By Javier Rodriguez from La Plaza del Mariachi 7 April 2013
The beginning of the 7th anniversary of the historical “Immigrant Spring of 2006” in Los Angeles and hundreds of cities in the United States has almost quietly passed. The unprecedented and nonstop round of hundreds of massive street mobilizations and boycotts -in the millions- which lasted from March 8 to May 1st of that year, sent the infamous HR 4437 Sensenbrenner Bill to the trash bin of history. At the same time, temporarily stopped the anti immigrant right wing offensive behind it, on its tracks. As well, it forced the political class in Congress, then controlled by President George W. Bush and a Republican majority, to place not one, but two immigration reform bills on the table: the failed Martinez-Hagel Bill in 2006 and then in 2007, with the democrats back in the majority in both houses, the Kennedy-McCain Grand Bargain Bill, which contained a pathway to citizenship. The latter did go through the legislative process in the Senate but the Republican intransigence, along with a divided social movement, defeated it.
The intense period of protest and resistance against the right was kicked off on March 8 with a 20,000 people march, of all places, at the center of imperial power, in Washington D.C., the nation’s capital. It was followed by an impressive protest of 150,000 in the City of the Winds, Chicago. Then on March 2, the newly formed March 25 Coalition of Los Angeles called for a national protest and mobilizations for March 25 and in an organizing period of 23 days, successfully galvanized an estimated 75 cities in America. On that date, 1.7 million people marched in LA and 75,000 each in Denver and Tucson. The historical and digitally counted mammoth event in LA is unofficially referred to as the “largest ever street march in American history.” The narrative of this widespread immigrant social protest, along with the student walkouts and marches and of the May 1st Great American Boycott -which would have toppled governments in many countries- has yet to be chronicled and analytically written by its real makers, that is the leaders, strategists, organizers and members of the Los Angeles March 25 Coalition.
The 7th anniversary arrives at a special moment, because after 27 years of struggle, this social movement is at the threshold of history, probably months away from a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Law that will free millions from the yolk of modern slavery, and it will reverberate internationally. The Immigrant Spring has also been referred to by experts, as one of the most important resistance movements of the time against capitalist globalization, in the American continent, behind Venezuela and Bolivia. See “Capitalist Globalization in Latin America,” by Dr. William Robinson 2007, John Hopkins Press, and pages 309-20. I would also add to the list, the Mexico of July 2006 and its multimillion street mobilizations that I personally witness, in its ever lasting fight for democracy, against the mega electoral fraud of that year, orchestrated by the ultra conservative National Action Party, backed by the Mexican economic elite and right wing American and Spanish political advisors.
Because I directed the M25Coalition in 2006-10, and the fact that I am an independent journalist and blogger, I am probably the writer that has published the most information and analysis on this period in LA. In the spirit of adding to the understanding of the history and legacy for our people, here’s another brief piece for my blog that has grown by now to, I believe 70 articles, since I opened Larayueladejavier.wordpress.com, 15 months ago.
By the beginning year of the millennium, capitalist globalization, with exceptions, had consolidated its socio-political and economic control of the planet. A new world order was established with a global corporate ruling class that went beyond nations, in the making. At the same time, the brutal and savage exploitation initiated with neo liberalist policies, accompanied with international trade agreements between developed and third world countries, NAFTA is the perfect example, has caused deep and widespread poverty on billions of people -usually referred to as the 99%- and a monstrous concentration of wealth for 588,000 billionaires and millionaires, the global super rich, commonly called the 0.1%.
The designed exploitation begun in 1970 with the restructuring of capitalism, has caused human displacement and massive migration to the tune of 200 million people driven to the more developed countries, primarily to Europe, the United States, Japan and the rich oil Arab states. The modern nomads are “the new working class,” un-regularized, without papers, vulnerable and exploitable, no health and social benefits, deplorable housing, no mobility travel rights, subjected to an underground human market where a high percentage of women are raped, young, and finally without human and working rights to defend themselves. The perfect worker for global corporations.
The United States has had one of the largest shares of this immigrant phenomena, and since 1986, the year of the Amnesty IRCA Law, the undocumented population here has grown to 12 million, the majority from Mexico, Central America and Asia. But with record deportations since that year, in real terms, we have had millions more sin papeles fluctuating.
The Spark that set the Immigrant Spring in Motion
On December 16, 2005, the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives easily approved the Sensenbrenner Bill HR 4437. It was a neo fascist anti immigrant piece of legislation that crowned years of campaigning, lobbying and influencing all levels of government by the ultra conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform’s network, founded in 1979 by John Tanton. The approved House bill carried the fight between the forces of social evil, the right wing embraced by the republicans on one side, and the pro immigrant and civil rights movements and progressive democrats on the other, to a new level. HR 4437 savagely called for the criminalization of immigration and an institutionalized witch hunt on undocumented workers and their families residing within the borders of America. It didn’t stop there; it also criminalized all types of assistance and solidarity by any American giving a hand to them.
It was a challenging historical period because the country had suffered the now questionable September 11 attack by four commercial planes, high jacked by 19 Arab immigrants with visas and mostly Saudis linked to Al Qaeda. The captured vehicles, fully loaded with passengers crashed and decimated the once famous New York Towers and drove a hole on the Pentagon building in Virginia. The spectacular move killed a reported 3000 innocent civilians. With the Republicans controlling the presidency and I believe both houses, by 2003, the Bush-Cheney White House gang had mired the nation in two fabricated geo political wars of Imperial occupation, far away in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course, as all other wars in US history, paid and fought by ordinary working people with record lucrative corporate contracts given to the ruling corporate class, favored by the right. At the same time, 9/11 and its wars, momentarily destroyed any hope for a comprehensive immigration reform, or borrowing a quote from Mexico “killed the whole enchilada.”
The rise of the Paramilitary Minutemen
This is the context that gave birth to the paramilitary armed group “The Minutemen” in Arizona in 2004 and California 2005 and subsequently the coming of the Sensenbrenner Bill HR 4437. The violent and onerous mission of the right wing militia was hunting down immigrants at the border and turning them over to the Department of Immigration and custom Enforcement, ICE. This in turn sounded the alarm on the pro immigrant forces and thousands of activists marched and overpowered The Minutemen at the border in both states. In California, a more militant block of Latino and White activists from all regions of California, in the dark of the nights and through hilly desert territory, searched for and peacefully, but loudly, drove many of the armed militias into their SUVs and off the border. The dangerous but adventurous standoff lasted 30 straight days and nights but there were casualties. Two immigrants were wounded with shotguns as they crossed the border wire fence near Tecate, Mexico and another was shot and left on a hill, and allegedly was found by the Angels of the Desert Volunteer Rescue Patrol in the same vicinity.
As the weeks and months passed, the paramilitary militias spread to other states and regions of the country. Logically, as in Arizona and California, well established experienced pro immigrant and social movement leaders, responded with the same passion in defense of their people. If in California the movement consistently responded by the hundreds at all times, in the Midwest it was by the tens of thousands. Approximately in August, a march against The Minutemen headed by Emma Lozano and Elvira Arellano and their church and family based organization, Familias Unidas, netted a reported 40,000 people. For that period, when you compare it to the protests in the Southwest, Chicago’s was definitely a major social explosion that stunned the country and of course the rest of the movement. For me, it was a clear indication of the deep rooted social discontent growing in the community nationwide. And as I had mentioned on several occasions that year in meetings of the anti Minutemen La Tierra es de Todos Coalition, it was based on 19 years of inequality, racism and discrimination, persecution, repression and poverty on the millions of un-regularized Latino immigrants and their families, combined with the pursuit and anxiety for legalization. Additionally, as we see more clearly now through the polls and the November election results of last year, by extension, that reality was a button issue for Latinos.
With time, the popularity of the caza inmigrantes became the smoke screen used to introduce the federal legislation, HR4437.
The Birth of the March 25 Coalition in Los Angeles
About three weeks after the House of Representatives passed the Sensenbrenner Bill and already into the new year 2006, Ontario activist Jesse Diaz, one of the original conveners of the 2003 California Immigrant Boycott and a recognized leader of that year’s border confrontation, invited me to a work group evening meeting held at Our Lady of the Angels Parish, aka as La Placita Church, in downtown Los Angeles. Apart from Jesse and myself, that I recall, those present were Gloria Saucedo, Director of one of the factions of La Hermandad Mexicana Nacional; the popular Fr. Richard Estrada from the Church itself; Angela Sanbrano director at CARECEN (Central American Resource Center) and a couple of other people.
The sense of urgency and the need to respond to HR4437 was in the air. Some of the proposals were for vigils, a press conference, and a picket of the Federal Building and a petition drive of 10,000 signatures pushing for the Los Angeles City Council to take a stand against the federal bill. The resolution was carried and led in the council by progressive Councilman Eric Garcetti. It was there at that meeting where I first proposed that the Placita Work Group call for a giant march of 100,000 people and more because the Latino immigrant population was anxiously waiting for it. However, as with the previous 2005 LA Coalition Against the Minutemen, the majority in the small committee was not in touch with the rooted momentum in the community, nor the history of this movement and its political and organizational contributions, and ruled it out as not viable.
As a long time columnist and editorial page contributor for the LA Times, the 10 newspaper chain Eastern Group Publications, La Opinion and other venues, three days later, on January 17, 2006, I published a column titled “On Immigration History is on Our Side, Take it, It’s Yours.” The piece, in La Opinion offered a historical framework, analyzed the moment, called for mass mobilizations in the hundreds of thousands and for the first time during that historical period, now referred to as the “Immigrant Spring,” I publicly placed another immigrant economic boycott on the table. With the estimated ½ million daily readers of the largest Spanish language newspaper nationally, plus the fact that the original 5 page piece was widely circulated on the internet, I humbly recall it played a role in framing a strategic vision for the movement.
The month long round of activities against the Sensenbrenner Bill ended in mid-February and there, once again, I saw the window of opportunity and placed the mass mobilization for March 25, as a motion and it passed unanimously. Jesse and I proposed the plan of action for the march, then five weeks away and the idea was to galvanize not just California, but the whole country. The date for the initial press conference was also set for the following Tuesday. It was a radical move; however, it sounded the alarm. Immediately after, the moderate and mainstream groups within the Coalition raised the red flags and began to block it. The traditional two schools of thought, C.A.S.A.’s and the UFW’s that had clashed since 1968 emerged once again. In retrospect, it was here in La Placita Church, at the February 14 meeting that the March 25 Coalition was formally and symbolically baptized. However, it was inherently born in an intense and divisive political ambiance. The moderates, including CARECEN, UFW, CHIRLA and its group of faith leaders, the church and SEIU Local 721, represented by Carlos Montes, did their best to sabotage the call. CHIRLA was never there physically but CARECEN, La Hermandad and the priest served as the surrogates. They all had two problems, they could not see nor did feel the latent momentum build over two decades and the fact it was the “light radical” wing of that diminutive working group who was taking the lead and that intimidated them.
By the following week, Jorge Ruiz, Ricardo Anaya, Sarai and Maria Elena Ferrer the Ontario activists who had also initiated the one day Dec 12, 2003 Immigrant Boycott against the State of California for the cancellation of the Cedillo Drivers License Law were in, as well as their industrial print shop, where 1 million flyers and tens of thousands of posters were printed. So were the two Martha Ugartes and Alejandro Ahumada of the Utility Workers Union and the Solidarity Trotskyite Organization brought in Juan Jose Gutierrez of Vamos USA and young Raul Murillo, representing the largest Hermandad Mexicana faction in Southern California. The Maywood Pro-UNO grass roots group, which by then had successfully led a grass roots movement in the city, had taken the majority of the City Council which immediately declared the city a sanctuary, also entered the picture. They were represented by Councilman Felipe Aguirre, Little Hector, Andres Gonzalez and Rafael Barajas.
It is imperative to note that the latter four along with Gutierrez, myself, my brothers, Antonio, Jacobo, Jose, Jaime, Jorge, Ricardo and Isabel my sister, Nativo Lopez, Gil Cedillo, Mayor Villaraigosa, Maria Elena Durazo and many more activists who entered the Coalition or intervened in the process in the days ahead, were initially formed in C.A.S.A. in the seventies, and by 2006, some became bitter enemies.
The motion for the Grand March and to name the Coalition after that date, March 25, was approved and so was the first press conference, scheduled for the following Tuesday. More, a delegation was approved to attend a Conference at the University of California Riverside called for by the National Human Rights Coalition, and present a request for endorsement. However, the kickoff event was arbitrarily cancelled by the moderates. They, along with CHIRLA and a group of faith leaders linked to the MIWON Coalition, concerted behind the scene and began to question our reputation and who were we? The elitist position included the view, more like a rebuttal, “we do not see any conditions for a grand march.” It was documented and signed by CARECEN, emailed to everyone and beyond and at the following Coalition Wednesday meeting, it was presented and distributed on paper. Naturally, the debate ensued and their posture was soundly rejected. The plan of action, which in general terms through my article, was already creating public opinion, was reinstated, but far from settled. The kick off press conference was again placed on the calendar and rescheduled for the following week on Thursday March 2. That would give us a week to prepare it, discuss its developments and the opportunity to polish it up at the next Wednesday March 1 meeting. It was here that I began to observe in certain activist circles what I now call a “bi-polar political conduct.” A mean streak that with apparent sincerity agrees and works with you for a week or more, then plays possum and when the spiral down grade hits, they go for your throat and take no prisoners at it.
Predictably, the stage was set for the final showdown and it brought a new player from labor unto the fray and the M25C. On March 1, a delegate representing the United Farm Workers audaciously introduced a backroom agreed motion to cancel March 25 and moved to adopt the 26th of March, the Cesar Chavez’ Anniversary Walk held annually in LA. The proposal was seconded and defended by most of the moderates. It was almost like mixing water and oil. In the long memory of this social struggle, the aggressive anti immigrant history of that union and their leaders in the late sixties and seventies was deep common unforgiving knowledge. The carrot offered was an approved permit for the 26th; the LA County Federation of Labor, Mayor Villaraigosa and Cardinal Roger Mahoney had endorsed and would walk in the procession ending at the new $180 million plus cathedral for the poor. The “Light Radicals” disagreed and proposed an independent march and movement and put forth the painful but true argument that generations of the undocumented immigrant population knew the history of the UFW and would not heed their call to march on that anniversary. The debate was passionately intense and it polarized the Coalition, but we had disarmed them. I introduced an amendment to endorse and also publicize their event and it carried by a hair, 11 to 10, approving both dates. I already described above the composition of both tendencies, except that the Maywood Pro-Uno trio voted with them. There, I also witnessed the ongoing divisions of La Hermandad Mexicana Nacional when Murillo voted with us. The tensions further intensified and it was obvious by their demeanor and the loud body language, they would seek to “destroy the village in order to save it.”
Hermandad is the organization that Bert Corona, the historical leader and mentor of the immigrant movement successfully built after he left C.A.S.A. in September 1974. Symbolically speaking, he must be turning over and crying in his grave. The divisions and the bad blood in the three factions, the HM Nacional, inherited by the widow Angelina Corona and her family; the Latino Americana led by Nativo Lopez and the TransNacional by Saucedo, continues and it is one of the elements that has hurt the strength and unity of this epic fight in LA, the acknowledge bedrock of the immigrant rights movement. Unless a miracle intervenes, it’s about to get worst with a court battle over the coveted property in Panorama City, Saucedo’s home base.
We kept our end of the approved motion. After a brief celebration that included flowers for the sisters at a restaurant, I went home and wrote the media advisory in the middle of the night. In it, I included the initial SOS call to the Latino media and to the Latino Locutores, the super popular Radio DJs in the LA basin, to assist us. And so the following day, Thursday March 2, 2006, we kicked off the 23 day campaign calling for a National Day of Protest for March 25. The press conference was held across the street at La Placita Kiosk and through the Latino and Asian media outlets present, the initial message reached an estimated 2 million people regionally, though I speculate that the people reached through the national TV networks and news services that picked the story, dramatically increased the numbers statewide and nationally. In retrospect, the press event surpassed the expectations and the word of the call spread like wildfire, including the internet. And so the first goal of the media campaign was met, but except for Gloria Saucedo and CARECEN’s Sanbrano, on that day, the rest of the moderates were missing in action.
The kickoff event, along with the organizing plan led initially by Jesse Diaz, began to galvanize the whole state and because I took charge of the Media Committee, the strategy was nurtured and guided with precision. Over the following days, before we reached out and organized the DJs, a “Tsunami” of organizations had joined the Coalition and a slew of press conferences had been organized for important blocks or groups that had entered the campaign. Impressively a who’s who of experienced activists integrated and the meetings swelled to over 100 people in attendance. The delegation of tasks were channeled through the committees, commissions and special tasks to link political and community grass roots organizations, labor, clergy, elected leaders, Mayor Villaraigosa, in addition to finances, donations, printing publicity, paper brigades to distribute the 1 million flyers and posters, were formed. Amazingly though, the latter really had a life of its own, with people from all over the region passionately distributing the information.
The campaign escalated by the hour and days and there is a reserve of political, organizational and media developments, stories and analysis to convey that led to March 25 and beyond, including the role played by the Djs and who really organized them, however that will probably take several more chapters. Finally, the giant mass protests of March 25 and the Immigrant Spring should be seen as part of the whole that has placed Comprehensive Immigration Reform on the door steps of the Empire.
*Javier Rodriguez is a journalist, a blogger and a media and political strategist. A long time social activist, he directed the mass street mobilizations in 1982-86, in LA that led up to the Amnesty Law IRCA of 1986. He was the initiator and directed the making of the 1.7 million historical immigration march in Los Angeles on March 25, 2006 as well as the May 1st 2006 Great American Boycott. He is presently involved in building La Universidad Obrera de Mexico-Los Angeles and recently traveled for 5 ½ months thru Mexico in 2012, observing and writing about the country’s political process, the aftermath of a highly questioned presidential election, the drug war and migrants. Blog Larayueldejavier.wordpress.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com