The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Letter from a participant in the Chicago demonstrations

Apr 24, 2006

Starting around June 2005, some of my friends began talking about attacks on immigrants. Some relatives began talking about getting together to protest and possibly miss a day of work for immigrant rights. One relative heard about it at his workplace in a far northern suburb. The first time I heard about it was when this relative brought it up at a club meeting of people from my hometown.

Also, there was the beginning of discussion on La Ley and La Que Buena (two Spanish radio stations). At first, this discussion began from people calling them and asking if it was true that attacks on immigrants were coming up, and if it was a good idea to miss a day of work, if it would have any impact on the lawmakers. At first, El Chokolate, a talk show host on La Ley, thought it was a good idea. El Pistolero, another talk show host on La Que Buena, was reserved at first. He said we need to know all the facts, we need to know what’s really behind the reforms the politicians are talking about, before we take any action.

When it got close to the time of the first march last summer, El Chokolate was calling on the leaders of the club federations to join and really build up the march. At one point, another relative asked if our club was participating and we discussed it at the club. Some people in the leadership of the club weren’t too enthusiastic, but the president of the club came and some other people from the club also came. Out of 10 active members of the club, four came to the first march. Out of the 200-250 people around the club, around 80 came to the first march. At work, on third shift, no one came to the first march. Afterwards, everyone was asking about it, if I went, how it was, and were happy about it.

The first march was on Ashland and 43rd, a Mexican area. It was on the radio, and people heard from neighbors, co-workers and friends. Some people came in groups from their clubs, but most people were not organized in groups. A lot of people had signs, the most common signs were “we are not terrorists, we are workers,” “We are all America,” “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” “immigrants have rights.” A small chain of Mexican restaurants called La Kermes provided people with materials to make their own signs.

From the beginning, many people called in to the radio, including the clubs and Centro Sin Fronteras (the No-Borders Center) led by Emma Lozano.

At the end of the first march, El Pistolero, El Chokolate, Emma Lozano, and a few aldermen with Spanish names from immigrant neighborhoods, and Luis Gutierrez, a Puerto Rican Congressman from mostly Mexican neighborhoods spoke. Some people I spoke to said, “the Democrats are trying to use this, they’re taking advantage of this.” Other people said, “it’s good that they come, so we’re not alone.”

After the first march, people were very excited, especially those who attended and those who wanted to go but couldn’t for one reason or another. They said it’s a very good thing that a lot of people came. However, that march got very little attention in the English media because it was entirely in a Mexican area. People at the first march raised this question about why the march wasn’t downtown.

In August, there was a second march, which was smaller, but it went downtown to the Daley center.

Before the third march, there was a little bit more buildup. There were 40 buses available just from Aurora (a far suburb) paid for by La Quinta de los Reyes, a different restaurant chain. A lot of people called in to the radio, but a lot of people don’t listen to the radio so they heard from friends, etc.

Many people came from my club and from the suburbs, who hadn’t been before. Out of the 10 active members of the club, six came.

This third march was much bigger. The march completely filled a wide street for at least two miles. Some police and organizers tried to make people march only in the center of the street and not on the sidewalks, but there were too many people.

People were chanting more angrily, in English and Spanish. There were also a lot of young people, even some who looked like they were in gangs. They were marching and not causing any problems, which was commented on by many people. There were also some young black people in the march, from high schools that are mixed that sent everyone. At least one high school sent everyone, and many high schools let people go if they wanted.

Another friend works in a factory where a group of people asked permission, but the owner said no, they couldn’t miss work for it. The foreman then said, “if you want to go, just leave, and I’m sure you won’t get in trouble,” so he left with around 25 people. Other people got permission from small shops to go. Some workers got in trouble for coming. My cousin said at his factory they wanted to go, but they were afraid. Some people took off without permission, but others didn’t want to go. Later, the boss said he would have given them permission.

Some big politicians, including Blagojevich, Daley, Gutierrez and others spoke. There were signs saying “support Kennedy-McCain,” but there were not many like that. When people were chanting, they were calling for amnesty, not a guest worker program.

People who participated were impressed by the strength of the march. Everyone was happy that it was such a huge march, that they took the time to participate. People who didn’t go regretted that they missed it. I didn’t hear anyone who was against it.