By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“This is going to affect so many people, and it’s just not right,” said Ingrid Rosales, 18, who was standing with her sister Cyndy above the 101, both holding a large Nicaraguan flag. They said they were marching for their parents and relatives.
ACROSS THE BLOGOSPHEREand the news pages, the size of the protest was characterized as “astonishing.” But the numbers should have surprised no one who has even a rudimentary understanding of the power of the Spanish-language media in L.A. and in most other heavily Latino cities in the U.S., where similar marches took place all month. Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Milwuakee, New York City, Chicago, Reno, Trenton, Washington, D.C., Denver. Even places like Charlotte, North Carolina; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Columbus, Ohio. Following the lead of student walkouts in Los Angeles, high schoolers took to the streets this week all over the Southwest.
Organizers from immigrant-advocacy nonprofits in L.A. said they knew back when the House passed the bill that a massive mobilization would be necessary in March this year leading up to the Senate debate.
The big rally held in Chicago on March 10, which drew, by some estimates, more than 300,000 people, provided motivation for Los Angeles organizers to attempt to match or surpass that figure, said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, or CHIRLA.
“Chicago was huge,” Salas said. “It was inspirational, I would say. .?.?. Really, the launching pad to this was when the Spanish-language radio got involved.”
After discussions earlier this month with the organizers, the local Spanish-language radio personalities, led by Eddie “el Piolín” Sotelo of 101.9 KSCA-FM, all began promoting the rally on their programs. They answered callers’ questions about the bill and about the march’s logistics.
They also warned their audiences that the world would be watching, so they’d better march peacefully, pick up their trash and avoid confrontations.
“I told them that it was important to wear a white shirt, which means peace, that we should be out there with our families with flags of the United States because we live in this country and we love this country,” Piolín said Monday.
With the American national anthem playing in the background, a promo airing during Antonio Gonzalez’s En el Medio program on KMXE-AM 830 told listeners: “We are all committed to the Grand March of the People!” It was still airing on Monday morning.
Spanish media giant Univision, which owns the largest network audiences in Los Angeles in any language, also kept running its rally promo. In it, the network’s on-air anchors and personalities stand smiling, each adding a phrase to a building sentence: “Participate with pride. With dignity. With order. With maturity. .?.?. Do it for your people. For your children. For your community. For what is coming.”
It ends with them joining arm in arm, saying in unison, “Unite. Unite. Unite.”
Unite they did. Demonstrators cheered when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, “We come together to say that we are workers, not criminals, that we work hard, we pay our taxes, we live by the rules, and want this great America to take us into account.” They roared when Piolín, a former illegal immigrant himself, announced from the podium outside City Hall that the march was the “start of a new era.”
Many of the signs carried during the march referred to the awakening of a “sleeping giant.” Indeed, the march was so large because it drew first-time demonstrators from all over Southern California, the Central Valley, Northern California, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and even, organizers said, from Arkansas, where Piolín’s program airs in syndication.
“This is consistent with the role of Latino media in times of crisis and issues threatening our community,” said Felix Gutierrez, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. “These are media that stand for something and stand with their audience on the issues of their time. .?.?. The general-audience media have lost touch with people’s passions because they try to be everything to everybody.”
BUT WAS IT REALLY SOME KIND of miraculous turning point for immigrant rights? Not if they can’t translate their mobilizing power into voting power, said veteran Republican strategist Dan Schnur.
“I think the weekend events were a very important political step forward, but the much more important step will come when the organizers decide to sit down at the table and negotiate policy reform that they want rather than just protesting that which they oppose,” Schnur said on Monday from Sacramento.
“It’s very ironic that the day after 500,000 people gather to protest legislation that they oppose, 3,000 came together to rally in support of something that they want,” he added, referring to the César Chavez march and memorial Mass on Sunday in support of a less punitive immigration reform bill proposed by senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy.
In interviews, Latino elected officials, advocates and labor leaders dismissed the “sleeping giant” concept outright, saying the march was on a continuum of increasing activism and political awareness for immigrants and U.S.-born Latinos.
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