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La Gran Walkout, to City Hall

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

Students poured out of school today. Most of them slowed traffic on the 101. The ones I met went back to City Hall.

La Gran Walkout, to ...
city_hall1.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x450

LOS ANGELES, March 27, 2005--Reports are that 25,000 students walked out of school today to protest anti-immigrant reform. Today I met 2,000 of them walking to City Hall.

I heard them on the streets, the cheering, chanting crew, the police sirens, the helicopter circling. By the time I shook loose from what I was doing, they'd passed by, so I jumped in my car to catch up with them marching down Cesar Chavez. A thousand students, spread over blocks, were walking down the sidewalk, with a police escort shutting down a lane of traffic. I jumped out of the car, curious about which school they represented, so I asked, "Where are you from?" Quick as that, a student shouted back, "Mexico!"

So I stood in a sidestreet and asked, with a little more precision, "What school are you from?" I heard from Washington, Boyle Heights, Montebello, Garfield, Schurr, South Gate, Roosevelt. And there were the middle school students: from Belvedere, Griffith, and Hollenbeck. Between cheers of "¡Viva la raza!", "¡Viva Mexico!", and "¡Zapata vive!" followed up with "¡La lucha sigue!", I asked one student why he was marching. "They're trying to take our rights away," he explained. "We're not criminals."

I walked with them across the bridge over the LA River, as the chanting went on. "La Migra, policía, la misma porquería" and one oldie: "Hell no, we won't go!" I don't know where they came from but the crowd kept growing. Six hundred, then eight hundred, then more. A Mexican flag led the march.

"Are you really walking to City Hall?" I asked. My feet, tightly wrapped in dress shoes, were feeling just the few blocks we had gone. "Yes!" I got back in my car and drove over to City Hall. Once I found parking, my companions weren't far behind.

On the south lawn of City Hall, easily two thousand young people had gathered, a third of them on the hill in front of the terrace, the rest on the lawn. Twelve uniformed cops stood on the steps of City Hall, while others in plain clothes roamed the crowd. It's easy to spot a plainclothes cop in a suit in a crowd of students.

I asked a small group of Garfield students why they were there. "A better life, to work." "It's not all about the money." "We came for our families." "We're here to make this place better." "Our economy [in the United States] isn't going to work without us." "We do the dirty work." "Look at Villaraigosa--he's gonna show us what we can be in the future."

A line of speakers strung out behind the portable PA system. They demanded "Get the Mayor out here to represent." They shouted, "I got a message for the people--We're all created equal."

Eight cops now lined the parapet around City Hall. An air horn inspired cheers of "¡Mexico! Mexico!" and "No more Bush!" The speakers went on, "They're trying to kill our generation." "We are Mexica!" "We're doing this for our children." And finally, one speaker pointed to a U.S. flag: "The red, white, and blue: that's the same flag that's on the border, the same flag that's killing our mothers, our fathers." Then, "You got a voice. You got a loud voice. Now put it to work."

I interrupted another cluster of students and asked my question, Why are you here? This is what they told me: "Without us they're nothing." "We pick the fruit, we clean the houses." I interrupted: "Come on, you never picked fruit in your life," and the others giggled at the young woman who'd made the comment. "I'll bet you don't even clean your room," I added. I'd gone too far. She jumped in: "I cook, I clean because my mom works, and when she gets home, she's tired. We have to be independent because our parents are always working."

"We're here, and we won't go," the crowd roared.

A young man had been listening, and he stepped in. "We're here to represent our parents and our culture." I asked what "culture" meant. "Culture means 'us'--the people." "La raza?" I asked. "La raza," he confirmed. "It's pride for us. LA was built by immigrants. We built the buildings." But then he wondered, "Why is it just Latinos they're after? Why not Filipinos, why not Chinese?"

The speaker from the hill almost echoed him: "They're immigrants, too--African-Americans, Arabs, Indians, Russians. All people are created equal--Latinos, too."

Suddenly, I saw The World Can't Wait handing out flyers; ANSWER-LA students soon had a banner up, and then I saw anarchists hang a faded U.S. flag from a tree scrawled with messages about a classless society. Radical Women had flyers, and the South Central Farmers were holding their signs. Students from BAMN unfurled their banner.

I sat down with Veraliz and Stephanie. They had walked 13 miles, from South Gate High School.

I asked how the school was treating them. Veraliz told me that on Friday the teachers had pushed her against a wall, and that the cops had pepper sprayed them and arrested them for wanting to march. The cops, she said, carried riot shields and swung batons at the students. Then the students were forced to sit in the classroom for four hours, and to use cups and trashcans for restrooms. She seemed more disturbed about her friend at Fremont High, who was among several students who were expelled for attempting to join the march. Roosevelt, she said, was cool.

I wandered back up the hill and found the TV cameras eagerly fawning over the adult leaders and a single well-spoken student, who identified himself as a U.S. citizen with immigrant parents.

The police announced that they'd brought in school busses to take the students back to campus, an obvious effort to break up the demonstration. A few students took the opportunity, but a moment later, the crowd swarmed to the southwest corner of the lawn. Antonio Villaraigosa had arrived!

His bodyguard pushed the crowd aside while the cameras rolled. Villaraigosa made his way to the City Hall stairs, where he shushed the crowd. Two students flanked him, holding the PA speakers on their heads. Eventually, the students began quieting each other, mostly eager to hear what the Mayor had to say. He said he had met with student leaders, and he shared their fear. He added, "This legislation is not immigration reform--it would incarcerate twelve million people. Your parents have worked hard and played by the rules." Then he outlined three points for the students: that LA has passed an anti-Sensenbrenner resolution that he had signed that morning; that the country needed citizenship and a way to keep families together; and that the students should go back to school.

At that, he was booed and the call went out: "Hell, no, we won't go!"

Twenty cops stood behind the mayor, and a dozen more lined the walls in front of the building. A student off to one side began shouting down the Mayor with his bullhorn. Students crowded on the terrace demanding he stop, but he was relentless. "What you need to do is go back to school," the Mayor repeated, and suddenly the student speaker was allowed to speak. A wad of paper flew in Villaraigosa's direction. The students responded to the Mayor with "¡Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!" and one by one they sat down to prove the point. The Mayor disappeared into City Hall, and the students stood up.

Students threw a few more wads of paper at each other until one called out, "Don't throw things--They'll arrest us and deport us!"

At 3:45, an adult coordinator called for everyone's attention. He'd just received a call that the Senate Judiciary Committee had passed the McCain-Kennedy immigration proposal [which wasn't quite accurate, but close] with legalization and a guest worker program. "We won a partial victory today," he declared.

The speakers took to the hill again, but this time with a different tone. "We are strong!" they shouted. "We are one! Somos uno!" "¡La raza unida jamas sera vencida!"

Have you noticed that cops never smile?

The students called out, "¡Todos somos familia!" The young woman behind me turned to the young man next to her and laughingly said, "Brother!" He answered, "Sister!"

The students announced they will walk out tomorrow, too.

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marching through East LA

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

marching through Eas...
cesar_chavez2.jpg, image/jpeg, 550x413

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the scene

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

the scene...
city_hall8.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x450

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a statement

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

a statement...
comite_latino.jpg, image/jpeg, 368x480

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no on 4437

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

no on 4437...
4437.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x450

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overhead

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

overhead...
in_the_tree.jpg, image/jpeg, 450x338

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no tenemos fronteras

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

no tenemos fronteras...
indigenas.jpg, image/jpeg, 240x180

sorry this is blurry, but I think it's important

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friends

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

friends...
roosevelt_students.jpg, image/jpeg, 497x480

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he picked it up later

by Leslie Radford Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 1:23 AM
leslie@radiojustice.net

he picked it up late...
schoolbook.jpg, image/jpeg, 400x300

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
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Walkouts in Texas Tejano Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 3:30 AM
organization El Chivo Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006 at 7:54 AM
May Day 2006 Ernesto Nevarez Friday, Mar. 31, 2006 at 9:55 AM

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