[URBANTH-L]FNS Special Report: A Review and Assessment
acjancius at ysu.edu
Thu May 11 11:33:48 EDT 2006
May 10, 2006
May Day 2006: Initial Assessments
Nobody really knows how many people participated in
the May Day pro-immigrant legalization protest that
shook North America and beyond. Very conservative
media estimates speak about 1 million people just in
the United States, while other media stories and
pro-immigrant organizers estimate many millions more.
Whatever the numbers, May Day was a spike in a new
movement that remarkably, in only a couple months,
turned the immigration reform debate in the US on
its head, galvanized a new generation of youth
activists, spread across borders, and even pumped
new life into corporate anti-globalization movements
that declined in the wake of September 11, 2001.
For the first time in decades, the idea of a general
strike was popularized in the United States.
Perhaps the best gauge of how deeply the protest cut
into the political fabric is not measured by the
mega-marches in Los Angeles or Chicago that each
drew 500,000 people or more, but by the actions in
almost anonymous settings throughout the United
States, places usually not known for their political
fervor. In small towns like Tooele, Utah, and
Rockdale, Texas, immigrant workers and students
demonstrated for legalization. In the self-proclaimed
chile (hot pepper) capital of the world of Hatch,
New Mexico, a dozen students walked out of the
village's small high school- much to the chagrin of
a local Baptist minister.
Originally billed as a mass strike and consumer
boycott against HR 4437, the Sensenbrenner
immigration bill passed by the US House of
Representatives last December, and in support of
the legalization of undocumented workers, May
Day 2006 unfolded in a variety of forms,
assuming different characteristics depending on the
locale, degree of organization and practical
possibilities. Some people went to work or school
and attended rallies and marches later in the day.
Others stayed home. Some shunned the shopping
malls and gas stations. Organized at first by US
activists, support for the action quickly spread to
Mexico and Central America.
Initial assessments of May Day's impact in the US are
mixed, ranging from critics who dismissed the action
as a misguided adventure that will backfire to movement
organizers who characterized the day a great, historic
success. Some pro-immigrant forces, most notably the
Roman Catholic Church and long-time, Washington,
D.C.-based Latino civil rights groups urged people to
go to work and school and then participate in mass
rallies But by May Day, the call for a strike and
boycott had acquired a life of its own, surpassing the
ability of traditional organizations to control it.
Word of the protest spread from person-to-person,
computer- to-computer and neighborhood-to-
neighborhood. Seeing the handwriting on the wall,
big companies like Malone's Cost Plus in Dallas
announced they were allowing workers to take the
day off and participate in the protest.
Shut-downs, whether with employer consent or not,
affected strategic sectors of the US economy including
California agriculture, Pacific Coast shipping and Florida
construction. According to an economist with the Los
Angeles Development Corporation, an estimated $200
million dollars in revenue could have been lost on May 1
in Los Angeles County alone. Rumors of mass
immigration law enforcement raids that did not materialize
also may have contributed to workplace shutdowns.
Probably numbering in the thousands, an undetermined
number of businesses nationwide closed their doors for
the day in solidarity with the movement. In Albuquerque,
NM, popular businesses like Taco Tote and El Mezquite
market displayed signs announcing their closure.
A post-May Day poll quoted on Univision found that 65
percent of Latino participants did not work on Mayday,
while 95 percent reported not buying anything on the
boycott day. Most visibly, the huge US rallies and
marches, drawing from several thousand to the hundreds
of thousands of people, displayed the potential might of
what many call "the sleeping giant" of Latino political
power. At a large Albuquerque rally that drew several
thousand people, signs included: "We are Indigenous
People of the Southwest, Not Immigrants," "Mr. Bush:
Respect our 1848 Treaty Mexico USA," "Build Schools,
Not Borders," "We Pick, We Cook, Serve Your Food,"
"Justice for Immigrants," and simply "Viva La Raza."
A long-time US resident from Ecuador who worked for
10 years in Alaskan mines, David Rodriguez said May Day
had been a long time coming. "I've lived in the US for 30
years and you never used to see these kinds of
demonstrations 30 years ago," Rodriguez said. "There
weren't demonstrations of this kind, or organization.
Certainly, this is a power that still needs to be organized
more..we still got a little ways to go."
May Day wasn't exclusively a Latino issue, though. In
Chicago, large numbers of Chinese, Polish, Irish and
other immigrants joined the protest, while in Denver,
members of the American Indian Movement took part
in a mass rally that drew perhaps 75,000 people. The
indigenous activists aimed their criticisms at politicians
like Colorado Rep. Tam Tancredo, protesting what
they charged was a Washington power monopoly on
deciding the destinies of millions of people. "This is a
rally about the future of the Americas," said Colorado
AIM leader Glen Morris.
Controversy erupted over the boycott, once again
underscoring class differences and conflicting
economic interests in the pro-legalization movement.
Credited for boosting turn-outs at earlier events in
March and April, Spanish-language commercial media,
which is obviously dependent on advertising revenues,
emerged as the leading voice against boycotts. The
Spanish-language television monopoly Univision even
followed up May Day with a news story that featured a
spokesperson from Los Angeles' Carecen immigrant
rights advocacy organization who criticized the
boycott tactic as ineffective.
No counter point of view was presented in the report,
even though boycotts, a curious omission, since in the
case of the United Farm Workers Union's grape and
lettuce boycotts of past decades or the Florida
farmworkers' boycott of Taco Bell more recently,
tangible results have been yielded.
Mexico's Day of Solidarity
Spreading on the Internet, the message for solidarity
with US immigrants on May Day produced mass
marches and rallies, international bridge shut-downs
and scattered boycotts of US businesses and franchises
in Mexico. As in the United States, the actions were
not coordinated by a single organization south of the
border, and involved unions, students, former braceros,
indigenous groups, and others. A few days before May
Day, the Mexican Chamber of Deputies passed a
resolution backing the US immigrant protest.
May Day solidarity actions were strongest in the
northern border region. In Monterrey, Nuevo Leon,
200 protestors got a head start on others when they
closed a Wal-Mart store for 10 minutes on April 30.
The next day, in bridge blockades ranging from 15
minutes to several hours, different groups closed
international crossings in Tijuana-San Diego, Tecate,
Mexicali-Calexico, Ciudad Juarez-El Paso, Nuevo
Laredo-Laredo, Reynosa-Hidalgo, and Matamoros-
Brownsville. Downtown El Paso, which is largely
dependent on shoppers from neighboring Ciudad
Juarez, was reported largely deserted with 75
percent of its stores closed.
Students, ex-braceros, merchants and others
participated in the actions. In Mexicali, former
braceros marched to the city's "La Pagoda" building
to symbolize Mexican-Chinese unity.
In the interior, May Day had a more scattered impact.
Despite the boycott call, brisk business was reported
at Wal-Mart and other US-brand establishments in
Mexico City. Some shoppers said they couldn't afford
to lose a shopping day on traditional work holiday,
while others claimed they did not know about the
Messages of solidarity were voiced at several mass
May Day rallies and traditional parades in the capital
city, including one protest outside the US Embassy led
by Zapatista Subcomandante Marco. Linking the
migrant struggle with other causes, Marcos declared
the real struggle was for a new society in which people
would not have to live their homes in search of work.
In Toluca near Mexico City, meanwhile, Mazahua
indigenous women marched into a McDonald's
restaurant and offered free tortillas and traditional
Mexican food to customers. In one of Mexico's newer
migrant expelling regions, the Yucatan Peninsula, an
estimated 200,000 indigenous Mayans reportedly
supported the boycott. Masses in honor of migrants
were held in some Yucatan municipalities, and a
group of protestors burned cartons of US products
outside the US Consulate in Merida. Over on the
Pacific Coast, residents of San Marcos, Guerrero,
dressed up in white and staged a march in support of
their 25,000 relatives neighbors who work in El Norte.
May Day also was an occasion for the American
Chamber of Commerce in Mexico and the Mexican
franchise holders to stake out their positions. While
generally agreeing with the need for immigration reform,
the business groups argued, not surprisingly, against the
consumer boycott tactic. The NAFTA-linked business
sector leaders emphasized how US businesses and
franchises employed Mexicans and used Mexican
ingredients in their products.
Central America Joins in Too
Even more dependent on migrant money from the US
than Mexicans, Central Americans massively supported
the May Day actions. Marchers raised the migrant banner
in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa
Rica, and Panama. Like others, Salvadoran Benito
Martinez said that "almost everybody" from his family is
now living and working in the US.
The pro-migrant movement generated support across the
political spectrum from left to right, showing how
mass emigration has transformed and influenced the
post-Cold War Central American political scene.
Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos and Sandinista
Front leader Daniel Ortega both spoke out in support of
the US immigrant movement, while Rene Figueroa, an
interior ministry official from the conservative National
Republican Alliance government in El Salvador, gave his
verbal support. El Salvador's largest leftist party, the
former guerrilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation
Front, dedicated its 2006 May Day march to US
Like their Mexican counterparts, business associations
in Central America slammed the boycott. Jose Raul
Gonzalez, the vice-president of Central America's Pepsi
bottler, said, "Consumers do not know that this 'gringo'
product is as Guatemalan as they are; the only thing gringo
is the brand." Gonzalez and other business spokespersons
did not disclose how much money Pepsi and other
multinational companies earn for the rights of using their
name and business structure.
In both Mexico and Central America, many of the pro-
immigrant May Day protests also brought up the NAFTA
and CAFTA trade agreements, low salaries, high energy
costs, and other economic grievances. "CAFTA, as well
as the neo- liberal measures imposed by the US and the
International Monetary Fund are directly responsible for
the unemployment and migrations," declared Honduran
opposition leader Carlos Reyes. "Therefore, the US has
the obligation not to deport (migrants) but to welcome
them, and not to criminalize their migratory status."
May Day's Possible Impacts
US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist dismissed the May
Day protests as not carrying any potential weight in the
immigration reform legislation debate, but others are
confident the echoes of May Day will be heard when the
US Senate takes up the stalled legislation this month.
Anti- legalization forces are wagering that a backlash
to seeing Mexican flags waving in the streets will help
forestall any reforms smacking of amnesty.
A CNN poll released this week reported that sympathy
for immigrants had dropped from 70 percent of respondents
in April to 57 percent in May. Pro-legalization
organizations, on the other hand, are betting their newly-
displayed strength will produce positive results. How the
negotiations between a Senate bill and the Sensenbrenner
HR 4437 House legislation pan out in the days ahead is
the big question. Still in doubt is whether any legislation at
will be approved by both houses of Congress and signed
by President Bush in an election year.
Eligibility for green cards, guestworkers and border
security provisions will be among the key sticking points.
Texas Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a former US Border Patrol
chief, said it's almost certain that the massive border
wall and undocumented immigrant criminalization
aspects of the Sensenbrenner bill are dead. If Reyes is
correct, the new pro-immigrant movement can claim a
great, first victory.
Analysts will be carefully watching the electoral
repercussions of the pro-immigrant movement in the
2006 and 2008 elections. Many of today's protestors are
US citizens- and current or potential voters- who turned
out to support their relatives and friends. A common slogan
in protests across the nation was: "Today We March,
Tomorrow We Vote." And with a new generation politicized,
May Day's winds of change could well expand beyond the
arena of electoral politics.
Jorge Mujica, a leader of Chicago's March 10 Coalition,
assessed the mass movement as the beginning of a new
international worker movement not just limited to
legalization, but one advocating for "better working
conditions" as well. On an international scale, May Day
2006 showcased "the first big revolutionary movement
of the 21st Century," Mujica contended.
Arguably, May Day was the third big wave of cross-
border movements in recent years. The anti-World Trade
Organization protests of the late 1990s and the anti-Iraq
war demonstrations of early 2003 could be considered
precursors to today's movement because of the way they
rapidly leaped across borders in support of the same
cause. In another important sense, May Day 2006 is the
latest example of the reemergence of civil society as a
vital actor on national political stages, a development
also witnessed in the French student strikes, the Nepalese
pro- democracy movement and the large demonstrations
in Puerto Rico that could culminate in a general strike in
the coming days in protest of a government fiscal melt-
Additional sources: El Paso Times, May 2 and 8, 2006.
Articles by Vic Kolenc and Louie Gilot. La Jornada,
April 30, 2006; May 2, 3, 4, 7, 2006. Articles by Juan
Balboa, David Brooks, Alfredo Mendez Ortiz, the DPA
news agency, and editorial staff. Latin America Data Base
(UNM) , May 4, 2006. Proceso/Apro, May 2, 2006.
Articles by Rodrigo Vera, Gabriela Hernandez and Jose
Palacios Tepate. Latino USA/KUNM, May 8, 2006.
Independent Native News/KUNM, May 2, 2006. CNN,
May 2, 2006. Univision, April 28 and 30, 2006; May 2,
3, 5, 8, 9, 2006. El Universal, April 27 and 30, 2006;
May 1 and 2, 2006. Articles by Maria Teresa Montano,
Rubelio Fernandez, Roberto Aguilar Grimaldo, Francisco
Resendiz, Jorge Herrera, Juan Cedillo, and the Notimex
news agency. Associated Press, May 1, 2006. Articles by
Mark Stevenson and Michael Kahn. Albuquerque Journal,
May 2, 2006. Article by Debra Dominguez-Lund Frontera,
May 1, 2006. La Cronica, May 1, 2006. Article by Hugo
Ruvalcaba. lapolaka.com, May 1, 2006. enlineadirecta.info,
May 1, 2006. El Sur, May 2, 2006. Articles by Karenine
Trigo and Zacarias Cervantes. El Diario de Juarez, May 1,
2006. Articles by Ramon Chaparro.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border
news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New
Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico
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