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The Dead Walk in Los Angeles

by Julia Stein, LA Free Press Sunday, Aug. 20, 2000 at 5:27 PM

The Dead Walk in Los Angeles-- Anti-Globalization Links up with Immigrant Labor

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 Avenue.

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." "Presente."

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."

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