Topic: Breaking News
On the Scene: May Day in Los Angeles
"Immigrants and their supporters were gathering in cities across the country today for demonstrations and an economic boycott intended to show the impact the workers have on the nation's economy… The demonstrations took many forms and included people from a disparate number of countries, many of them in Latin America, but also from Asia and other parts of the world." New York Times, Nationwide Immigrant Rallies Are Under Way, Monday, May 1, 2006
Hundreds of thousands gathered across the whole country on this Monday to celebrate "A Day Without Immigrants" - to demonstrate the importance of immigrants to our economy. As has been discussed elsewhere in these pages, the Senate is considering a bill that attempts to increase border security and offers citizenship to certain illegal immigrants, and the House has already passed a bill that would erect a giant fence on the border and would make illegal immigrants felons, and make those that help them in any way, even with shelter and medical assistance, or even a hot meal, criminals also. Our local Catholic archbishop, Roger Mahoney, has led protests of the House bill, the president sides with the Senate, while the "social conservatives" and "values" folks side with the House, and Lou Dobbs on CNN is waging a daily one-man jihad against anything but arresting and deporting the perhaps twelve million immigrants here without papers, and building that wall. The issue is hot. And people have taken to the streets.
Monday, May Day of 2006, there were massive marches in Los Angeles, one downtown in the morning, and a second took place in the evening. Between those two there was a massive march along Wilshire Boulevard, from MacArthur Park west to La Brea (site of the famous Tar Pits). That began at four in the afternoon, so the kids could stay in school and join in after classes.
These photographs are from the center of it all, Wilshire and Western, around three in the afternoon, as the crowds were gathering, the news crews were everywhere doing their "live remotes," and the police were rolling in - in their Crown Victoria squad cars, on motorcycles, and even on bicycles. There were closing off Wilshire Boulevard, the busiest urban corridor in the world.
But they knew this was not a hostile situation. The mood was downright genial and surprisingly welcoming. Folks mugged for the camera, people wanted to talk and share food, and everyone was actually happy.
This was a demonstration that seemed to be in support of the idea that there are millions now who, with great difficulty, made their way here to work and make something of themselves, and to support the families they loved, and participate in the American Dream, whatever that is. Yes, they did not follow the rules, but they do work hard, and seem in love with this country - and this May Day they and their supports wanted to point out the twelve million illegal immigrants are an important part of the economy, and would like a chance to become "legal" and not be branded as felons and sent away. They believe in this country, and are willing to start at the very bottom of the system. But they want you to know they really do want to be here, and participating in making this place better. It was oddly patriotic. The marchers all wore white shirts (no threat) and almost every flag was an American flag. There wasn't one Mexican flag anywhere, but there might have been later.
The police gathered in small groups and you could overhear them talking about their own families, or last night's amazing Lakers playoff win in the last microsecond of overtime, or trading notes on which mirrored sunglasses were the coolest (really, three of them did). The police on bicycles rode by in groups of fifteen or twenty, waving to the crowd and now and then trying to play tunes with their special whistles, which didn't work all that well, but made everyone laugh. This was going to be just basic crowd control, with a cooperative and pleasant crowd. No trouble - just lots of people.
Here's a shot of some of them.
And not everyone was from Mexico and parts south.
A little bit of the patriotism -
Note the Anglo guy in the background. He's not happy at all.
The press -
Police presence -
Businesses were closed, and a rare shot of Wilshire Boulevard absolutely empty in the middle of a Monday afternoon -
For a bit of history see The Roots of May Day, from Nelson Lichtenstein, posted at SLATE.COM the same say. Lichtenstein is a professor of history up the coast at UC Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for Work, Labor, and Democracy.
Here's a bit of what he has to say -
Perhaps so. So consider this image.