Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We Marched for More Than Reform

We marched on April 10, 2006 in Houston, Texas. The protest, which was one of many across the US, was organized in opposition to a House bill that would make undocumented people felons and in support of a just reform of immigration policies. Miah left from home with the baby and drove straight to the starting point, Guadalupe Plaza. I left from work with two colleagues by Metro Rail. At the last stop, we met up with two more people, one of whom had her baby with her in a stroller, and then walked towards the plaza. A contingent of the Free Radicals band joined us so we walked and danced to the accompaniment of drums and saxophone. We nearly got to I-10 when we saw the thousands weaving their way under the highway. The march had already begun.





A man on stilts dressed like Uncle Sam was at the front. Behind him was a man in a wheelchair holding a sign that read “WWII Vet.” There were a series of banners that led the way. Most of them were in Spanish. I learned Spanish informally so these translations are rough, but I think the signs said, “We are workers, not criminals” and “110% Native American.” A group of four men with feathered headgear, bare chests, and what I would call a dhoti danced in a Native American style. Miah and our baby were near the head of the march, so we all joined up and walked together. We were in the middle of a Central American contingent. We shouted out in unison, “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido” and “Si Se Puede.”

“Thank you for supporting us,” a man said to me smiling.

“Thank you,” I said. What I wanted to say was that immigration laws don’t just affect Latinos. I’m not supporting his people. He’s supporting my people. I have a family friend who was detained for three months without ever being formally charged with any crime after September 11. My participation was not strictly out of goodwill for unnamed others. I didn’t march out of liberal pity. I marched because I’m angry. I marched for the uncle I never knew. I was sad that the 50,000+ were almost entirely Latino, even as I was grateful that this one community stood up for all the others – Arab, South Asian, Asian, European, and African.

My spirits rose wildly once I started to realize how many people were there. Houston is too flat, I thought. It was hard to see an end to the people. Then I realized there was no end. I wanted to be in a helicopter for a moment so that I could grasp the enormity of the march. The route was a bit isolated. There weren’t very many people watching us. We couldn’t wave our signs for spectators. We passed by the city jails. I hope the prisoners heard us. Policemen watched us coldly from a balcony. I know that even though their faces were even, in their minds they knew, and we knew, that no amount of force could contain us and that the legislation the House passed was already dead. We shouted slogans for each other, to galvanize our solidarity. People started to improvise chants and make jokes to each other. I felt brotherhood and sisterhood. The march was long. It gave us time to become familiar with people who had been strangers.



“USA, USA, USA!” people shouted as they waved American flags. It was astonishing to see how this act, which I usually perceive as jingoistic war-mongering, took on a subversive meaning. The freedom of movement and universal citizenship – this is perhaps the most important struggle during our times. I was marching for Palestinian migrants in Kuwait. I was marching for Burmese migrants in Bangladesh. For the Algerians in Paris. For the Biharis in Bombay. For the Sudanese in Cairo. For the Bolivians in Buenos Aires.

One young woman stared me down as she shouted “USA, USA, USA” until I started shouting it with her. I felt good about it. The US constitution simultaneously initiated the Human Rights movement and codified chattel slavery. America contains both – liberation and domination. On April 10, when I shouted “USA, USA” it was for the liberatory force.

Miah carried our baby in a sling and even breastfed her as we marched. Then we put her in the stroller and she slept even as the chanting went on around. The march ended at Allen’s landing, where the first anglo immigrants started settling Houston. We picked a spot under a tree. Other families followed suit and pretty soon there was a calm little pocket of babies giggling, sleeping, and crawling amid the bustling mass. Our baby may not have known where she was, but I hope that the vibration of hope and people power settled somewhere deep inside her marrow.

4 comments:

Lost said...

I am sorry, but as an aussue I don't really understand. Why are all these other people being paid less or doing jobs that 'Americians' will not do? Don't you have to pay everyone equally and why are jobs people don't want not being paid more?
I might have it wrong God(dess) knows I am no political genius but wouldn't the free market economy prove that if you can't get people to do a job you pay more untill people are willing.
I am not trying to be mean or ignorant here but are some of the people who don't want them to stop letting in people from Mexico really exploiting people to d meanial jobs for little pay?
SLAVERY IS NOT DEAD IT ONLY TAKES NEW FORMS
I am sorry I really don't get it, and I definately am ashamed by Australia's policy towards refugees, but I do want certain things done before people who enter the country by non-legal means are mixing with the rest of the population- for example criminal checks I am not implying that anyone from a foriegn country is more likely to be a pedifile or serial killer just that we have enough perverts and murderers here already and we build jails to house those (unfortunately aussie detention centres are alot like jails and I am sure 99.9% of those people are innocent of all crimes), but I don't want to find out in a few years that someone hurt me or my family that they were convicted of a simular crime in their county of origin and my country just hadn't found out and protected us.
especially after september11 (and I grant you they were not illegal aliens- from an Aussie view Aliens is a strange word to use they are human it reaks of predudice) I can understand your government wanting to know who is in your land.
if they grant an Amnesty to people already there would they then be able to unionise and fight for better pay and working conit...
Can people explain it better to me?

GreenDaddy said...

Thank you “Lost” for your questions. I think they are legitimate and worthwhile. Immigration is an extremely complicated issue. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but let me give it a shot.

What pushes wages down? It isn’t the immigration itself. I think there are two more fundamental problems. 1) Our governments have signed onto trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO that do not include strong labor and human rights rules. As a result, large corporations can move around jobs to whatever country has the cheapest labor market, which often have authoritarian governments like Burma. 2) When migrants are not given legal status, their employers do not follow regulations, the conditions are often exploitative, and people who do have legal status lose out on the jobs. Legalizing or mainstreaming migrant populations and changing international trade agreements will raise wages for everybody.

Regarding security, it is much safer to have migrants coming through actual border crossings and signing into some kind of database. I am no supporter of Bush, but at least his administration understands this point. Unfortunately, the US House of Representatives does not. Would you rather have hundreds of thousands of people living in clandestine networks or people integrated into the sociopolitical system?

It might seem more convenient for people living in wealthy nations to keep out the five billion other people. Not only is that a morally questionable stance, it is not practical. We can build walls, install sensors, and line up militias along the desert and mountain borders. Still they come.

Lost said...

Thankyou for answering my questions,
I still don't understand properly but maybe it's a little clearer.

Actually I agree about coperations moving premises offshore, but things like harvesting crops and cleaning the houses of rich people can't be moved. I am not complaining about migrants doing these jobs, I am saying why don't they get paid fairly for it.

Actually I agree about signing some register so people know who is there, but unless people are forced to prove whome they are it's useless- after all ever signed John Smith or Jane Doe or another Allis.

"What pushes wages down? It isn’t the immigration itself. I think there are two more fundamental problems. 1) Our governments have signed onto trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO that do not include strong labor and human rights rules. As a result, large corporations can move around jobs to whatever country has the cheapest labor market, which often have authoritarian governments like Burma. 2) When migrants are not given legal status, their employers do not follow regulations, the conditions are often exploitative, and people who do have legal status lose out on the jobs. Legalizing or mainstreaming migrant populations and changing international trade agreements will raise wages for everybody." I agree with you here wholeheartedly, but this is not going to change, the people in power don't want it too.
In fact some of the worst decissions made that effect the "free" world were the decission by a judge to grant corperations the legal rights of a citizen without the legal responsabilities and the decissions that mean shareholders cannot be held criminally and legally responsable for the effects of their products. (which I know is off the topic)

I agree too that we should not errect walls ect... to keep legitimate refugees and people moving for employment out,especially as a result of globalisation we are more world citizens then citezens of city-states(countries).I know I am just lucky to be born in Australia, but I do expect my country to do whatever it can to keep me and my family safe ect... And as you say it is impracticle but so are many things it doesn't mean we should stop trying.

I don't expect you to solve or explain the situation, as I said I am probably not smart enough to understand anyway, but Ido think it is important that these issues are raised and disscussed and somebody might read it and learn something, the greatest thing about the net is that we can all speak.

By the way I am Kristy and I want to thank you for a fantastic blog especially the step by step advice on cleaning dirty nappies, now if only I could afford a baby.

MaGreen said...

i also hope "that the vibration of hope and people power settled somewhere deep inside her marrow." that's beautifully put, raj.

miah