May Day march through downtown Oakland calls attention to labor, immigration and police issues

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Papery doves of peace hovered above Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, among people carrying colorful signs and banners demanding the end of immigration raids and deportations. “No ban, no raid, no wall—sanctuary for all!” people chanted from a flatbed truck as different groups from throughout the Bay Area gathered at the plaza on Tuesday afternoon to celebrate May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day.

May Day started in 1886 as a major union demonstration in support of the eight-hour workday. But in 2006, May 1 was chosen by mostly Latino immigrant groups for a general strike to support undocumented immigrant workers and to protest the immigration reform legislation H.R. 4437, which included the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fence along the Mexico-US border and raised penalties for illegal immigration. Since then, May Day supporters have used the motto “Immigrants’ rights are workers’ rights.”

2006 was also the first year when Oakland Sin Fronteras, a coalition of community organizations, started to march for immigrants’ rights in Oakland. “Immigrants’ labor is not being recognized, nor is their contribution to this country,” said Larica Dugan Cuadra, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Northern California (CARACEN). “We feel this [march] is a perfect marriage between the organized labor movement and immigrants’ rights movement.”

Sagnicthe Salazar is one of the main-organizers from Oakland Sin Fronteras.“We see immigration and labor issues as two things that are directly tied to each other, because we see that the number one enemy that is pushing people out of their home countries, and forcing them to exploitation here, is imperialism,” said Salazar. “We see ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and police as two things that are directly attacking our communities on a day-to-day basis, so we come together on May 1 to organize the defense of our communities.”

Wassim Hage, who was joining the march with the Arab Resource Organizing Center (AROC), pointed out that United States is a nation of immigrants.  “The background of labor in the United Stated and labor in the entire world is the labor of immigrants, the labor of people who are moving and have been forced to move,” Hage said.

An Aztec dance group, Huey Papalotl, opened the rally with a dance performance rooted in traditional prayer practices to bless the marchers and to commemorate the victims of police shootings. Among the first speakers was Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle. He asked for a moment of silence for his nephew and for Shaleem Tindle and Stephon Clark. On January 3, 2018, Tindle died after being shot outside of the West Oakland BART station by BART Police Officer Joseph Mateu, according to a statement from the Oakland Police Department. Clark was shot and killed by Sacramento police on March 18, 2018,

Accompanied by “Power to the people!”chants, drummers and a brass band, hundreds of marchers then walked down 14th Street towards Lake Merritt. At the corner of 14th Street and Lakeside Drive, the march came to a halt. With the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in sight, Tash Nguyen from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights took the microphone. “This sheriff is particularly awful”, Nguyen said, “[and] the only way to move forward, the only way to build a sanctuary, the only way to end this, is to audit the sheriff.”

Volunteers in orange vests handed out snacks and water, and police officers on bicycles and motorbikes watched along from only a few hundred feet away, close enough to observe the march.

After two hours of marching, covering only one mile, the demonstration eventually reached Lake Merritt at 5.30 pm, where the last rounds of speakers addressed the marchers. Among the speakers was activist Cat Brooks, the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project in Oakland. On Tuesday morning, during a rally by Oakland port workers with the International Longshoremen Worker’s Union at the Matson Terminal, Brooks had announced her intention to run for mayor in November. At the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, she repeated her announcement, addressing two major issues in Oakland—homelessness and policing.  “The last four years brought us 3,000 people sleeping on the streets every single night. And the brought us police force. Do they make you feel safe? No, they don’t make you safe,” she said.

Brooks closed her announcement with a promise to fight for the community. “Whose Oakland?” she shouts towards the crowd. She waited for them to call back “Our Oakland!” before leaving the flatbed with the words “Power to the people!”

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