It was a few minutes after 9:00, and it was already clear that Joe,
determinedly grinning, and his ragtag crew from Save Our State had lost their
effort to stop Alhambra Home Depot shoppers from supporting the store's hiring
practices. What wasn't clear was why the police let most of the Alhambra
and Los Angeles counter-demonstrators stand behind and on either side of the
small Ventura group, as well as across the street, for more than an hour.
Thirty Alhambra, Monterey Park, and Glendale police lined up along Morengo
Street facing both groups on the sidewalk, those complaining about Home Depot's
community-based hiring practices in front and those supporting it directly
behind them and to spilling along the sidewalk on either side.
A hundred and fifty or so day labor supporters had surrounded fewer than
twenty SOSers when the police moved the out-of-towners to the south corner of
the driveway entrance. Somewhere in the move, the three skinheads with
U.S. flag handkerchiefs in their pockets who had stood with the SOSers drifted
away, diminishing their number further. By 11:00, the swelling ranks of
counter-protestors, now two hundred and fifty or more, filled the north corner,
the west side of the street, and even the sidewalk east of small band of
anti-Mexican protestors. Unless the SOSers had busloads of supporters on
the way, they were outnumbered fifteen to one. A helicopter circled
overhead for ten minutes and flew away.
This time the SOSers gave up their trademark sports pants and sundresses of
Baldwin Park and Garden Grove for jeans, baseball caps, and one droopy Cat in
the Hat hat that mimicked the the U.S. flag. They held up signs declaring
"This land was Mexican once and will be American Forever." Their
smirking leader, Joe Turner, carried a printed poster that said "This is
our land. This is our fight. saveourstate.org" Another sign
read "Home Depot Partners with Racist La Raza."
From all sides, chanting supporters of la raza and day workers, mostly local
Chicanos and Mexicanos, responded to remarks on the SOS website with homemade
placards declaring that "Alhambra Is Not a 'Cesspool'," "Alhambra
Is a Racist Free Zone," and "All Work Is Legal in
Alhambra." Mexican flags, yellow anti-racism banners, and an
anarchist flag waved over the crowd. About every fifth car honked their
support for the chanting locals and their allies. On the back of one T-shirt
from Cerritos College MEChA was the observation "They call us violent cause
we're no longer silent."
The counter-protestors took up a collection for the day workers watching from
the back of the parking lot and the three green-hatted National Lawyers Guild
observers delivered the collection. Telemundo, NBC Channel 2, and
ABC Channel 7, roamed the crowd and waited in their vans, waiting for something to happen.
Suddenly smirking Joe appeared among the counter-protestors on the west side
of the street, vainly roiling those in front until he was escorted back to his
followers across the street by an Alhambra sergeant, slapping Joe on the back as
At 11:15, the police distributed riot kits and helmets among their ranks and
stepped forward toward the counter-demonstrators on the west side of the
street. At 11:35, the
police escorted two late SOSers to their companions. The sun was nearing its apex, and the warm weather hinted at the
heat of summer, but today was not the day for a showdown.
And then they came. In crisp white t-shirts and carpenters' caps, homemade signs
held high, twenty jornaleros from San Gabriel Valley appeared in the south, marching toward Save Our State. The police stopped them
briefly until counter-protestors called from behind the cops to let the workers pass.
The crowd roared as the laborers joined the eastside counter-demonstrators and
held up their messages: "Jornaleros unidos del Monte" and "Fue,
es y será de México." The contingent of jornaleros and the eastside
demonstrators crossed the street to cheers of "El pueblo unido jamás será
The re-invigorated counter-protestors shouted "You're the problem!"
to the anti-immigrant group, and by 12:15 most of them had disappeared into the
parking lot. One stayed and rolled up his flag, and Joe, looking for all
the world like a captain on a sinking ship save for the perpetual sneer, faced
the protestors with his sign rolled up and bent in one hand until he, too,
drifted down the sidewalk.
The jornaleros took the bullhorn to thank the crowd and the organizers, the
San Gabriel Valley Friends of Peace and Justice. Announcements followed
for Baldwin Park, Chicano Park, and the summer border actions. As the
police walked to their cars I shouted to one, "We're not so scary.
What's with the riot gear?" He said, "Better to have it and not
need it than to need it and not have it." I answered, "But it
makes everyone edgy." Like a recording, the cop behind him repeated with the same intonation,
"It's better to have it and not need it."
On the way to my car, I passed a Home Depot shopper talking on his cellphone
as he loaded lumber onto the roof of this van. ". . . people who are
extremists and don't want the Hispanics here" was all I caught.