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Monday, May 01, 2006


El pueblo unido in San Jose

Wow! What a day. I've been to a lot of demonstrations over the years, but none like this. Here's what the crowd at the assembly area for the San Jose march looked like at 2 p.m. today:

Now here's the two things you need to know about that picture. First, my camera doesn't have a wide enough angle lens to capture the entire crowd, this is just a small part. And second, if you read the English-language paper (the San Jose Mercury News), or listened to English-language TV, you were told that "the march starts at 4:00 p.m." That's because they were doing their best to build up the "split in the movement, you shouldn't walk out of school or your job" theme. But it's clear that a lot of people got a different message, because even when I got there at 11, there was a decent size crowd, and by 1 or 2, the place (a huge shopping center parking lot) was packed, as in this picture.

Just as the march started, the counterprotesters appeared! Sort of...

The sign reads "Wake up America, close the borders" and lists a web site. It's hard to read because they were far away. They wouldn't have dared to show their faces on the ground. And, as another aspect of this, I feel safe in saying that the majority of people who attended this demonstration did not do so because they read about it on a web site!

Here's what the "pueblo unido" looked like on the march:

When the march reached an overpass over a highway, you could look forward and backward. The crowd was packed as densely as shown in the picture above, for as far as the eye could see in both directions. How many people were there? I heard estimates of 100,000, and I have to believe that's a conservative number. It could easily be much higher. The march started at 3:15. Because I was working giving out signs, I left at the very end; it was then 4:35. People were leaving continually, densely packed, for an hour and 20 minutes. More people arrived at this march after 4:00 (when the TV and papers said it started) than have attended any other march San Jose has ever seen. I walked on the edge for a while until I was closer to, perhaps, 1/4 way from the back end, once I got to that point, I spent more than a mile literally shuffling along, that's how many people there were. When I got about four blocks from the end of the march, to where the closing rally was being held, there were literally as many people leaving the rally (having already been there for well over an hour) as there were arriving.

And here's the thing. Of the marches (not many, but some) that I've been to that were larger than this, every one of them was filled with people who had arrived from various cities on chartered buses. In this march, there was not a single chartered bus; I think it's fair to say that virtually everyone there was from San Jose or an adjacent town (because, after all, there was a bigger (!) march in San Francisco an hour to the north on the same day, and another one in Oakland across the Bay). And there are only 945,000 people in San Jose; more than one person in ten in the entire city was on this march.

I was helping staff the table of our local antiwar group. We got tremendous support, passed out dozens of signs like these (the Spanish-language version is on the other side), and encountered zero hostility:

There were lots of American flags (and many Mexican ones as well, though not as many) at this march, but don't be confused. The people at this rally want the right to be Americans (the majority already are, of course). But that does not mean they were expressing support for American foreign policy. We had people walk up to our table wearing "God Bless America" bumper stickers on their T-Shirt, who would then take one of our "Support the Troops, Bring Them Home Now" bumper stickers and paste it right below the other one.

I've seen lots of television coverage of some of the other large immigrant rights rallies, some of them (like Los Angeles) much larger than this one. But reading about rallies, or watching them on TV, doesn't remotely compare to participating in one, immersing yourself in a literal sea of humanity, in this particular case 95% (or more) Latino, undoubtedly 95% (or more) working-class. Some of the limited TV coverage I've seen since getting home talks about a party atmosphere, a family atmosphere, and even referred to this event as a parade. My description is different: quiet determination. Not that the crowd was physically quiet, far from it. But above all, they were determined to show, just by their presence, that they are real, they are human, they "matter," they aren't going away, and they expect to be accepted.

And San Jose was just one of many cities across the country in which events like this took place.

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