SPECIAL SERIES : May Day 2006 Coverage
Protesters March Throughout San Francisco
Tens of thousands of marchers gathered to show support for immigrant workers and demonstrate against HR 4437
May 1, 2006 9:22 PM
Throngs of peaceful marchers, mostly young families with children, gathered and rallied at Justin Herman Plaza on May 1, as part of a nationwide worker’s protest billed “A Day Without Immigrants.”
After marching down Market Street, the protest converged upon Civic Center around 1 p.m., where civic leaders chanted rallying cries from a makeshift stage in front of City Hall.
Throughout the warm afternoon, immigrant workers, political activist groups and their supporters turned out in the tens of thousands, primarily to voice their opposition against the bill, HR 4437. The proposed bill makes illegal immigration a felony and punishes anyone guilty of providing assistance. The House of Representatives passed the bill last December, however, it is still under debate in the U.S. Senate.
Police would not make any official estimates of the turnout, but said that no arrests had been made.
“I’m happy to fight for equality,” said Oakland City Council candidate Aimee Allison. “Immigrants fuel this country. Immigrants are the future.”
Draped in Mexican and U.S. flags, protesters carried signs that protested HR 4437 and called for legalizing undocumented workers. They chanted numerous slogans including “Si se puede!” meaning “Yes we can!” the rallying cry of migrant farm workers who were led by Cesar Chavez.
Hotel worker, Carlos Hernandez, attended the rally with his wife and his 8-year-old son, Carlos Jr.
"I've been here 15 years with no papers," Hernandez said. "They still need my work no matter what status. Why can't I be legalized? They want me to work, but also want me to be illegal."
The protest march was organized locally by SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 87, and is intended to demonstrate the economic impact of immigrant workers, both legal and illegal. Supporters were also asked to refrain from purchasing anything today.
SF State student Blake McConnell, a 24-year-old art major, skipped class today to join the protest march.
“Today is international worker’s rights day," McConnell said. "Having been a restaurant employee myself, I felt it was important to come out and show solidarity with all workers. I feel camaraderie with them.”
San Francisco restaurant cook, Edgardo Sanchez, 40, took the day off from work with his employer’s blessing, he said. Sanchez feels strongly that undocumented workers should be naturalized because he has been contributing to the workforce for 8 years, yet is not eligible for health benefits and receives lower pay than legal workers.
SF State graduate student, Kit Miller, attended the rally with her teenage daughter, who skipped a day of school to show support for immigrant workers.
"It is up to us legal citizens and immigrants to stand by workers and see that they are not disrespected and turned into criminals," said Miller, as she and her daughter marched with signs that read, "Mi casa es su casa" - “My house is your house.”
Although there seemed to be little opposition, not all of the bystanders at the march agreed with the workers' cause.
“There are a lot of angry voices on the other side of this issue,” said Niels Nielsen, 38, an office manager. “I support their cause, but the borders do have to be enforced better than they have been.”
Tondalayo, a performance artist and art model of Spanish-Indian decent, said she does not like when immigrants complain about the United States, and asks the question to Mexico: “If Mexico does not grant citizenship to anyone who is not born there, then why do they ask something their own country isn’t willing to give?”
However, she said she is opposed to HR 4437 because it’s using the taxpayers’ money, adding that it’s cheaper to just send them home, as long as they did not commit a serious crime.
Frank Parish, an anthropology student at Vista College, held a sign that read, “Impeach Bush-Cheney.”
“This whole thing is a result larger than the immigrant community, it’s about our civil rights,” said Parish.
Husband and wife, Richard and Shirley Hanson, did their part to promote civil rights by setting up a voting booth - between the State and Federal buildings – with a sign that read, “Vote Democrat today.”
Mrs. Hanson said that the only way to take back the country is to get people to vote.
The couple resides in the Richmond District, and both are students of the University of San Francisco (USF).
“I am in sympathy with the objectives of the rally,” said Mr. Hanson. “The Statue of Liberty was dedicated to the poor, and now aristocracy has taken over.”
San Francisco schoolteacher Letty Pena, 34, expressed her concern about the aftermath of the immigration bill.
“If HR 4437 goes into effect, we will see the same level of civil uprising and action as happened in the 1960s in the South,” she said. “And it would start immediately.”
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