May 1st: The long march of 30,000

Milwaukee demonstrated once again a tremendous expression of solidarity – despite false rumors that the march had been cancelled, fear over swine flu, a bad economy and threatening weather. The march started with small numbers and grew along the route which started in Milwaukee’s Southside, continued through downtown Milwaukee along Wisconsin Avenue, till arriving at Veteran’s Park. Though the numbers were not as large as those in 2006 and 2007 when more than 70,000 participated; it was a critical mass and for a second year in a row, Milwaukee emerged as the largest pro-immigrant march in the country.

The spirit of the march was punctuated by chants of “Obama, listen we are in the struggle”, “yes, we can” and “the people united, will never be defeated” and characterized the meaning of the march — an expression of support for recent declarations by President Obama to pass a legalization bill with a path to citizenship and a recognition of the collective efforts of the people to achieve the justice we seek.

In Veteran’s Park, US Congresswoman Gwenn Moore, who represents the City of Milwaukee and is part of the Black Congressional Caucus told pro-immigrant marchers, “nothing and nobody will come between you and me.”

The march was also an expression of support for state initiatives to win drivers’ licenses and in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants. State Representative Pedro Colon who represents Milwaukee’s Southside and is heading up this effort at the state legislature said, “I won’t stop till we reach our goal. People need drivers’ licenses to live in peace and to ensure safe roads. Students need the same educational opportunities as their peers.”

There were messages of solidarity from representatives of labor unions supporting legalization such as UFCW and AFT 212 and community organizations such as the Hmong American Friendship Association, Center Advocates, Spanish Center, and 9 to 5. There was also representation and solidarity messages from dairy farmers, faith groups, and students. Participants came from various cities in the state including Racine, Waukesha, Kenosha, Madison, Green Bay, Delavan, Lake Geneva and Burlington. Everyone united with a great sense of justice, progress and commitment to keep fighting to achieve our goals in 2009.

President Obama will once again make a public statement in support of immigration reform at the end of May or early June, work groups to draft federal legislation will start in the summer, and the goal is to pass legislation, with enough Congressional votes, in September or October.

This means that we need to work hard to ensure that we have the leadership and the necessary votes to achieve this goal in 2009. May 1st was an important step. The next step is a community forum that Voces de la Frontera will be hosting on May 30th to listen to members and the community about the kind of immigration reform we want to achieve at the national level and represent the community’s views at a national gathering of the national network Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) on June 3-5th.

At the state level, Voces de la Frontera, in coordination with Coalition for Safe Roads is organizing a Lobby Day at the State Capitol on May 27th to demonstrate our support for the two pro-immigrant provisions in the State budget that will be voted on at the beginning of June.

Lastly, thank you to each and every one of you that joined the May 1st march and all the volunteers because on May 1 we showed that—“yes, we could!”

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