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¡Sí, Se Puede!

A contagious sense of optimism spreads as thousands of New Yorkers march for immigrants' rights.
 
 
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New Yorkers' most popular rallying cry during Saturday's pro-immigrant demonstration was the buoyant ¡Sí, Se Puede! (Yes, we can!). From the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Manhattan's Federal Plaza, the enthusiastic call was chanted to the beat of drums and punctuated by the trill of whistles. While the motto ¡Sí, Se Puede! has been appropriated from Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers union (which was against illegal immigration), the optimistic phrase has proven an apt mantra in the call for compassionate immigration reform.

The atmosphere of Saturday's march was more Fourth of July meets Cinco de Mayo than cops in riot gear meet fist-pumping anarchists (like the 2004 protest against the Republican convention). The mile-long line of marchers featured hundreds of parents pushing toddlers in strollers, a man on stilts and a rainbow of flags; a visual reminder of the countries at least 11 million undocumented immigrants have fled escaping poverty and hopelessness -- Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and a dozen more.

Perhaps the optimism was due to the sheer exhilaration of coming together and the palpable possibility of legalization, which would untangle many of life's problems for immigrants constantly in fear of la migra . The tone of the rally seemed to signal a real moment of opportunity in America -- a moment of possibility.

In about a month of national activism, there have been dual motivations for the pro-immigrant demonstrations. The first was anger at a bill the House of Representatives passed in December that would change illegal immigration from a civil offense to a criminal felony and jail anyone who attempts to help undocumented immigrants, including priests, food bank staff or soup kitchen workers and the like. The bill also calls for the construction of a 700-mile wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The second motivator is hope; since the Senate picked up the ball on immigration reform last week, there has been growing support for bipartisan legislation initially put forth by John McCain and Ted Kennedy. This legislation proposes a path toward citizenship for undocumented workers, provided they pay a fine and back taxes, learn English and pass a criminal background check.

There is ample time for demonstrators to up the ante on the issue, as the full Senate moves closer to passing its version of immigration reform. If the Senate is able to approve an immigration bill, demonstrators will be sure to continue their call for compassionate immigration reform as congressmen attempt to reconcile the House and Senate legislation.

Aided by Spanish-language radio, unions and immigrant rights groups, undocumented immigrants have become increasingly organized and bold in their calls for legalization. They are getting support from far corners of the political landscape. Republicans, Democrats, Communists and progressives from Los Angeles and Houston to Denver, Phoenix and Chicago have rallied for legalization of undocumented immigrants. The weekend also saw demonstrations in Albuquerque, NM, Yakima County, Wash., and Newark, NJ. Even high school students, as well as many of their parents and principals, have joined the fight.

Some have called the demonstrations a backlash against the backlash. Others believe it is the beginning of an international populist uprising connected with the leftist movements of many Latin American nations. Whatever it is, it is gaining momentum across the United States, and what it needs now is support from a larger base of progressives, liberals and compassionate people everywhere. As one writer noted this weekend, "A half million Latinos marched in Los Angeles (and smaller numbers in other cities) in protest. So far, the U.S. left has observed it but has not joined it."

In the coming weeks, there will be plentiful opportunities to stand in solidarity with this nation's undocumented immigrants. Below is a short listing of demonstrations being planned across the nation. Please post information about any other rallies or marches being planned in your area.

  • Sunday, April 9: Salt Lake City: "Dignity March" to the state capitol is scheduled for noon to 5 pm, starting and ending at the City-County Building in downtown Salt Lake City.
  • Monday, April 10: April 10, the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice will be the biggest day of demonstrations around the nation. The following cities have rallies in the planning stages: Houston; San Antonio; Austin, Texas; Dallas; St. Louis; Minneapolis; Detroit; Chicago; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Miami; Charlotte, N.C.; New Haven, Conn.; Danbury, Conn.; Hartford, Conn.; Birmingham, Ala.; New York; Boston; Milwaukee; Washington, D.C.; and many more. As of today, here are the cities that have confirmed a time and location: New York: "Full Rights for All Immigrants" at Battery Park, 3-6pm; Salt Lake City: "Unity Rally" at the City-County Building in downtown Salt Lake City, 4:30pm.
  • Saturday, April 29: Los Angeles and New York rallies are being organized by the Progressive Labor Party, which is calling for a Communist revolution. More information can be found here.

If you have any information about other pro-immigrant rallies, please post it below in the Comments section, or email the author at marialuisa@alternet.org.

Maria Luisa Tucker is an AlterNet staff writer.