My apologies for all the text before we get to the meat of the report, but this one requires some explaining. If you really don't care just scroll until you hit a picture.
These are from Friday, March 31th 2008 in Oakland, CA. BAMN (By Any Means Necessary - Malcom X reference - the full name is actually Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, And Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN)) held a march and rally for Cesar Chavez Day, which is a state holiday but it has kind of an odd status. As an example, Junior colleges and some Cal State colleges have it off, but not the University of California campuses or K-12. I have the .pdf of their rally announcement (also in Spanish) but basically the idea was to meet at International and 98th and walk the 7 miles to City Hall and have a rally there. Usually the way these marches work they just have a couple of people go the whole way but pick up more as they go and then all arrive in a big group and announce they all just walked 7 miles. Whatever. (And as a postscript they announced they walked 9 miles - either they're confused or they took the long way around the lake which seems odd.)
BAMN wants totally open borders, full citizenship rights including voting for all immigrants no matter how they got here and if they have papers or not, for all immigrants, legal or not to get financial aid so they can go to any college they want (which they mostly already have, at least at California private schools), for California to be a "sanctuary state" where there are no raids against illegals, the "racist" SAT to be banned, and that's just the beginning. They have a record of being so violent that other pro-immigrant groups distance themselves from BAMN. If you don't believe me, Google them or check their Wikipedia entry - this is all well documented. But they are also increasingly learning this isn't effective and they can present as fairly mainstream - the real question about this event for me is just how radical it would be (or not).
They called for all students to "Boycott all Schools" (aka "ditch") and march. They're particularly upset because this year many schools basically declared the holiday to be during spring break and they didn't get an extra day off. From their myspace page...
Monday, March 31, 2008, marks the 8th anniversary of the California César Chávez Birthday Holiday. In 2000, Antonio Villaraigosa, now mayor of Los Angeles, sponsored and secured a California law which made March 31st, César Chávez’s birthday, a school and public workers holiday throughout the state of California meant to be honored in the same manner as Presidents Day or Martin Luther King Day. Across the state, many public workers get the day off in recognition of the holiday. San Francisco and Oakland public schools as well as many colleges and universities across California close during the holiday. However, the majority of predominantly Latina/o school districts in California, including LAUSD, San Jose, and Sacramento, do little to nothing to honor the holiday. The vast majority of public schools, colleges and universities in our state hold no celebrations to honor his legacy, no school-wide assemblies to teach the young people of our state about his importance to the history of our nation. All of this, despite the fact that the law urges schools to close and hold school-wide assemblies in honor of the holiday. This year, UCLA, UC-Berkeley and other UC’s are diminishing the holiday by celebrating it when students are off the campuses and holding their first day of classes on the designated Chávez holiday.
This goes on and on for several paragraphs in this kind of writing style, but you get the idea.
I was concerned that since I couldn't look like one of them, and the group has a reputation for being very violent, and the march goes through some extremely poor areas in Oakland this might be more difficult to shoot than normal. Keep in mind - even on a normal day this particular street has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the country, and I'd be carrying somewhat valuable camera gear.
So I'm kind of feeling this one out and presenting it in the style of a live report - I'll be swinging by the march and rally and posting updates semi-live. They do this kind of march/rally down this exact route all the time (next one's May 1st although they're doing a truncated route this year that avoids the really bad part of Oakland) so this is partially so I'll know how it all works for the future.
9:30am start (International and 98th): I swung by the staging area, parked in a business across the street, took a couple of shots, and left. Total time out of car - 30 seconds. The locals offered me sex and drugs for money - seriously, I wasn't even out of the car when I got a "Wanna date?" (For the record - none of them appeared to be Latina/os - the start location isn't a particularly Latina/o area, it's just the last big intersection on International in Oakland).
There were at least four media vans which was impressive for the size of the crowd - apparently the local media thinks this is a more important story than the anti-war or pro-troop stuff I've been covering.
Here's your overview shot. There's about two dozen people there and quite a few of them are media.
There were at least three interviews being conducted. This is Sue Thompson. I'll include links to any mainstream media reports I can find at the end of my report.
Signs left to right - "Todos Somos Californianos" - we are all Californians. "Pass the Dream Act" and "By Any Means Necessary". The Dream Act had to do with making college financial aid basically blind to students legal status.
Note the two big tripods and the guy with the video camera on his shoulder. Basically anybody over the age of 30 is media - if they're dressed nice they're a reporter, and if the have a big camera on their shoulder they're a cameraman. Easy.
So that's that. Let's give them some time to wait for latecomers, let the media go through their rituals, really start marching and pick up some lazy types who aren't walking the whole seven miles and we'll see how it goes.
10:30am - International and 60th
OK, this wasn't quite what I expected. Rebels they are, I thought they'd just be trooping along the sidewalk but they had a nice system going. A pickup truck was in the slow lane, and everybody marched behind. A police motorcycle escort blocked side streets and kept things going - they treated it basically like a funeral procession. Which makes sense, actually, you see those all the time in this part of Oakland, they're very popular.
This report is brought to you by the power of video which I think captures the flow of things better, especially since at a quick glance there didn't seem to be any standout signs and I'm hoping to shoot those later.
If you don't see the video, go here to see it in higher quality.
On my higher resolution version I count about 50 people. Notice they're really preaching to the converted - the Spanish chants, the honking from the cars - they're on their home turf here.
I haven't decided yet if I'm going to try to shoot the marchers one last time, or just go to the rally. Check back later and find out!
12:00 noon - Rally and the march arrives
So I got to the plaza where the rally was supposed to happen and the march wasn't there yet. People who didn't want to walk were supposed to be waiting there, and I thought at a few minutes after 12 things would be in full swing even if the march hadn't arrived yet.
Uh, oh, we have sound gear, but nobody's home.
Lots of media though - vans, several camera guys. This reporter has a reflector to bounce the sun to the side of his face to improve the way he looks on camera. Since there wasn't anything to shoot at the rally yet, I decided to walk back down the route until I met the march.
At 12:20 I found them. In the downtown area it was much, much easier to shoot them - especially since there were probably four guys with cameras and video cameras including media folks - lesson learned. Next time I'll just wait for them along the last bit of the route and skip the long slog through the rest of Oakland.
Here's the wide angle - you can see the motorcycle cop and the pickup truck in front, and if you look at the rear you can just make out another motorcycle - that's the rear of the march. It's probably twice as big as it was - 100 people or so.
The signs and such were all pretty mainstream - nothing you wouldn't find at any immigrant rally. BAMN definitely decided to go mainstream for this event. That makes sense given all the media they arranged - they'll get a nice little blurb on the TV tonight, that's for sure.
One lady wrapped in an American flag.
One lady wrapped in a Mexican flag. Mexican flags have pretty much vanished at these events since there was a big backlash a couple of years ago.
Lots of parents with strollers bringing up the rear.
Unfortunately when you put all those folks on the steps of city hall it's less impressive. The guy in the foreground's media - they recorded the first couple of minutes and then left.
Close up of the speakers and most of the crowd - all very mainstream for the most part. There's some stuff about making California a Sanctuary State (open borders, no raids) but nothing I saw about actually annexing the place into Mexico like there was at these events a couple of years ago. The lady speaking now is Yvette Felarca.
It's a lovely plaza and there's a subway stop right there - you could hold an amazing rally in this space with thousands of people, and it's happened before, but I've never personally seen anybody attract more than this.
The first speaker, Yvette Felarca, who is big in west coast BAMN and is part of the UC Berkeley student government. The sign on the right is something like "Defeat racist attacks against minorities and immigrants". There could easily have been something radical in the Spanish signs that I missed but most of what I understood was pretty straightforward and hard to argue with.
Probably again the video is the most interesting thing...
If you don't see the video, go here to see it in higher quality.
The march arrives, there's some bits of the speeches. You can see a nice overview of how many people were in the audience and there's a nice bit from Yvette Felarca about getting "full citizenship rights with or without papers". When they started giving speeches in Spanish I left since mine isn't very good. Most of the mainstream media was long gone so I didn't feel guilty. Again, other than getting a nice little blurb on the evening news this was really preaching to the converted, and despite some language about Arabs and Asians being included all of the Spanish language stuff isn't exactly inclusive.
By the way - just for comparison the May 1st, 2006 march had thousands of marchers - it stretched for blocks and blocks - even though it was competing with much larger events such as the one in San Francisco. The May 1st, 2007 march was down to a couple of hundred. This event had maybe 100 - it will be very interesting to come back for this year's May Day parade and see how it goes. They're making the march much shorter and pushing the rally later in the day - they're no longer counting on people skipping work for that one.
Update: So far the only mainstream media report I've seen is from Sue Thompson at ABC. It's a pretty lightweight piece, as expected, on the start of the march and the march itself but not the rally. Notice how they shot lots of closeups to imply the crowd is larger than it is, and they say "dozens of marchers" when it's just about two dozen at the point where they're filming. You can also see Yvette Felorca mention "a piece of paper" - an interesting way to talk about citizenship or a green card.
Update 2: CBS has an incredibly poorly written and inaccurate report, but more interesting is the eight and a half minutes of "raw video" on the right or directly seen here - it's not quite raw but it's strangely edited and it shows the cameraman asking questions (you never hear the cameraman doing that in a real report) including spelling their names and so forth as well as the first block or two of the march. Let's just hope they clean it all up before they actually put it on the air. They were one of the stations at the rally, and none of that appears to be on their website yet - it will be interesting if they show it or just throw it out since it was so much less impressive.
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