May Day is known in many countries as a day to support workers’ rights as well as immigration rights and reform, and in some places is synonymous with International Workers’ Day. On this year’s May Day National Immigrant Mobilization march in Chicago, Knox students participated in the fight for workers’ rights with activists and immigrants.
The march in Chicago has included immigrant workers’ rights since 2006 with the general fight for workers’ rights. While this year’s attendance was notably smaller than in past years because of swine flu fears and the inability of some people to take a day off work, the event was still attended by thousands of people. It was followed by a conference at Little Village Lawndale high school the next day, which Knox students also attended.
Most Knox students that participated in the protest attended to show support in numbers and relay the message to the media that “no human is illegal,” a popular slogan of the march displayed on many banners and signs as people walked through the streets. Sophomore Mary Reindl said, “One of the issues that seemed to be the most talked about was the separation of families when one member is deported and the rest are here, or when someone is detained for a long period of time. The criminalization of the immigrants who are just trying to work is another big issue.”
It was also important to the protesters that the march happened near the first 100 days of Obama’s administration. Marchers wore white t-shirts to show their solidarity with workers. No police violence was reported or seen at the march, and the only notable conflict occurred when an anarchist group used spray paint on a monument in the plaza they marched to and the police confronted them. Still, no violence was used.
Most Knox students felt that they integrated into the protest well and did not seem to be a group divided from the rest. The majority of the marchers spoke in Spanish, and while some students did not the Spanish chants being shouted were explained to them and quickly picked up.
Sophomore Abraham Diekhans-Mears said, “I thought it was successful. I think all protests are successful if you get your message across. It’s hard to have a really unsuccessful protest. [Maybe] if no one shows up.” Diekhans-Mears also said he thought it was a good introduction to start actively thinking about social progression through the left, which was the topic of the conference the next day.
Little Village Lawndale high school, a school with photos of Che Guevara and revolutionary student artwork lining the halls and even spray painted student artwork on the front sidewalk, held a conference entitled “A Movement Re-Imagining Change 109 (ARC),” at which Bill Ayers and other political activists spoke.
Topics discussed in groups at the conference included prison reform, feminism at the grassroots level, a people-centered economy, GLBTQ communities and social justice, how to strengthen peace movements, sustainability, immigration and low wage labor, and others. “We discussed those issues for two hours and then came back together and showed notes on what each group did,” said junior Vicky Daza. “It showed the intersection between those issues.”
When asked about how she felt about the effectiveness of the protest, Daza, one of the leaders of Estudiantes sin Fronteras and a planner of bringing a group of Knox students to the march, said, “With the Bush administration, people have been really disempowered. I think there’s a mentality that [protesting] is not going to change anything. That definitely affects someone’s decision to protest.”