Tuesday, April 11, 2006


A revolution in progress: Immigrant rights vs. Congress

The magnitude of large-scale protests across the country by supporters of immigrant rights has so far largely escaped the attention of many news outlets. It appears that as many as two million people were on the streets Monday alone in the largest demonstrations ever seen across the country (see for example the report on today's Immigrant Rights Protests Rock the Country on the Democracy Now! website):
In New York, over 100,000 demonstrators converged in lower Manhattan for a rally near City Hall. In Atlanta, as many as 80,000 people flooded the streets. In Phoenix, an estimated 100,000 rallied at the Arizona Capitol. 50,000 marched in Houston. 25,000 in Madison, Wisconsin. 10,000 in Boston. 8,000 in Omaha, Nebraska. In Fresno, California 10,000 people turned out in what a police spokesman called "by far the largest event we have ever had in the city." Even in the tiny farming town of Garden City, Kansas, 3,000 people took to the streets - more than 10 percent of the local population.

The rallies Monday followed a day of demonstrations in San Diego, Miami, Birmingham, Alabama, Utah, Idaho and Iowa. A Sunday rally in Dallas drew half a million people, the largest protest in the city's history.

Many are likening the extraordinary national mobilization to a second civil rights movement.
Without a doubt millions more who could not or would not join with the marchers sympathize with and support them. The massive protests represent a huge discontent with the US Congress among a significant and growing segment of the population, and one that traditionally votes Democratic (at least until they move up in the economic ranks).

There also seems to be significant discontent among employers who don't want to be cops. They just want cheap labor, they don't want to set up complex routines to check citizenship status, especially under the complex rules that Congress is contemplating. Nor do clergy or social workers want to risk fines or jail time for doing their job, which is assisting people, whether they are documented or undocumented. They won't by nature agree to do the work of immigration cops. They may have had enough of the Republican perpetrators of the tough new immigration proposals and could contribute to an exodus of Republican voters.

Because of the widespread opposition, these demonstrations will be truly disruptive. How will Congress and the White House react?

It's hard to say. They might recognize that many of them could lose their seats for coming out on the wrong side of the immigration issue (Hawaii's Representative Neil Abercrombie voted against both the Border Security Bill and the Real ID Act, Representative Ed Case voted for them, placing Case squarely against immigrant interests).

Or they might react as they have in the recent past and increase the role of the military in domestic affairs and beef up domestic policing. There's nothing that our government fears more than a popular uprising. Certainly, the Bush administration has been opportunistic in seeking ways to deploy military force domestically, as we saw in New Orleans after the flood. The pictures of hundreds of thousands of protesters clogging the streets of major cities must cause a buzz in the Washington war rooms.

Democrats, if they are smart, may also take the opportunity to return to their populist roots (those who are not just trying to be "kinder and gentler" versions of Republicans). Senator Kennedy reinforced his populist image by addressing a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people who protested in Washington, D.C.:
SEN. TED KENNEDY: As President Kennedy proclaimed a half a century ago, we are a nation of immigrants. And today we stand together as brothers and sisters to shape America's destiny. Old Americans, new Americans, and future Americans, all join together for the common good. Let me ask you some questions. Are you ready?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you have a good job?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you love your family?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you love your community?


SEN. TED KENNEDY: Do you love America?

The peace movement must be envious of the dedication of immigration rights demonstrators. Advocates used the Internet, cell phones, radio, TV and newspapers to spread the word, then turned out a couple of million strong to make their point, then came back again and again.

No doubt the NSA will get on this immediately, they're probably being chastised already for not having enough Spanish-speaking wiretappers to have picked up the buzz on these demonstrations. But how will local police react? They're arming up also, but many of them are themselves immigrants or children or relatives of immigrants. Will they be willing to Tase their own people? It's a bit different than bringing down a bunch of "commie peaceniks" when it's your own folks on the streets.

Let's see how this goes.


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