A Sea of People as Far as the Eye Could See:
Blacks and Immigrants Call for Unity!
By Nunu Kidane
In the 1850s the government passed a law called the Fugitive Slave Act which made it a federal crime to assist runaway slaves. Good Americans were required to return runaway “property” to their owners. Now Congress is on the point of passing legislation that would criminalize the 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country and levy criminal sanctions against organizations that work with them. The bills are H.R. 4437 and S. 2454.
You may wonder why more than a million marched in Los Angeles on Saturday and half a million in Chicago the week before. The bills are just that bad. “I was in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday when the historic march to protest the racist anti-immigration bills took place,” reported legendary hip hop journalist Davey D on KPFA’s Hard Knock Radio, broadcast weekdays, 4 p.m., at 94.1 FM.
“Trust me: More than a million people showed up. Anyone who was there could attest to that. All the blocks around the courthouse for as far as the eye could see was a sea of people. It was wall to wall.… It was a beautiful thing. The vibe in the air and the overall energy was infectious as you saw everyone from churchgoers to gang bangers all fighting to keep this oppressive bill from passing. There was an enormous amount of young people. Many came with their families. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a rally or march where I saw grandmas, parents, young adults and little kids all in attendance.
“I talked to cats who were all tatted up carrying signs that said ‘Stolen Land: Defeat HR 4437’ and college cats carrying signs that read ‘Where was George Washington’s green card?’ You could feel the spirit of resistance in the air. People are waking up and ready to hold officials accountable for being so mean spirited.
“Also, as you listen to the audio clips (http://odeo.com/audio/964057/view), just don’t think this immigration thing is only gonna affect Brown folks. I guess the media doesn’t like to show what we all have in common, but bear in mind there’s a whole lot of Black folks like Haitians who this bill is designed to smash on if passed.”
The demonstrations began with 50,000 in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 500,000 in Chicago on March 10—the largest demonstration ever in Chicago history—and tens of thousands more in the last week in Milwaukee, Phoenix, Atlanta and other cities,” reports the antiwar coalition, Act Now to Stop the War (ANSWER). “Friday in Georgia, tens of thousands of immigrant workers refused to show up at their jobs in a work stoppage protesting regressive legislation passed by the Georgia state Legislature.”
At the LA rally, Juan José Gutiérrez, director of Latino Movement USA, a member of the ANSWER LA Steering Committee and co-chair of the rally, said: “We are people of dignity, and we demand respect. This is the beginning of a movement that is going to call for a national work stoppage.”
In San Francisco, a week-long hunger strike at the Federal Building which started on March 20 culminated on Monday with a march to the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Several thousand marched, and, according to BeyondChron.org, “a large majority (were) young participants. Many youth wore bright orange armbands to show they had walked out of class in support of the event.
“‘I’m here to support my people,’ said Nadia Mendez, a Kennedy high school student. ‘I’m a Mexican, these are my people, and they’re trying to kick us out for no reason. I’m very happy to see so many people here; it makes me very proud of my race,’ said a day laborer who declined to be identified. ‘Latinos make the economy grow. We want a world without borders’.
“By the end of the day, the cumulative impact of the recent nationwide protests became clear as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-6 against legislation that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and those that provide services to them.”
H.R. 4437 is yet another assault amidst a wave of anti-immigrant sentiments that have swept this nation since Sept. 11. Since then, the word “immigrant” has become synonymous with a person of color. We imagine only Arabs, Latinos and Asians as immigrants but do not think of Europeans, who make up a considerable percentage of the foreign-born population in the U.S.
There is an undeniable racist angle to the attacks on immigrants, which all people of color need to know and respond to. But why should Blacks care about immigration reform? Why should Blacks support immigrants when, according to the stereotype, they are taking jobs and other opportunities and treat Blacks disrespectfully?
The dominant perception is that immigrants are benefiting from the struggles for racial equality that were paid for by Blacks. But the reality is that neither immigrants nor the majority of African Americans working in low-wage jobs are getting the benefit. The divide-and-rule method is successful in framing the issues as either-or so that we, Blacks and immigrants, constantly appear at odds.
The fact is we are all getting exploited by the same economic system that benefits the wealthy. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who has proposed an alternate immigration reform policy, said the current struggle for immigrant rights is the new Civil Rights struggle. It is paramount that we as Black people recognize this and build a solidarity movement.
In the week-long hunger strike in San Francisco, the organizers dedicated a day for solidarity among immigrants and African Americans. One of the speakers was Steve Williams from POWER. Protesters all around him were wearing sights that read, “I am a Man/Woman” also in Spanish and Chinese along the lines of the 1968 Martin Luther King-led protest by the sanitation workers in Memphis.
Williams spoke of the racist domestic policies of the past that the Civil Rights struggle was about and made the parallel to the same racist attack on immigrants today. Following him was the author of this article, representing Priority African Network, a coalition of 26 Bay Area organizations that educate and struggle for racial and social justice here and abroad.
As an African immigrant who has a stake in both communities, I made an urgent appeal for Blacks and immigrants to form a united front, “not just to put out the occasional fire,” but to work strategically to oppose such policies and proactively propose progressive legislation.
On a day specifically called to “connect African American and immigrant struggles,” attendance by Blacks was less than favorable. There is a need for a strategic approach to establishing a broad-based movement that educates us all about ourselves and this call is made to both Black and immigrant-led organizations.
—San Francisco Bayview, March 29, 2006