, the crowd looked serene and undeterred, which was the way we felt. We were all Americans, standing up (or lowriding) for freedom, justice and our common humanity, and that felt like what it’s all about.

Below, I have pasted a link to a People’s Tribune page with an editorial on the government's divide and conquer strategy as well as the photo that graces the cover of the new Tribuno.




Anonymous said...

Hi Danny, that's great that you and Lauren went to the demonstration. Thanks for your great description of what you saw. It sounds like it was an exciting time. I've been thinking through all of this of the young Latino generation, and how they are beginning to flex their political muscles. It will be interesting to see where things go from here!
PS Hope your allergies are better!

Danny Alexander said...

Thanks for the note, Maria. I agree with you about it being interesting and exciting, and I just hope we find ways to build unity and clarity between the majority of us who really have the same, very human, interests at heart.