The following post was written by Samantha Wolfe, a junior sociology major at Ithaca College and an intern at the Workers Center:
Sunday March 21 I traveled to and from D.C. with 30 other Ithacans in the span of 24 hours. We were mobilized by the leaders of the Immigrant Rights Coalition, an organization that TCWC helped co-found, to march on Washington demanding Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I thought that we’d join up with a few thousand other people, but when we got on the bus at 4 a.m. we were told that the National Campaign for Immigration Reform expected 100,000 people to be there! Wow, I thought. I attended my first rally only a few weeks ago to speak out against Regis Corporation and stand up with workers from Cost Cutters (specifically Amber Little) and Workers Center members. (See more details on that story here: http://www.tclivingwage.org/news.php?articleid=100&source=index.php.) At that rally there were at most 50 people there while I was there. After a 7 hour bus ride during which we made calls to our representatives, signed petitions, filled out commitment cards and studied the map of the march, we arrived at RFK stadium.
I’d also never been to DC before- what a beautiful city. The weather was perfect for the event- 78 degrees and sunny with a light breeze. The cherry blossom trees were in bloom and the marble architecture shone in the sun. In the hours before the march at 5pm we saw thousands of marchers carrying flags and posters (and even puppets) of all kinds that read, “I’m already home,” “Workers, Taxpayers, Voters”, “Queremos Familias Unidads”, and “Rights For All.” A friend and I walked right up to the Washington Monument, which allowed us to step back and witness how big the crowd really was. Thousands of people covered the national mall. My friend had a good insight. She said, “Wow, now I can start to imagine what the Poor People’s Campaign and tent city were like.” The Poor People’s Campaign was “a historic effort by the poor to unite across racial, gender, ethnic, religious and geographic lines…and a fight by capable, hard workers against dehumanization, discrimination and poverty wages in the richest country in the world,” (taken from A New and Unsettling Force by The Poverty Initiative, see http://poorpeoplescampaignppc.org/ for more info). The power of this demonstration on Sunday made history come alive for my friend, for myself, and (I imagine) for thousands of people there. The final count on the number of people there reached 500,000! Half a million! Even when the count was at 200,000 it was announced that this was the largest mobilization of people since Obama took office.
The speakers that afternoon were inspirational and moving. One told the story of an undocumented immigrant father and his US –born son. They were pulled over by the police and as the cop approached the window, the 7-year old boy jumped out of the back seat pleading, “My dad is not a criminal! He didn’t do anything wrong! Leave him alone!” Clearly, this little boy was aware of the threat of his dad’s deportation. This is something that Comprehensive Immigration Reform aims to change: the splitting up of families.
It was also pretty incredible to hear from the Dreamers. They are a group of undocumented students demanding that the Dream Act be passed. Currently, undocumented immigrant students (even if they have lived here their entire life) who have worked hard throughout high school are not legally allowed to attend college since they are not legal citizens. There are 65,000 undocumented immigrant students each year that are held back from getting a college education and contributing to the betterment of this country because of this law. The Dreamers are working to change this. These students marched 1,500 miles from Miami to D.C. since January 1st to make their voices heard at the risk of deportation.
The speakers, the Dreamers, and the hundreds of thousands of protestors in D.C. that day made it clear to me that the working people of this country have a whole lot of potential power. How incredible that so many immigrants came to march for their rights at the risk of their livelihoods and that so many U.S. citizens stood in solidarity with them and their struggle. The struggle of any group that is being denied their human rights is connected to all of our struggles- for jobs that makes us enough money to live and feed our families, for affordable health care that ensures we won’t go into debt if we or a family member gets sick, for a world in which ordinary people (not corporations) have power over our own governments. The march on Sunday and the movement for social and economic justice being built across the country gives me hope for the work we’re doing here at the Workers Center. 🙂
Thanks, Samantha, for giving those of us who were unable to travel to DC a taste of this important rally. If any other readers would like to share their insights please submit it to LindaWorkersCenter@gmail.com