It's a family affair

I've been on enough marches that they can start to feel like cattle calls; we all trudge out to be counted and to shout at the closed buildings in the hope that the news cameras are watching, and then go home again. But the two marches I went on yesterday (in Oakland and San Francisco) to support immigrant rights felt utterly signifigant. It was celebratory to walk with so many children, teenagers, and workers young and old. But it wasn't just that it felt good, it also made a difference for so many people who are often invisible to be seen in such a public way, especially on a work day. The Oakland march seemed approximately 98 percent Latino, the San Francisco march, around 70 percent.

As we walked, we passed closed restaurants and construction sites. A few places gave out free horchata and many businesses that did stay open came out onto the sidewalk and cheered. As my father commented, it's the closest thing to a general strike we've had in this country in over fifty years.

For those of you who missed a chance to march, here are few of the lessons I walked away from for future organizing:

1. Keep it personal

There were virtually no extraneous signs or even anti-Bush paraphanalia. Almost all the signs and t-shirts that we saw were focused on people's own experiences: "I am a human being"; "I love this country, too"; "No human is illegal" and "I built your house, grew your garden, and helped raise your children. How does that make me a criminal?" By keeping focused on what people wanted and their own personal experiences, as opposed to attacking others, it made it hard for opponents to attack them, and made for some beautiful images, whoever happened to be caught on film.

2. March on Monday

What a difference a day makes. Standing in front of an open city hall, with its windows opens and people leaning out the windows, made it feel like the marchers demands would actually be heard and seen by people who had some influence over legislation, not just by Sunday tourists.

3. Bring the grandparents and the kids

Talk about family values. Hands down, this was one of the most age-diverse events I have ever been too. In one block, I saw a 90-year-old grandma (in a lovely orange apron) and one-week old infant, still closely snuggled to her mother's chest. My father, mother, and daughter marched together, giving us a good opportunity to try to distill the debate into three-year-old terms. This was a march of families, not just of politics, and it put a million human faces on what could otherwise have become a hot-air political debate.

4. Beautiful weather

Okay, so there isn't much to learn from this, but it sure made a difference to be outside in one of the most sunny and warm days in bay area history. All marches can't be planned for May but it is true that people are more likely to come out when it's sunny. Perhaps we need to think seasonally and creatively about protest; all moving into the White House when it's cold and planning to be in the streets during the warmer months. Just an idea. After all, yesterday was enough to inspire me again about politics for the first time in months.


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