This was written during the movement of which later would become the 2006 immigrant rights movement. It was just beginning to peak in a series of large and mostly spontaneous marches that built up to May 1st, 2006. I think this lays down some of the optimism and worry that others and myself felt at that juncture.
From Si Se Puede to Si Se Pudo
A Labor Organizer Looks at Changing a Moment into a Movement
Story Adam W.
Photos by Jessica Valdez
In this profound moment of world-wide doubt in leaders and governments, a wave of day laborers, cooks, janitors and high school students have suddenly become a powerful force bringing a new conversation to dinner tables and law makers across the nation.
This past week of marches and high school walkouts across San Jose in protest of HR 4437 was as beautiful as it was significant. Optimism was high returning from the March 25th journey across the city and back. The chant was no longer, Si se puede, but, Si se pudo or, Yes, we did it. Over the next week students made their own mark as they defied administrations, marching from school to school to spread their walkouts as well.
Less than a week later, another call is spreading by word of mouth and over the internet. May 1 st will be the next day of protest, boycotts and even worker strikes- a tradition called paros civicos in Mexico’s social movement. But as we ready for the next storm of protest, could the fire of the movement leave as quickly as the spark was lit?
Many are taken back by seeing thousands of ordinary people marching in the streets and even parents chuckle as they hear of high school students organizing through myspace.com. But being a labor organizer over the years, I’ve had the chance to find myself standing side by side in everyday people’s movements — though never one with such attention or numbers.
Whether it was Vietnamese newspaper delivery drivers in San Jose or Mexican and Sikh Indian truck drivers who spread their work stoppages across the West Coast using Nextel walkie-talkies, all took brave risks and were expressions of fleeting moments of collective power. Sometimes they’ve known this taste in distant homelands, but often never on the soil of their new home in America.
But as soon as that charged moment passed and quicker than a victory could be celebrated, the powers that be would begin working to whittle the gains away. Leaders would not be fired after a successful strike, but eventually pushed out once things returned to what passes for normal.
Only months ago, a friend at the protest reminded me, the bustling heart of the San Jose Latino community, King and Story Road, was a ghost town. Rumors of raids by La Migra scared folks so bad that they wouldn’t leave home even to buy groceries. Today’s protesters are aptly seizing the moment, perhaps realizing both that with such attention the threat of La Migra seems less likely, and that unless they speak up now, they may never be heard.
As hundreds of thousands and maybe more will be taking to the streets this coming month, right now victory looks within reach. The result of the battle could be the opening of the door to millions gaining the rights of citizenship but it could be setting the stage for even further anti-immigrant reaction. Or maybe worse, though the laws are changed, the movement comes to an end and the people become a footnote to the day when a politician signs a bill in Washington, DC.
The people have the center stage and spotlight now, but will the movement be able to move beyond this moment? What has been unleashed is something new, powerful and which previously was just as invisible as the people who make up the movement — but these actors need to decide what is next.