I had the opportunity to report on the “Day Without an Immigrant” rally in downtown Los Angeles yesterday, and one things that impressed me was how well-organized the enormous crowd was. People continued to arrive in waves, and the rally grew to massive proportions by around noon.
Communication between all participants and organizers had obviously been extensive and thorough; the entire crowd stuck to the same message and did not diverge from it: “We are not criminals, we are here to work. We want to be Americans but we are also proud Latinos. We deserve better treatment because this country depends on our labor and our money.”
That was it. The entire crowd, except for a couple of straggling anarchists, had the same reason for being at the rally. They were spirited and their passion and dedication to the issue at hand was obvious.
I found myself wishing people could band together like this for other issues that need the attention of our nation’s demos. Maybe if people were able to express the same concern and simultaneous, focused concentration on issues such as our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, the environment and the current administration’s lies and dedication to big business and big oil over the good of the people, our government would take our welfare and opinions more seriously.
I have been to anti-war demonstrations and have found that the message is always muddled. If any lesson can be learned from the immigrants’ rally, it would be, pick just one issue per demonstration and stick to it. If you want to organize an anti-war rally, tell people to leave other issues and beefs with the government and life in general at home.
It weakens a cause when people show up to a rally with sixteen different agendas. I also think it weakens a cause when demonstrations are attended by a large contingent of professional protesters. Activists are great, passionate people, but if you show up at a protest because that’s just what you do, government officials and the media are less likely to take you and the cause seriously. Part of the reason I believe the immigrant rights rallies were so successful was because those in attendance were regular, working individuals who have families, regular jobs and lives, and who felt so deeply about the issue that they took time out from their full work and school schedules to show up. This speaks volumes.
Of course, in order for this to occur, the public has to be informed enough about issues to be impassioned and indignant about them. So if you have an average American citizen who thinks Donald Rumsfeld is vice president, can’t name any of their state’s representatives but can name every “American Idol” finalist, our democracy is in serious trouble.
For instance, most people have heard the term “global warming,” but don’t know what an immediate and devastating threat it is. If this was common knowledge, it is likely that most people would either stop having children now, or there would be a massive public action demanding that our government take steps to head it off, soon.
Also, it seems that people should also be a little more concerned that the Bush administration basically won the last election with a campaign based on homophobia, after committing a series of transgressions and complete fabrications that led the nation into a disastrous war that recalls Vietnam in its miscalculations.
Perhaps the mainstream media is partially to blame for public apathy around these pressing issues, but they are being allowed to cajole and misinform us because we really aren’t demanding much better of them.
This is why public demonstrations of dissent are essential, and this is what the organizers and participants in the May 1 rallies understood so well. Nothing will change unless we demand it, and the first step to demanding change is understanding the world we live in. It is a shame we can’t rely on prominent news organizations to bring us accurate, well-researched information, but all this means is that we have to make a little extra effort to educate ourselves and reach out to alternate media.
Latino immigrants understood very well the negative impact that HR 4437 would have on them, so they got out into the streets peacefully and made their voices heard. If more people had a full grasp of how their lives are affected by many other issues surrounding us currently and actively expressed their concern about it, life would be much better for all of us as Americans and members of the global community.
Bethania Palma can be reached at email@example.com.