On the 7 Anniversar Javier Rodriguez from La Plaza del Mariachi 28 May 2013 Panoramic View 1.7 million people on March 25, 2006 in downtown Los Angeles Photo LA Times
As I write the second part of this series, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in Washington D.C. is now moving at a fast pace. After three weeks of debating 300 amendments, where the bipartisan alliance essentially crushed all the poison pills submitted by the Republican extreme right, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the amended bill; and it has now been sent to the full US Senate for its final debate on the floor, set for the first week of June by Senate President Harry Reid, where a resounding majority vote for approval is expected.
On the other side in Congress, the House version may reach the Judiciary Committee where it will undergo the beginning of the process of hearings, amendments and debate on the same first week of next month. The House bill is expected to be highly similar to that of the Senate with some hardened cosmetic differences from the just approved bill in the Senate Committee. However a rougher path awaits the proposed legislation in the House. The first volley of cannon shots were launched by the Republican Chair of the Committee against the Senate bill. If it’s just a show to pacify the extreme right forces in the House, then the unified bipartisan coalition in the House is expected to also maintain the body of its bill intact. If so, we may have the two bills approved and ready for the conciliation conference before the summer recess. If not, the broad pro-reform national coalitions will have to gear up its multifaceted campaigns and immediately point the pressure on the Judiciary Committee members.
While researching my files I found this historical article published by the LA Times on March 28, 2006. It is a report, but if you notice carefully, it’s a corrected version of the original LA Times article on the historical “Grand March against the Sensenbrenner Bill HR 4437,” held three days before, on the 25th in Los Angeles and nationally in 75 other cities. The original was published on Sunday, March 26 and was an egregious distorted view on the size of the Latino immigrant crowd and of the real architects and organizers that built and engineered the making of what may be the largest street protest in the history of the USA. On that Sunday, March 26, when I read the Times coverage I was outraged. The following day I spoke at length with the senior reporter that supervised the field team that covered the march for the paper on the streets of downtown LA. Like most of the White English speaking media, local and national, the Times was also caught off guard and on late notice gathered a team of inexperienced cub reporters to cover the event. I inquired of the senior reporter if she had supervised them in the field. Unfortunately, she never left her desk that day.
The subjective out-of-touch journalism of the Times on a Latino progressive event was not unusual, but this one really hit bottom. Why is this so? By that Saturday afternoon of March 25th, CNN, NBC, UNIVISION, Telemundo and most of the national networks that covered the mobilization, through their helicopters and a sky high panoramic view, had witnessed a historical march that extended from City Hall North on Temple 1st St. to Jefferson St. This is approximately 40 blocks south – through the four principal downtown arteries – Spring, Main, Broadway, and Hill; and by that afternoon, they were calling it at 1 to 2 million people. Inexplicably however, the LA Times and La Opinion blindly followed the Los Angeles Police Department’s numbers and reported only ½ million marchers, without corroborating with us, the organizers and leaders of the March 25 Coalition, which initiated, publicized and coordinated the event. They could have also taken the safer route of quoting the numbers made public by most of the electronic media. Additionally, the Times obviated the fact that the police brass in LA is an institution that historically has skewed these peaceful and constitutionally protected public mobilizations against the social movement. The 40-block figure cited above came from the lower midlevel rank and file of the LAPD, but Telemundo’s Ch 22 hired a firm that conducted a digital count through their air photos and reported the number at 1.7million, which became the March 25 Coalition’s official version.
The error has been costly to say the least. Just recently Radio Pacifica’s KPFK in LA celebrated the march’s seventh anniversary by converting its March 25 programming into Spanish for 24 hours. It was a noble gesture, but in the two-week promotion, the station’s commercials saturated its airwaves with “on March 25, 2006, 500,000 people marched for immigrant rights, making it the largest of its kind in the history of Los Angeles.” For our city’s progressive radio station, this was not surprising, considering that I was the liaison with former KPFK Program Director, Armando Gudino, who attended several planning meetings of the M25C and covered the march and program live for four hours on that Saturday, as well as on May 1 in 2006, 07 and 08. As far as I know, and I may be wrong, none of the speeches on March 25, and we had about 30+ speakers, nor any audio of the taped coverage was actually used for the celebration. Moreover, on Monday March 27of 2006, I was interviewed live by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now; and on the same week, Jesse Diaz and I taped an interview for Nightline, which was aired a few days after and both versions can be found and seen through Google.
And to add salt to the wound, none of the core organizers -Gloria Saucedo, Juan Jose Gutierrez, Raul Murillo, Alejandro Ahumada, Guillermo Bejarano of Networkaztlan.com, nor my brothers and nephews, Antonio, Jaime, Jorge, my sister Isabel, Paco, Little Jaime, Armando Gudino, nor myself and many more leaders- were invited to participate on any of the programs of this anniversary broadcast. Sadly, and as contradictory as it may seem, the LA Times and La Opinion of LA, now owned by the right wing Argentinean group La Nacion Newspaper, through their D.C. national correspondents and editorial contributors, have better every-day coverage and analysis on the issue. In light of the fact that we are now standing on the last stage of getting a national comprehensive immigration reform law on the books, the critical observation is highly significant.
The original LA Times article totally left out the M25C leaders and instead quoted members of several organizations who were described in the first part of these series as negatively impacting and outright sabotaging the organizing process. The following published quotes -that were left on the corrected version anyhow- provide a perfect example of the gross distortions of the making of March 25:
1. L.A. Times Quote: “’Local 1877, which represents janitors, took care of security. The union trained nearly 500 people in how to deal with conflicts and herd marchers along the route, posting nearly two dozen on each block in orange T-shirts donated by an L.A. apparel firm,’according to union organizer Ernesto Guerrero.”
Fact: In charge of security and coordinating with the LAPD for the march was Jaime Rodriguez, my brother and M25C member, who is presently a field representative for California Sen. Ron Calderon. Since the 1970s, he has had years of experience in controlling mass mobilizations for the movement, including all the peaceful street mobilizations of 1982-86, that led up to the IRCA Amnesty Reform Law. For March 25, the security team was convened to meet on Olympic and Broadway at 8 AM but the imagined 500 trained security volunteers promised by SEIU never arrived. That created a crisis because from 5 AM on, marchers began to arrive by the thousands; and by 8:00 there were already tens of thousands in downtown LA, and Broadway was completely flooded with people.
Sometime after, as agreed, Jaime split the security team, sending one group ahead to take control of the rally area set up on the southwest corner of the City Hall walkway and the other
was assigned to control the starting point. And trust me, with the security team drastically reduced, Jaime and his assistants, Sam Lopez, Jacobo Rodriguez, Paco Rodriguez and Little Jaime, made miracles happen. To secure and maintain the front of the march in place, about a hundred volunteers were recruited on the spot. Later when the crowd was wall to wall with little room to walk, the protocol group of leaders and personalities were moved two blocks north, in between 9th and 8th streets, precisely in front of the historic Orpheum Theater. Unbelievably, DJ Piolin and his team had set up the mobile radio station van on that spot for his national program and was reporting live to the nation.
When the march finally began and, after walking a block or two, it was obvious to Jaime, that the march leaders would never make it to the front in time to lead the program at City Hall; so the group, made up of Senators Gil Cedillo and Gloria Romero and California Speaker Fabian Nunez, several of the Latino DJs, and many of the Coalition leaders were rapidly escorted through the sidewalks and alleys up to 3rd street and Broadway and on to the front steps of City Hall. On the way there, we never saw the two dozen SEIU uniformed security-trained volunteers posted on every block. In fact the embarrassing truth is that the total number of SEIU representatives was “3” -including Ernesto- and they arrived hours late to the starting point on Broadway. This detail was not just a simple embellishment of the truth, it was an outright malicious fabrication designed to enhance SEIU’s position with the media.
The Role of Security in Massive Events
At this juncture, it is imperative to underscore the important role that a strong and experienced security team plays in controlling massive social mobilizations and I will use three examples:
A). On that day, already with the program rolling at City Hall, Jaime was tipped on a small group not far from the staging area, dressed all in black and bandanas, that allegedly was carrying the usual tools to provoke an incident with the cops. Along with a security platoon, the group was confronted; and two of them were forcibly asked to unload their backpacks and bingo, they were full of frozen water bottles and pieces of bricks. Thus, the tenacious initiative prevented a potential incident that would have sparked a major riot by the LAPD.
B). On May 1, 2007, LA’s finest in blue began its job early in the morning; and we immediately spotted a combative demeanor in them, not seen the year before. From the start of the morning march of 100,000 people and with a strong security team, it was obvious to us, the organizers, that the cops were gunning to provoke an incident, and in light of their role as keepers of the system, it was understandable. Since March 25 up to May 1st of the previous year, we had staged protests and marches galore on Broadway and on LA’s government institutions and major conventions, all located in downtown; but they were all peaceful. However, once again, as it was so successfully done the previous year, we called for a boycott of the economy of “No Work, School, Selling or Shopping.” With approximately 5 days prior to that May Day, we had built enough social pressure on the city establishment, to the point that the Commissioners and the executive in charge of the LA Harbor, publicly declared, “the harbors would be shut down on the day of the march.”
To begin with, the blues attempted to rescind parts of the permit agreement, including the stage area for the program; but decisively we stopped them. Provokingly then, they began pushing ordinary people around for no reason at all. Next, they crossed the huge marching concentration on 5th St. and finally, as the march was turning on the corner of 1st and Broadway to City Hall, they were spotted gunning their motorcycle engines on the crowd. In retrospect, my sense is that the fact they couldn’t find a justification for an attack probably stopped them as did the size of the crowd. If they had gone through with the probable violence on the marchers, it would have been devastating on the families, women, men and youth, but also potentially downtown would have been left in ashes. So they moved to plan B, the afternoon scab march sponsored by CHIRLA, MIWON and Cardinal Mahoney, the one-time protector of pedofile priests.
Two-thousand-seven was the second consecutive year in a row in which the moderate groups got their marching orders, essentially against us; but this time with the excuse of, “we’re providing an opportunity for people to march after work.” Their mobilization was a miniscule 3,000-people event and it was during the rally at the north end of McArthur Park, where the pumped-LAPD took advantage of a bottle provocation incident on Alvarado St.; and sure enough, they savagely bulldozed into the crowd in the park, and there they took no prisoners; men, women, seniors, children and the media were beaten to a pulp.
It was a brutal assault that left 250 people injured and in the scenes, which for days saturated the news worldwide, you could not find any march security lines attempting to halt the rioting cops to protect the people, nor any scenes of the so-called bottle and rock throwers being arrested. However, the police violence had an intended effect: it set fear on the immigrant population nationally, and the marches, with the exception of 2010, waned. But to be honest, the internal divisions within the immigrant rights organizations and leaders were also a determining factor.
The most logical political speculation for the police assault that I can venture is that the ruling elites, the friends of Mayor Antonio and Chief Bratton, must have used their influence and placed high level political pressure for the LAPD to rein in the “light radicals.” How else can one comprehend the LAPD’s troops’ general change in demeanor, their intense provocative conduct in the morning march where the immigrant community, the people, exerted their freedom of expression in a festive peaceful mood. The political decision to put a stop to the Mexican immigrants must have been made before that May Day, not during the marches.
C). The third related example takes place the following 2008, also on May Day, and for that march we opted and organized a unified front of all three coalitions. The Full Legalization and Rights, MIWON and the March 25 Coalition, plus American Apparel; and we scheduled three marches that convened on 5th and Broadway. The LAPD, suffering from the bad-cop image of the year before, were at their best. Even the arrogant Bratton, who was reported MIA and lost somewhere by the Santa Monica Airport in 2007, was on foot on Broadway supervising the troops.
At the same time two small groups of activists which at that time were aspiring to coalition status entered the picture for the second time. After weeks of denouncing the M25C and emphatically stating online and on paper flyers they would only march “with their brothers and sisters from MIWON,” strangely but not surprising they joined us on Olympic and Broadway. The group led by Ron Gochez continuously taunted the police and upon reaching 5th St. the provocation intensified. In response, the security team conferred and sent brother Saul Sandoval to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Essentially Saul, a tall muscular weight lifter and family man from Michoacan, informed them that, “if you continue to place the security of this march in danger, I’m going to let the cops loose on your group and take you out.” Predictably, the bluff worked like magic, they walked away quietly. In reality what they were after was another photo-op moment for they and their red flags to be captured once again by the LA Times.
The other group led by activist Carlos Montes, who had also campaigned hard against the march, suddenly out of nowhere, intrusively appeared with about 10 people carrying a banner and provokingly lined up in the front of the march to also compete for the photo-ops; but we let it go. Both Ron and Carlos now constitute part of the leadership in the Southern California Immigration Coalition. Today the SCIC is part of the 00.1% of the immigrant rights organizations which have joined the ultra right wing, in opposing the reform bill now traveling to the plenary of the US Senate.
2. L.A. Times quote:“”The union also coordinated the more than 100 buses that dropped off marchers from throughout California, Las Vegas and a few Southwestern cities,’ he said.”
FACT: This was another fantasy. Unfortunately two weeks prior to the 25th, SEIU and several labor unions, along with the rising moderate block, had begun to set up a parallel national coalition named “Somos America/We Are America” and were moving their forces for a national march
set for the following April 10. It was a shotgun plan that capitalized on the momentum the M25C had galvanized country-wide. As you will see further on, it was also a Machiavelian strategy designed to take control of the massive movement away from the perceived radicals, which culminated 5 weeks later on May Day; but they failed.
The reality was that the coordination of buses quoted in the piece was never reported to the M25C because it never happened. I can attest to the fact that our Coalition raised a total of $15,000 in cash donations but received millions of inkind contributions, especially from the Latino TV and radio networks, the newspapers as well as other printed publicity. To clarify and provide an example, on that fantastic Saturday morning of March 25, the front page of La Opinion, then with 500,000 daily readers, had the absolutely grass roots agitational headline, in 2-inch size type, that read, “A LAS CALLES, roughly translated, “ALL TO THE STREETS.” It was down and out activist journalism at its best, no different than the Black experience during the struggles for civil and voting rights. The Coalition had captured the hearts and minds of not just the people, but also of the Latino media, which was the plan I designed from the beginning.
As far as I know, none of the cash donations for the Coalition or for buses came from labor.
How did this confusion happen? How was it that the Time’s team of young reporters and their supervisor were bamboozled into writing a piece full of inconsistencies, egregiously distorting history? The political reality of the times strongly suggests it may have been orchestrated from up above in the halls of power.
In retrospect, what I recall is a series of events that ensued with labor’s entry into the Coalition and the fast paced 23-day campaign. Approximately at the start of the second week, I asked my brother Jorge -who was then a representative and organizer for AFSCME and today is in a masters program at Antioch University West- to be the Coalition’s liaison with labor; and he ran with it. A highly resourceful activist since his high school days as a student leader, he did an excellent job for the Coalition that was highlighted in an LA Times article, pointing him out as one of the two key leaders that successfully motivated labor’s participation during that “Immigrant Spring of 2006.”
Following the script of the media plan to stage as many events as possible and maintain a continuous daily presence in the news to build and keep the momentum growing, I advised Jorge to promote a joint press conference -the Coalition and labor- to publicly announce labor’s entry and to make a call to union members to march on the 25th. Like other sectors, they were essentially briefed on the political developments and key demands. However, when labor’s event took place, the M25C leadership was not invited; and worst, the Coalition was never mentioned to the media as the sponsoring umbrella group. Only one other sector pulled the same elitist number, the newborn COFEM which was also taken by the hand and walked through the planning. In both cases, those developments were an added omen of things to come, but we let them go. Sometime after labor’s media event, to be precise on the 20th, the same day of the press conference for the region’s Spanish language DJs, Jorge was informed by Mike Garcia that they wanted to build a media platform in front of the staging area for Saturday’s program;, and trustingly, we agreed to it.
At the last Coalition planning meeting held on Wednesday March 22, at the basement Social Hall of La Placita Church, labor was there with about 15 staff members, representing several union locals including SEIU and the County Federation of Labor; and there I acknowledged their sizable role. I also observed at the meeting that there were several media wonks present, so I called for a media committee meeting for the following day at the AFSCME headquarters on Shatto Place to plan the closing campaign press conference, to be held the Friday evening before the day of the march. Then, as the Coalition meeting adjourned, for the first time I took notice of young staffer David Huerta of SEIU Local 1977. He asked me and insisted in attending the media meeting along with Hilda Delgado, their official media representative. The latter, a professional journalist, had previously been a reporter for La Opinion and had also served as a media relations representative for an LA City Councilperson.
On the following day, March 23, the media reps from CARECEN, CHIRLA, SEIU’s two delegates, and young Oscar Sanchez and I of the Coalition met for the first and only time. The agenda was basically to organize the last press conference to once more promote the march, inform the media, the community and the government institutions in the city that the Coalition had met all the legal requirements and had obtained all the necessary permits to stage a peaceful and constitutionally-protected street demonstration against the infamous Sensenbrenner Bill and in defense of all undocumented immigrants. Plus and most important, the agenda included working and coordinating the media all day at the march.
But unity for that moment was not meant to be because the labor staffers had an added personal agenda which was not in the best interests of the Coalition. After I made the introductory remarks, they aggressively put forth that the Coalition’s press release should reflect both the march for the 25 and the UFW’s Cesar Chavez Anniversary procession on Sunday the 26th. The point, which clearly surfaced from somewhere out of left field, wasn’t just an out-of-order topic, it was a poison pill that in a matter of hours would fracture the Coalition. After a brief discussion in which I reiterated that this was a M25C media committee meeting set to organize the closing media event for the march and that the side of labor and other groups responsible for the event on the 26th had defaulted and forfeited their participation and membership from the start of the campaign and went on their merry way after they lost the crucial vote on March 1st(See first part). In closing, I argued that if they persisted, they were at the wrong meeting. That settled, the next point was to clarify that only one unified press release was to be sent out on behalf of the committee instead of multiple press releases by all the groups. In order to give them an out, I offered an olive branch and motioned for Delgado to formulate the press release and send it out. It was approved and she accepted. The Friday press conference was set for 5:00 PM at the historic founding site of the city, La Placita de Los Angeles, also known as Olvera Street.
Three hours later, still on Thursday, Jesse Diaz and I attended the first LA meeting for the formation of the new labor-led immigration coalition at the County Federation of Labor headquarters on Ninth St. When we got there, the meeting was already in progress with approximately 30-40 people in attendance, representing several locals and organizations. Most of them were familiar figures. Jesse and I had been invited to the meeting personally by Mike Garcia, President of SEIU 1977, on the basis that, “you are an important player in the fight for immigrant rights, and you should be on the same table with the rest of the leaders.”
The meeting was strictly top down with Garcia presiding and carrying on a monologue. Like some of the leaders in SEIU, he had arrived to the City of the Angels in the mid 90s to direct the famous “Justice for Janitors” local which was then under a legally imposed International Trusteeship. The problem as I recall it, was that the very activist and popular local, with about 20,000 members, had become the poster child for the labor movement nationally because of its perceived militant image in confronting the owners of the vast array of giant corporate buildings in Los Angeles. But after 15 years or so, the rank and file -which was 95% Latino- felt there was no democracy and pointed out that the leadership of the local was perpetually in the hands of a white male president who did not rise from their ranks and that the members wanted representation directly from the shop. Elections for the board and executive positions were scheduled, and a revolt ensued. The union janitors, advised by former professional organizers who had been fired unjustly from the local, won the elections hands down, taking all 24 seats on the board and executive positions, except the presidency, which they did not contest. Big mistake, because the president refused to recognize the results, didn’t allow the new leaders to be formally installed and strategically bided for time. The matter became a city flash point when the workers went public and staged a massive hunger strike with tents in front of the old headquarters on 7th St. Unfortunately, but predictably, after sometime, the international stepped in and placed the local in receivership; and Garcia was appointed director. After a year, when conditions were ready and the rebels had been broken down– disorganized, divided and co-opted– elections were again set; and you can guess the ending– brother Mike was elected president and has been there since, because in SEIU there are no term limits, as for example in the West Coast Longshoremen Union.
At the L.A. County Federation of Labor’s meeting, after about forty minutes of listening to the speaker, Jesse and I excused ourselves and began our move for the next meeting at El Rinconcito del Mar Restaurant in Boyle Heights. In the hallway we ran into one of SEIU’s regional leaders, whom I had known for years; and we stopped to chat with her on the developments of the march. But moments later, David Huerta arrived with two other staffers; and it was obvious he wasn’t happy about the results of the early media meeting. We exchanged some strong words and the brief conversation ended when I said to him, “Stop acting like management. If you were working in a private company and there was a struggle, you would take side of the bosses.” Huerta became irate. He had a bottle of water in his hand, and incredibly, he threw it at me. I dodged the bottle, and he missed. Several people came out of the meeting and got in between us. The last thing I remember saying to the SEIU sister was, “Get the pit bulls off our backs.”
That night I got home at midnight, and as a habit, I called the LA City News Service and the Spanish language networks; and their assignment desks informed me, “the advisory for a press conference for the M25C has not been received.” As fatigued as I was because I had not slept for three days, but also because of the lateness of the hour, I had no other choice but to write it myself. In the middle of the stressful task, I actually passed out momentarily and fell from my seat. I recovered and sometime later the press release was e-mailed to all the media venues and journalists on my extensive list.
Hours later that morning I was informed that thousands of high school students had jumped the gun and were walking out of many high schools in the city. It was another crucial sign that the march would be huge, a fact we had known for over a week, because around March 17, the Coalition had been informed that the charter bus companies throughout California and Nevada had almost exhausted all their rental fleets to LA for the 24th and 25th . Amongst others, the latter was probably the most powerful indicator that reached us, even before the historical unity press conference of the Latino Radio DJs and producers in LA, that I had initiated and organized for the Coalition. With the tip however, we were certain we had a million people for the march. What we didn’t know yet was how much more it would grow in the last eight days of the 23 day campaign.
The closing press conference on that Friday evening of March 24 was another major success as well as a final major publicity motivational push, not only for LA, but also for the rest of the 75 cities that were holding marches in the nation. It was also an added strong indicator that the media strategy had worked magnificently. That evening though, the media was saturated with press releases from different sources which apparently were part of the confusion-plan to skew the news reports. The following day, what crowned the shotgun plan was the control over the media platform, built approximately 30 yards in front of the corner of the City Hall walkway that was used to stage the rally program at the end of the march. An important detail which we had not paid any attention to, but was at all times attended to by several leaders of the moderate block. This is a key professional component for media events, especially electoral campaigns, where journalists turn to the spokespersons for clarifications and interpretation of speeches. In that unending ocean of Latinos on the streets of downtown LA, that platform was probably the place where the Times’ reporters obtained the dubious and untrustworthy facts that totally erased the architects and makers of the biggest and greatest march in the history of the immigrant rights movement in America. ZAZ
Please read LA Times Article below.
*For historical purposes, this piece is not meant as an anti labor commentary nor do I think that Maria Elena Durazo, Secretary-Treasurer of the County Federation of Labor, was part of the inner circle of suspects that strategized the plan against the M25C.
*Javier Rodriguez is a journalist, a blogger and a media and political strategist. A long time social activist, he spent 22 years as a labor organizer and adviser for rank and file movements; he directed the mass street mobilizations of 1982-86, in LA that led up to the Amnesty Law IRCA of 1986; He was also 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 Larayueladejavier.wordpress.com, emails firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
How DJs Put 500,000 Marchers in Motion
By Teresa Watanabe and Hector
Becerra March 28, 2006 in print edition A-1
Note This article includes corrections to the original version.
He’s one of the hottest Spanish-language radio personalities in the nation. So when Los Angeles deejay Eddie Sotelo joined hands with his radio rivals to urge listeners to turn out for a pro-immigrant rally in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, organizers hoped for a big turnout.
But many said Monday that they were stunned by how many responded to the call to march against federal legislation that would crack down on undocumented immigrants and penalize those who assist them.
As a result, what was initially expected to draw fewer than 20,000 ballooned into a massive march that police estimated at 500,000 and said was one of the largest demonstrations in Los Angeles’ history. The march topped a wave of protests drawing hundreds of thousands of participants in cities around the nation, which organizers said influenced the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval Monday of legislation that includes legalization for undocumented immigrants.
Rally supporters, including immigrant-rights activists, churches, and labor and community groups, agreed that the active advocacy of the region’s top Spanish-language radio personalities was critical in drawing the enormous crowds, who marched more than 20 blocks along Spring and Main streets and Broadway to City Hall, wearing white “peace” shirts and waving American and Mexican flags.
The promoters included such on-air celebrities as KHJ’s Humberto Luna, KBUE’s Ricardo “El Mandril” (The Baboon) Sanchez, Renan “El Cucuy” (The Boogeyman) Almendarez Coello – whose often risque show has cast him as a sort of Latino version of Howard Stern – and Sotelo, better known to listeners as “El Piolin,” or Tweety Bird. Coello’s and Sotelo’s morning talk shows are among the highest-rated programs in any language in Los Angeles.
“They were the key to getting so many people out,” said Mike Garcia, president of Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union. “If you listened to Spanish-language media, they were just pumping, pumping, pumping this up.”
For his part, Sotelo said he decided to promote the cause – by calling a summit of his rival deejays to encourage them to do the same – after rally organizers told him about the ramifications of the legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last December. The bill, by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), would make undocumented immigrants and those who assist them felons and erect a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“I told God that if he gave me an opportunity as a radio announcer, I was going to help my people,” said Sotelo, who himself illegally crossed the border in the trunk of a car in 1986 and gained legal status a decade later. “I think we have to make sure the message went through to Washington, to let them know we’re not criminals.”
The idea for the march first sprouted in February in the oldest church in Los Angeles: Our Lady Queen of Angels, which has historically served as a sanctuary for undocumented migrants.
The church near Olvera Street has become one of the city’s organizing hubs against the House bill, playing a leading role in promoting the Roman Catholic Church’s national “Justice for Immigrants” campaign. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony last December appointed a committee to promote the national campaign throughout the 5-million-member Los Angeles Archdiocese.
The coalition of religious, community and civil rights activists meeting at the church had begun planning several small-scale events: news conferences, a petition drive and protest marches to Republican and Democratic party offices.
But when two visitors joined the group in January, the vision suddenly expanded.
Jesse Diaz, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Riverside, had worked with day laborers in Pomona and organized marches against Proposition 187, the 1994 state initiative that cut public benefits to undocumented immigrants but was struck down in federal court. Javier Rodriguez, a journalist, had also worked with immigrants and organized black-Latino political alliances.
The two men called for something dramatic: a massive protest march.
“It was time,” Diaz said. “The Sensenbrenner bill had passed. We have 10 [million] to 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country, but their voice can’t be heard at the ballot box. We felt a march would be a way for them to speak out.”
The coalition was initially wary, he said. The group had little money or organization. At the time, none of the big labor or civil rights organizations had yet signed on, such as the service employees union or the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. At the table, aside from the Catholic priests and some Spanish-language journalists, were such groups as the Central American Resource Center, Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, the Pomona Day Labor Center and the Southern California Human Rights Network.
But Diaz and Rodriguez kept pushing. On March 2, the group held a news conference at the church to announce the march and call for political and Spanish-language media to get involved.
On March 13, the group got extensive coverage from KMEX-TV Channel 34, including promos, leading up to a “media breakfast” the next day. Later that day, Rodriguez and other leaders spoke to a producer on Sotelo’s program. The day after that, they were on “Piolin Por La Manana” for four hours, Rodriguez said.
“That was it, man!” Rodriguez said. “They gave us four hours and we went at it. We talked about the need for people to come out.”
The next day, Rodriguez and other leaders went on the air with Sanchez of KBUE-FM (105.5) “Que Buena.” During that show, Rodriguez said, he proposed that the deejays join together for the cause.
Sanchez called Sotelo and they had an on-air conversation during their programs, Rodriguez said. Later that day, Sotelo would make the calls that would bring the other deejays together on the air.
By March 20, all of the major Spanish-language disc jockeys got together on City Hall’s south steps to promote the big march.
“From there, it just blew up,” Diaz said.
The deejays did more than publicize the march. Working with the organizers, they also helped develop some ground rules: Marchers had to be peaceful and clean up after themselves.
They were also encouraged to wave American flags.
“We wanted them to show that we love this country,” Sotelo said. “Bringing the U.S. flag, that was important. There are so many people who say, ‘I’m glad my parents came here and sacrificed like they did for us.’ ”
By this time, other organizations had begun to join the effort.
FALSE: Local 1877, which represents janitors, took care of security. The union trained nearly 500 people in how to deal with conflicts and herd marchers along the route, posting nearly two dozen on each block in orange T-shirts donated by an L.A. apparel firm, according to union organizer Ernesto Guerrero.
FALSE: The union also coordinated the more than 100 buses that dropped off marchers from throughout California, Las Vegas and a few Southwestern cities, he said.
All of the planning paid off. The “Great March of March 25,” as some dubbed it, was peaceful.
“I was saying, ‘Man, we did it, we did it!’ ” Sotelo said.
The strong advocacy of the disc jockeys and other Spanish-language media contrasted sharply with other outlets, said Felix Gutierrez, a journalism professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.
“The Latino media played it more as how will this affect you, how will it affect your job, how will it affect your kids,” Gutierrez said. “They were much closer to their audience, in terms of the direct effect.”
Gutierrez lauded the organization behind the event and contrasted it with the angrier assemblies of the Chicano movement of the 1960s, in which he was a media liaison.
By comparison, Saturday’s rally was festive, featuring kazoos, mariachi music, cotton candy and families with children. “The messages I heard last week was show up, bring your family, bring your children, don’t get pulled into violence, there may be people trying to provoke you,” Gutierrez said.
Meanwhile, Diaz and Rodriguez planned to announce today their next major action: a call to boycott work, school and all consumer activities May 1. They are calling it “The Great American Boycott of 2006.”
Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this story.