Moving Beyond 500,000: Now What?

STILL SLIGHTLY STUNNED by their own success at mobilizing so many people in their cause, the people behind the “Gran Marcha 2006” said this week they were still figuring out their next move. There is talk of another wave of nationwide demonstrations on April 10, as well as a possible national strike in May.

“If there is a call for a boycott, we will support anything that will move forward our agenda,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

Serious stuff, but the organizers are not taking their momentum for granted. Encouraged by the Senate this week, immigrant-rights advocates are waiting to see what Congress eventually does before announcing their next move. A large-scale work stoppage, which happened in Atlanta this month, would jeopardize millions of jobs for still-undocumented workers. “Principally, we shouldn’t just trust the Congress,” said Gloria Saucedo, president of Hermandad Mexicana in the San Fernando Valley, one of the many groups involved in organizing Saturday’s historic march.

Father Richard Estrada, whose La Placita church on Olvera Street served as one of the early incubators for the march, said the next step was still a wide-open question. “It doesn’t always have to be big marches, doesn’t have to be demonstrations. How about a mobilization on education for Latinos?” Estrada said. “How about keeping up with the radio stations? Informing people that they have another broken system, the schools, especially in Los Angeles.”

Estrada flew to Washington, D.C., to attend the Senate debate on Monday on the immigration bill with a delegation of 200 clergy members. He said the protests had an unspoken but obvious effect on senators as they worked on a new bill. “We’re not naive that this is going to change people’s minds,” Estrada said. Congressional leaders “have to know that people are angry, people are frustrated, people have had it [with] being treated unfairly. And they’re being organized.”

The march was a meeting point for diverse branches of organizations with sometimes divergent agendas. Unions, churches, immigrant-advocacy groups and grassroots organizers from across the region came together. The Spanish media in L.A., with its own camps and competing agendas, also trumpeted their show of unity for the march.

For state Senator Gil Cedillo, who turned 52 on Saturday, the success of the march gave him hope that one day he might achieve his unfulfilled mission of securing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants in California.

“It’s no harder than the work that the immigrants do,” Cedillo said Tuesday. “Every day, every single day, people come to me to thank me for my work on the driver’s-license bill. If I leave my house, I encounter immigrants who thank me for this. So our work will continue. Immigrants will drive in the state legally sooner or later.”

Staff writer David Zahniser contributed to this story.

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