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A crowd of thousands turned out for the May Day march in Fruitvale. Photo by Andrew Beale.

Oakland activists demand justice for immigrants on May Day

on May 2, 2017

Over 1,000 people marched down International Boulevard on Monday in 81 degree heat as a crowd cheered. It was May Day, or International Workers’ Day, which commemorates the massive May 1, 1888, strike lead by the American Federation of Labor for an eight-hour workday.

They passed the Native American Health Center near 31st Avenue and the cool breeze carried the scent of indigenous dancers’ burning sage across the crowd. The huge flatbed truck carrying a PA system and a dozen people leading chants stopped so the stragglers could catch up.

“You look fucking beautiful today,” someone announced through one of the speakers on the flatbed. “Make some noise for yourselves!”

Many at the march characterized President Donald Trump’s recent political efforts as racist attacks on labor and communities of color, referring to his executive orders that attempted to enact travel bans against people from majority Muslim nations, and his interest in building a wall along the US-Mexico border aimed at keeping people from crossing into the United States illegally.

“Over half of the restaurant industry is immigrant workers. Over 75 percent of the restaurant industry in the Bay Area is people of color,” said Evelyn Rangel-Medina, director of the Restaurant Opportunity Center of the Bay Area (ROC). The group advocates for better working conditions in the restaurant industry. She said her organization “calls for a general strike because we know that unless the people who put food on our tables are given dignified working conditions, the system is unsustainable.”

Maani Hakim, who was marching in the procession, said that the Trump administration is “against immigration, against women, and against almost everybody.”

“Fortunately, it’s not like my country in the Middle East where a dictatorship can go through,” Hakim said. “We have judges who stop that actually stop [Trump’s policies],” she said, referring to judges who have so far halted Trump’s travel ban orders.

It’s “important for people to come into the streets” to show the Republican administration—and the Democratic Party—“what the people really want,” Hakim said.

The march, organized by Oakland Sin Fronteras, a group that organizes public events on social justice issues, was endorsed by over 60 local nonprofits, unions and activist organizations including Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2015, indigenous rights group Idle No More SF Bay and the Anti-Police Terror Project.

The tagline of Oakland Sin Fronteras’ posters was “Organize and Defend Our Communities–United Against Fascism.”

The Oakland Police Department reported that there were no arrests or incidents of violence at the march. But as part of a separate May Day demonstration, four protesters were arrested attempting to block people from entering the Alameda County Administration Building at 1221 Oak Street downtown.

“I’m concerned about the rise of fascism,” said marcher Jenny Marshall. “There’s a lot of signs linking what Trump’s been doing and what’s happened in the past. The way he attacks the media and the courts and has taken away our rights.”

On Monday, President Trump proclaimed May 1, 2017 as “Law Day, U.S.A,” as was first done by former President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958. Trump’s proclamation urges Americans to “observe this day by reflecting upon the importance of the rule of law” and displaying the US flag.

“It makes me want to wretch,” said Marshall. “He’s trying to signal he’s going to dictate how we should behave, and he’s going to try to make us pick sides. I definitely will not be on his side.”

Before the procession started, Aarab Barghouti, son of now-imprisoned influential Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, spoke to the crowd. According to the European Institute for Research on Mediterrenean and Euro-Arab Cooperation (MEDEA), Marwan Barghouti was a leader in the First and Second Intifadas—uprisings by Palestinians against Israeli occupation of their lands, which included armed attacks on Israelis. He was tried in 2002 in Israeli civilian court for murder for allegedly directing attacks on Israeli civilians. According to MEDEA, Barghouti claimed the trial was illegitimate and didn’t offer any defense. He stated during the trial that he supports attacking the occupation, but not civilians.

Aarab Barghouti began by citing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous adage that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and Nelson Mandela’s statement that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

“My dad and 1,600 of his fellow prisoners are on a hunger strike for the fifteenth day. They are surviving only on salt and water,” Barghouti said. He said the strikers are asking “for their basic human rights” and “to visit their families.”

“I haven’t touched my father in fifteen years. I haven’t seen him in two years,” Barghouti said. He then urged the crowd to take his viral social media challenge to drink salt water in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

“I’m coming from Palestine, where we have an apartheid wall,” Barghouti said, “and I know what you’re feeling right now.”

To get to their destination—San Antonio Park—marchers turned right on 22nd Avenue and then left on Foothill, passing people looking on from their porches. At the corner of Foothill and 20th Avenue, a string band performed “This Little Light of Mine,” with the lyrics changed to support Black Lives Matter and oppose Trump’s border wall. Marchers stopped to dance along to the tune.

Students from charter school Urban Promise Academy carried signs that read “Without immigrants, Trump would have no wives” and “This country was made by immigrants.”

Katie Bailey, a high school teacher at Oakland Tech and member of the Oakland Education Association, carried a sign that read “A woman’s place is in the union.”

“It’s breaking my heart, looking out at my class these days, thinking of all the people who are going to be facing negative consequences from these policies,” Bailey said. “Students whose parents are going to have to leave, students who will have to leave, kids who are going get picked up just because they look a certain way. I’m sort of terrified.”

Bailey said her students’ response to the Trump administration “comes out in strange ways. They bottle it up and then it’ll come out in a weird rash of anger.” She continued, “Some are out here marching, some kids are learning how to write letters to their senators and stuff, but right now they’re sort of confused. They’re not sure this is real.”

At around 6:00 pm, marchers started arriving at the park, where dances, drumming and other performances continued. Members of leftist organizations like Socialist Action and the Revolutionary Workers’ Group handed out pamphlets at booths. People stood in line for free nachos, courtesy of Phat Beets Produce and bought Black Lives Matter and “Fuck Trump” t-shirts.

As the truck that had lead the march pulled up, one of the speakers lead a last chant to summarize their message to the Trump Administration: “What do we say to the president? Justice for immigrants!”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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