Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Sea of White

I spent last weekend and most of May Day working my brains out on a corporate presentation that a British telecommunications company was giving to a Philippines mobile phone company, and halfway through my research, I realized that the project was a bit like "bringing coals to Newcastle," since the Filipinos seemed to be so much more sophisticated about cell phones than the West.

Possibly because they had such crappy phone service for most of the twentieth century, the Philippines have embraced cell phones with insane exuberance and become the "fastest thumbs in the world," text-messaging each other for everything from teenage dates to assembling in central squares and toppling a government. They also have been inventing amazing new ways to use the devices that are about ten steps ahead of everybody else in the world.

In other words, we're in a Brave New World, and the huge May Day immigrant marches throughout the United States are yet another indicator of that shift.

Though the San Francisco Chronicle put the mostly Hispanic crowd at San Francisco's Civic Center at 30,000, in truth there were over 100,000 people coming in and out of the square all day.

Many of them were wearing T-shirts with American flags on the front and "Un Dia Sin Inmigrantes (A Day Without Immigrants)" on the back.

Why did nobody tell me to wear white?

The appropriation of the US flag by the marchers was fascinating since its meaning seemed to be so different than the usual divide of leftist peace protest marchers and right-wing America-Uber-Alles patriots.

There was also some pointed political signage such as this piece pointing out the irony of the United States being sanctimonious about borders after it has invaded so many other countries' borders in the last century (not to mention stealing the Southwest from Mexico not all that ago).

There was also a poster in Spanish accusing the Bush & Company of being "Wanted for Multiple Murders."

These schoolgirls were holding a homemade sign commemorating the recent teen martyr Anthony Soltero. He was an [American-born] Hispanic 14-year-old in Ontario, Southern California who committed suicide in April with his father's shotgun after being outrageously harassed and threatened by school administration thugs who were after him for being a "ringleader" in an earlier student walkout during the Los Angeles immigration protests.

A lso being commemorated was Santos Reyes, one of the more egregious examples of California three-strike sentencing gone amok. Mr. Reyes was sentenced to 26 years in prison after taking a driver's test in place of an illiterate cousin after being busted for two non-violent robberies in his teen years 13 years ago.

One thing about this rally that unfortunately was no different than most political rallies in Civic Center: too many boring speeches (in Spanish) preaching to the already converted.

The large crowd on the Polk Street steps of City Hall had a better idea.

They were listening to a sound system that was blaring Mexican pop music.

As usual, the police presence at the event was grotesque in relation to the peacefulness of the crowd.

It was hard to find an open restaurant to grab lunch, because somehow over the last decade every kitchen in California seems to be staffed by Mexicans, no matter what type of food is being cooked, while gringos tend to populate the front of the house positions.

For once, though, the Children's Playground in Civic Center Plaza was charmingly filled to the brim. For a take on this angle and much more, check out one of my favorite local blogs called "happening-here," written by a lesbian election consultant named Jan who obviously adores Hispanic people and culture. She's also a good photographer and an unusually clear writer. Check "The nanny took the day off" by clicking here.


Kit Stolz said...

My hope is that these massive, peaceful, respectful, I-want-to-be-an-American demonstrations will remind those of us on the left of the "civil" in "civil disobedience."

In an interview I heard with William Sloan Coffin on NPR recently, about demonstrations early in the Vietnam War, he specifically criticized those who would demonstrate to make themselves "feel better," as opposed to those who walked in the streets to make themselves heard...and seen.

Incredible numbers of Americans are opposed to the war in Iraq and no longer believe the word of the current administration. If just a small percentage of Americans who support impeachment--about 100 million, according to polls--marched on Washington, it would be the biggest demonstration in decades, perhaps ever.

Yet I can't really bring myself to support the idea, because it seems likely that any such march would turn so self-referential and snarky and extreme that it would end up being counter-productive.

Trevor Murphy said...

This is an interesting counterpoint to the 'demonstration' by rich Los Gatos teens I witnessed last weekend: en route to pick up a pizza cooked by Mexican immigrants, my car was mobbed at a stop sign by teens screaming and waving 'STOP GENOCIDE IN SUDAN!' signs. While I'm not particularly in favor of genocide in Sudan- what about the thousands of dead Iraqis?

janinsanfran said...

I think there is a huge difference in moral weight between protests by people who are using their relative privilege to deliver a (sometimes vital) message and protests by people who have almost nothing and risk even what they have to stand up for themselves. We instinctively accord greater respect to the latter and historically they have had more effect. Most obviously, the civil rights struggle in the US south during which stepping out of line could get you beaten or shot was different from the also necessary "blockades" of the Diablo nuclear power plant or the Livermore labs which have become a kind of theater. That is not to denigrate the latter -- nukes could kill us all -- but the protesters have more and we listen less.

Mike -- thanks for the shout out. I like your Civic Center pictures as well. I missed that part of the day to put up my first set, returning for the 5pm event at the Federal Building which felt more like more ordinary protests. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact that most of its participants had NOT bailed out of their day jobs to attend.

I am still going to try to reflect more thoughtfully on the meaning of the explosion of immigrant energy, but not perhaps untill I've had a few more days to let it simmer. :-)

sfwillie said...

The pictures are very pretty. The composition and especially the palette are so optimistic! Like, I wasn't stupid to get out of bed this morning.

markleym said...

Mike, May Day was one of the most inspiring days in recent memory and your coverage, as usual, is brilliant - both the ravishing pictures and the text. Congrats.