Lively Immigrants Rights March & Rally

Date: Sun, 25 Aug 1996 21:26:54 -0500 (CDT) -- Chicago

9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Stop the War on the People

The noise under the el overpass was almost deafening.  "Aaaaah!,"  they
screamed, announcing their presence to a supportive Chicago working-class
neighborhood.  More than 500 marchers reverberated wordless noise until
they passed through the concrete sound chamber, then resumed their
previous chants: "Aqui estamos!  Aqui nos quedamos!  No nos vamos!" ("We
are here!  We are staying!" We are not going!")  Curious, predominantly
Latino neighbors, roused from their mid-morning labor, lined sidewalks to
offer their thumbs up. 

This morning's "Stop the War on the People!" march, a protest against the
anti-immigrant sentiment so common in contemporary America, rolled boldy
southward through Chicago's streets from its 9:30 a.m. starting point at
Division and Milwaukee in multi-racial Wicker Park.  The march's final
destination was the designated "protest pit" in front of the United
Center, home to this week's Democratic National Convention.  Pueblo Sin
Fronteras ("People Without Borders"), a North Side immigrant-rights
organization, coordinated the march to publicly "ask and demand respect,
to be respected as human beings," according to the group's Joe Gomez.
Wearing a striking red "United Farm Workers of America" tee shirt, Gomez
helped Chicago police keep eager marchers on a single side of the street
as he breathlessly explained Pueblo Sin Fronteras' mission to empower
immigrants to take control of their own lives. "Immigrants, irregardless
of what group they come from whether they be from Latin America, from
Asia, what have you, have been bombarded by attacks from both political
groups [Democrat and Republican]." According to Gomez, Pueblo Sin
Fronteras helps immigrants fight non-violently for their own rights. 

Community activsts such as the Reverend Ramon Niedes of West Town United
Methodist Church joined the march to oppose anti-immigration legislation
and "the kinds of racist attitudes" that have led to increased anti-Latino
sentiment over the last few years.  To Niedes, this march was an
opportunity to demonstrate the broad-based coalition of Latinos and
non-Latinos "who are interested in having the same kinds of ideas on the
wage/job situation and the increase in the minimum wage.  Those things are
vital to the interests of our people." 

The march itself was a vibrant hodgepodge of Latinos and multi-ethnic
supporters from various community organizations marching with Puerto Rican
flags and Spanish banners.  Some, like Pueblos Sin Fronteras member and
former Guatemalan political prisoner Maya Ruiz, wore military-style berets
or headbands that read "Viva Las Zapatistas." Ruiz believes that the U.S. 
government has adopted anti-immigration policies out of "pseudo-political
interest" in manipulating the political process "just from their own
convenience or for the minority."  According to Ruiz, the afflicted
peoples must unite to fight these minority interests.  "That is why in
this‘ Americans, South Americans, Europeans, whatever," he says.

Among the marchers wove a mass of anarchists who chanted, sang, danced and
hollared excitement into the protest.  Many of the anarchists wore blue
armbands reading, "Todos somos ilegales" ("We are all illegal"), a tactic
popularized by Latino-rights group La Resistencia.  The blue bands allude
to a tactic used by the Dutch during World War II to confuse anti-semitic
Germans by having all citizens wear the yellow stars that Nazis used to
identify Jews. The anarchists' "Cut the Strings" Puppet Theater built
extensive signs and intricate puppets to, according to San Francisco
puppetter Alli Starr, "impress that no one is illegal, that their borders
are irrelevant and that their terrorism won't work anymore."  "We are
anarchists," said an activst named Sascha, as he held a sign which read
"Ni estados, Ni fronteras" ("No States, No Borders").  "We reject borders
in general." 

Though the anarchists provided life and numbers to the march, some of the
Latino marchers expressed a difference of opinion with them as to whether
the protest should stay within police-defined boundaries.  Some anarchists
spilled out onto both sides of the street.  "Stay on this side," cried
neighborhood resident Bruce Dixon, shooing protesters back within their
designated lane.  "Poor people catch the bus.  They can't get to church
[or to work]."  He believes that the anarchists were stepping outside of
police bounds, "Because they're young and stupid.  They're not really
hooked up with real people who have to work for a living." 

The tactical disagreement between march organizers and the anarchists
solidified when the protesters reached the "protest pit," a fenced-in area
for marches and speeches outside the United Center.  The pit is officially
sanctioned by the Chicago police. While Latino marchers poured into the
pit to continue their rally, several dozen anarachists remained outside
chanting, "Our power's in the street, don't go in the pit!!" Several of
the anarchists expressed concern that while the pit-friendly marchers
demanded "more Latino fire fighters, more Latino police officers," they
were ignoring more fundamental, institutional flaws in the socio-economic
system that perpetuate racism and poverty.  Some Latino marchers inside
the pit expressed concern that the anarchists' more confrontational
tactics were not productive.  Chicago police surrounded the anti-pit
protesters but did not advance; the protesters dispersed without incident. 

The fervor of the "Stop the War on the People!" protest demonstrates the
fervor of the activists who have descended upon Chicago to make their
voices heard at the DNC.  For more information about other events planned,
contact Countermedia at

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