With all the anti-Trump sentiment in Los Angeles, particularly in immigrant communities vilified by his remarks and targeted by his policies, expectations were high that Monday's pro-labor, pro-immigrant May Day march would be big — perhaps even bigger than the estimated half-million demonstrators who flooded Wilshire Boulevard for a pro-immigrant May Day event in 2006.
It wasn't to be. Organizers suggested that fear among those wary of President Trump's immigration crackdown could have contributed to the relatively meek turnout.
"There's fear," says Jorge-Mario Cabrera of CHIRLA (the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights). "People kept asking whether or not ICE would be there. I kept on saying no, but there may have been be some concern."
Longtime immigrants rights advocate Carlos Montes, who helped organize a separate Community Service Organization demonstration that he says drew about 500 people in Boyle Heights on Monday, agrees that fear of deportation chilled May Day events. "We didn't even get turnout as good as last year's," he says. "There are a lot of people who are afraid of immigration authorities and police. There were rumors that people could be arrested in public."
Organizers of the downtown May Day marches estimated 25,000 people hit the streets, Cabrera said via email. Minutes later, an email from a coalition of groups participating in the action put the estimate at 100,000. Police, wary of wading into the politics of crowd estimation, had nothing to say on the topic. One man was arrested on suspicion of arson after he allegedly burned an American flag, said Officer Mike Lopez of the Los Angeles Police Department.
"Anytime you get thousands of people together for a just cause on a work day and in 80-degree weather,
that's success by any measure," Cabrera says. "But 2006 was quite a historic moment I'm not sure could be repeated."
Demonstrators marched on closed streets from MacArthur Park and from Olympic Boulevard and Broadway to the Civic Center. Participants held signs that read: "Respect Existence or Expect Resistance," "Sanctuary, Not Deportation" and "Resist." A few counter-protesters held a "Make California Great Again" demonstration outside the downtown federal building.
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The more than 100 groups that participated included the usual array of immigrants rights groups and labor organizations, as well as United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing L.A. Unified School District instructors, and Hollywood actors represented by SAG-AFTRA. In a statement, the May Day Unity Coalition of Los Angeles said it would be "the largest May Day demonstration in history."
Some organizers urged workers to take the day off to participate. But by early afternoon yesterday it was clear that no records would be broken.
"There are a lot of people who are concerned and afraid," Montes says.