error August 17, Thursday, 5:00. at 8th and Santee Streets in downtown
Los Angeles in the "March to Stop Sweatshops, For a Living Wage and
Immigrant Rights" hundreds in the crowd held up white crosses
commemorating immigrants who had died crossing the Mexican border into the
U.S. and a garment worker called for a general strike in the garment
district. The marchers were calling for a general amnesty for undocumented
workers, a living wage, and an end to sweatshops in Los Angelees in this
march that linked up the anti-globalization movement with the immigrant
labor movement in Los Angeles.
As the crowd swelled to five thousand in the garment district with
boarded up shops a helicopter hovered overhead. In the milling crowd at
8th and Santee besides the sea of white crosses many held picket signs:
Who's the illegal alien, Pilgrim?; Honor Labor; People Before Profit;
Respect Worker Rights; Support the General Amnesty. Many wore colorful
t-shirts: Justice for Janitors' members, who just won their strike, wore
red shirts; Green Party members wore green; health workers in S.E.I.U.
Local 399 wore purple. In the intersection the organizers 40 foot sound
truck played upbeat Latin music and had a large banner draped across it
that read "Southern California Fair Trade Network," one of the rally's main
organizers who fight against sweatshops.
Tom Hayden, who stood near the sound truck, said, "At least 500
people have died crossing the border and it's important that they be
remembered. It's a good opportunity to reassess the government's
anti-immigrant policy. Most Irish, Jewish, and Italians came the same way.
If they got off their duffs and came here to rally, they would recognize
themselves with the same issue."
The crowd continued to grow as more people were holding the white
crosses with the names of immigrants who'd died crossing the border: Jose
Gonzalez de Santos; Irma Hernandez; Olivia Cruz Jaurez, Jose Medina
Contreras, Jose Aguilar. Many of the crosses said simply "No
Identificado," not identified for a body found on the border whose name was
lost in the crossing.
The rally began when a woman sang two spirited songs in Spanish
from the sound truck. Then the first speaker announced some of the names of
the rally's sponsors which was a roll call of immigrant and anti-sweatshop
advocates: Central American Resource Center; Coalition for Humane
Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles; Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates;
Sweatshop Watch; Thai Community Development Center, United Students Against
Sweatshops; Central American Coalition. The rally was supported by the
Garment Workers Justice Center and International Longshore Workers Union
Local 34. The crowd was mixed, Hispanic, Anglo, Asian, and
African-American, looking like typical multi-cultural downtown LA crowd.
All the speeches were Spanish and English.
On the sound truck Martha, a downtown Los Angeles garment worker
said, "The bosses were telling workers not to come out today because it's
dangerous. It's not dangerous to come out. It's dangerous to cross the
border.And it's up for us to decide what we want. And we decide for amnesty
and a general strike. We want a general strike to do away to exploitative
bosses. And we want a worker-student coalition." The crowd cheered her.
The garment worker from Saipan next spoke briefly about how people
were building an international anti-sweatshop movement. Next, a spokesman
from Occidental College United Students Against Sweatshops described how
students researched where the clothing sold in their campus came from and
found out that the clothing was made in sweatshops. He demanded that the
garment companies use independent monitors to monitor their contractors
around the world. Mike Garcia, head of Justice for Janitors which are
Service Employees International Union Local 1887, said, "We showed the
world that poor immigrant workers can fight back and win. Los Angeles leads
the country in low wages, immigrant and uninsured workers so that's why we
must lead the country in organize these workers. We in Los Angeles will
lead the fight for a general amnesty of immigrants." After he spoke the
crowd chanted: "Immigrant workers under attack. What do we do? Fight back."
And Councilman Jackie Goldberg said, "We need to address the gap between
the rich and the poor. There's more billionaires living in L.A. than any
other city, yet people are trying to live on $11,000 a year. "
Five thousand people began to march through the garment district
holding their sea of white crosses and they chanted " What do we want?
Amnesty. When? Now." Above the street garment workers hung out of the
windows of six-story and eight-story buildings waving their
products--sweaters, socks, pants and t-shirts. A group of bike police led
the march. More people in the windows of brick buildings waved
handkerchiefs and shirts. The crowd chanted: "What do we want? A living
wage. When do we want it? Now."
At each intersection a line of cops in riot gear stood, but
protecting the crowd was a line of monitors holding hands. The sea of white
crosses passed the Beaux Artes brick buildings of the old downtown and
walked past the glass skyscrapers of the new downtown. The sea of crosses
passed Macy's plaza with Macy's Department store and the Hyatt Regency
Hotel, past the Seventh Market Place with Robinson's/May department store.
The dead were walking through the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Finally,
the sea of crosses entered the four fences surrounding the parking lot
protest area next to the Staples Center Many put their white crosses on
the eastern fence until that fence was crisscrossed by tens of crosses.
Thousands of people milled in the protest area when two more
contingents entered the protest area: the Puerto Rican marchers and allies
carrying signs protesting U.S. bombing of Vieques, where the Navy had
bombed for sixty years; and the Black Bloc, about a sixty person contingent
of one anarchist group who dressed in black shirts, black sweatshirts and
black bandanas. The Vieques protesters had met in Pershing Square at 4 p.m.
for a rally and then marched to the Staples Center. Near the south fence
closest to the Staples Center four drummers sat on the ground in a circle
pounding away while a few danced. Toward the center Filipino activists held
up their multi-colored banner and Mecha, Chicano student activists in red
bandanas massed in a group of about thirty. A few enterprising Hispanics
had carts where they sold hot dogs and one man rolled his ice cream cart
through the crowd. The black helicopter flew very low overhead and tens of
riot police stood in the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa
The concluding rally of the four days of protests began with a
Yaqui Indian from Arizona on stage who said that they would do a ceremony
for non-violence. Then he did the deer dance from Northern Sonora which
celebrates life. The next speaker said, "Because there are many
undocumented people in the crowd, do not engage in property destruction. If
anyone does property destruction stay away from them or banish them."
After a short set by an East Los Angeles rock 'n roll band where people
dance, Raul Galina, a Guatemala human rights activist gave the crowd the
solidarity of the Guatemala people and thanked the North Americas for their
work supporting Guatemala ns in their decades-long struggle for social
justice and democracy.
Next Lisa Fithian, from Rise Up/Dan and D2K, the two main
organizers of the four days of protests, spoke: "We did what we said we
would. We put our issues across. We came from all over Los Angeles.
Wherever you go we have to rise up and say truth to power. We have to take
steps everyday until we have the justice we need." As Gore was giving his
acceptance speech for the nomination for president with the Democratic
National Convention, Don White, from Committee in Solidarity with the
People in El Salvador, spoke on the podium outside, and told the crowd that
in Central America there's a custom to say the name of people who had died
and then respond with "Presente" or "present" that they're here. He would
list the names of peoples around the world who have suffered from U.S.
military policy arming local dictatorships and U.S. corporate exploitation
. As Gore spoke inside, Don White said outside, "The people of Honduras."
The crowd said "Presente." The people of Haiti who sew clothes for 38
cents/hour." "Presente." "The people of East Timor who died from arms the
United States gave to the Indonesian military." "Presente." "The people of
El Salvador." "Presente." "The people of Iraq." "Presente." "The people of
Columbia." "Presente." "The people of Africa who die from AIDs when
American and European pharmaceutical companies deny them low-cost drugs."
Next, the speaker named the list of people who died crossing the
border and for each name the crowd said "Presente. Presente. Presente." All
those who died were now present in the protest area of the Staples Center.
The next speaker from D2K said that in Los Angeles "We creating a
politics of community, courage, a resistance.This is a politics of
participation, not passivity." Then he asked for the crowd to link hands
which they did and lift their hands up to the sky. Linked hands faced the
dark night sky.
As I walked through the gate out of the protest parking lot
surrounded by high wire fence, I saw that two lines of police in riot gear
had blocked off two sides of the intersection and the third street had been
blocked off all week. So the only one way to leave was to go north on
Figueroa Avenue. My friend and I walked down a block with a line of riot
police on both sides making Los Angeles look like a Third World
dictatorship. At the 7th and Metro subway stop the area waiting for the
train was full of protesters. One man proudly sported a red button which
said, "DNC Protester, 2000."