Revolution #88, May 13, 2007
May 1st, 2007 -- Across the U.S.
Determined Marches for Immigrant Rights
On May 1st this year, tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies marched and rallied across the country in major cities and small towns. The principal demands were legalization for all immigrants, stop the raids, stop the deportations and stop the militarization of the border. Though much smaller than last year’s outpourings in opposition to the draconian Sensenbrenner bill which would have criminalized all undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them in any way, these actions were very significant, nonetheless. They occurred in the face of a whole series over the last year of highly publicized raids, street sweeps and deportations, nationally, which were carried out to punish people for the massive demonstrations last spring and intimidate people from taking political action against all the attacks on immigrants. In many cases, these demonstrations had a very determined edge—as was shown in LA, where people refused to back down in the face of police attack. At the same time many people were asking why were the demonstrations so much smaller? Does marching do any good? Is the movement dying?
Before May 1st, the mainstream press especially emphasized that the demonstrations would be so much smaller and tried to demoralize people. They quoted many people who said they would not take off work this year. But many factors were involved. The last year of raids and roundups did have an effect on people. There is a real fear factor. For instance, organizers of a Cinco de Mayo festival in Virginia canceled this year’s event after receiving a call from ICE. They were afraid of the celebration being raided.
Two big factors that were interrelated last year did not play the same kind of role this year. One, the openly repressive and anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner bill was a major cause of the outpouring last year. It was a rallying cry for millions of immigrants, who are super exploited every day and scrambling to survive. They justifiably felt like their very right to live was being taken away. There was a widespread mood of anger and combativeness and a feeling that they had to stop this, that their backs were up against the wall. A certain flashpoint was reached which led to a truly mass movement among the immigrant masses very quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. This caught the bourgeoisie totally off guard.
Second, and related to this, was a view among major sections of the ruling class and their political representatives that passage of the Sensenbrenner bill into law, could lead to major social upheaval. They recognized that the U.S. economy is thoroughly dependent on super exploitable labor and that at this point economically and politically, millions of undocumented people could not be rounded up and deported. Instead, they favored laws that would keep many of the same repressive measures as Sensenbrenner, but also put forward an illusionary “path to citizenship” for immigrants to induce them out of the shadows and more easily control them. And as the movement gained rapid momentum, many among the Democrats rushed to get at the head of the movement and lead it into relying on them so as to demobilize the masses. This turmoil at the top led to the airwaves being opened up to promote last spring’s demonstrations and many Democratic politicians endorsing the demonstrations and coming out to speak at them. People were given an outlet to express themselves both because of opposition of sections of the ruling class to the Sensenbrenner bill and because much of the Spanish language media reflected the desires and demands of their audience and sympathized with them in many cases. And people felt a certain safety in coming out into the streets because of this. That was not the case this year.
Instead, with a Democratic controlled Congress, there is general consensus between Bush and the Democrats for “immigration reform” that includes some type of “guest worker program,” increased militarization of the border, more detention centers, legalization for some immigrants and the illusion of possible legalization for many more, and an overall thrust of much more repressive control of immigrants. But while this consensus is emerging, there are still important differences. It is not clear that anyone in the ruling class is really going to push for a bill to get through. So, except for Chicago, this year, sections of the ruling class did not see the need to support these demonstrations.
In addition, in the wake of the defeat of the Sensenbrenner bill, a lot of confusion among the masses developed—since many thought something good would come out of Congress after last year’s massive demonstrations, but that didn't happen. In saying this, we cannot forget that the historic massive demonstrations last spring played a major role in defeating the Sensenbrenner bill. Not only that, it showed everybody that there was a major new force in society that was not going to go away, and that demanded justice. Big political and social debate developed off that. This too is a major achievement of those demonstrations. Demonstrating in the streets can make a difference, a big difference. But while the immigrant rights movement was united in its opposition to the Sensebrenner bill, real divisions have developed over whether or not to accept some form of a “guest worker program” and legalization for some and not others with a multitude of restrictions. These were additional factors that led to much smaller demonstrations.
However, this year’s demonstrations did give voice to people’s burning demand to be treated as human beings. It did show that despite the events of the last year a strong core of people have not given up but went out in the face of the raids, roundups and deportations. The just demands of the people have not been met. The movement needs to build on this, reach out far beyond the immigrant communities, and persevere in relying on the people’s own efforts to defeat all of the anti-immigrant attacks. Revolutionaries must work within that movement, strengthening this resistance and constantly bringing forward the fundamental interests of the masses and how they can only be satisfied through revolution.
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