JCA Community Organizer Rachel English: Why I'll be Marching May 1st

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Why I'll be Marching May 1st

The sun glinted off of the water underneath the metal guard rail of the old industrial drawbridge.   I was perched on the edge, balanced half-way between Chelsea, a largely Latino immigrant suburb where I worked as a housing organizer, and East Boston, another largely Latino area known by most Bostonians as the place they passed through on their way to someplace else.  I leaned out towards the center of the bridge--into what would on any other day have been a lane of fast whizzing cars.  But on that day, May 1st, 2010, it was filled with thousands of smiling faces, placards held aloft in the air as they chanted and cheered for a better future where their existence as immigrants to this country would be embraced and upheld.  I waved my hand-made sign back at them: "No ser humano es ilegal."  No human being is illegal.

When I saw E, one of my best friends, and her sister, M, I jumped down and joined them in the crowd.  M, 8 months pregnant, had crossed the border just 3 weeks before.  She came for the trope often told--because she wanted the American dream of a better life...and for the one too often ignored--because her life, and therefore her unborn son's, was in danger back home in Guatemala.

It all started--or maybe ended, depending on your point of view--with a right turn on red.  How many times a day do I do that?  But as she exited out of the driveway of the University lab pre-school where her son was now enrolled, the campus police pointed to the sign prohibiting turns and signaled her to pull over.  The city police heard about it on the scanner and they showed up, too.  She was given a court date for the crime of driving without a license.  The criminal justice system gave her a proportionate punishment--a small fine and an admonishment to not do it again.  The immigration system gave her a much bigger one.  ICE agents were waiting outside the door of the court room.  She was handcuffed, jailed, and given a deportation order for 60 days hence.

But the community mobilized.  At first they simply won a reprieve.  Ankle bracelet instead of detention.  But after months of organizing, media, and protest, ICE finally relented, and she was granted a work & study visa, renewable every year.  So now she has a piece of paper--a document.  She is documented.  

But even that hasn't helped hundreds of folks like her--with DACA or with work permits--that under the new administration are nevertheless being detained and deported.  It doesn't pull down the thin veil between our immigration system and our criminal justice system--sanctuary city or not--where ICE's job is made ever so much easier by a police force that routinely targets black and brown folks.  It doesn't stop them from declaring open hunting season almost any time, any place, under any pretext, for mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, and grandparents that should instead be embraced as neighbors.

To change that, we, too, must mobilize. May 1st is International Worker's Day.  A tradition born in the United States with the Chicago Haymarket uprisings of 1886, quickly adopted around the world, and just as quickly suppressed here by political and business leaders who found such protesting...unpleasant.  They successfully transformed May 1st from a tradition of strident International Worker's Day Protests to staid and safe Labor Day Weekend Sales. But part of the reason that immigrants are feared is that they bring with them their own, different, traditions--and one of those traditions is being out in the streets May 1st, the weak arrayed against the powerful, the seemingly expendable against the movers and shakers of the global economy, the immigrant and the laborer against the xenophobe and the profiteer.

So this year, I'll be marching again, back in Boston.  And here in Minnesota I invite you to join me, join M, join the thousands of others across the country who will be in the streets, standing up once again for a better future where our shared humanity will be embraced and upheld.  

"No ser humano es Ilegal."  No human being is illegal.

Rachel English

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