Giving thanks

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco's Coit Tower.

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

It is a tradition that popular story says started in this country with the Pilgrims. They were a band of vulnerable immigrants who survived a harrowing first winter only through the help of the native people who shared their food and taught them to farm and to fish. Our nascent nation would have vanished without the advice of Squanto and other Wampanoags. Ironically, that expression of thanks turned into oppression, as the immigrants took over native land and massacred native peoples, cultures and customs.

Sadly, as a nation, we continue to struggle with immigration, apparently forgetting that with the exception of our native and first peoples, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We give thanks that this month, President Obama ended the threat of deportation for nearly five million of our neighbors, undocumented immigrants with deep connections in our communities and vital roles to play in making them healthy. And we hope that our nation will once again embrace the values of compassion, equity and justice for all, not just those with privilege and power.

We honor the dreamers, the hardworking believers in a United States of America that can be better than the one we currently have. We give thanks to those who work for equity and fairness in public and private life, and those unafraid to point out our society’s failings and eager to help overcome them, including our allies in Ferguson, MO and the many other communities resisting institutional oppression and injustice.

Often at Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the freedoms and privileges we enjoy, whether we were born to them or gained them through struggle. While it is accelerating in the Northwest, ours has always been a nation of haves and have nots. And so in offering thanks for our bounty, we must not lose sight of the inequities that have given some of us so much and many of us so little.

We honor the people who build our homes and grow our food, regardless of where they were born. And we thank the landlords who accept Section 8s, the readers who tutor, the case managers who provide support and advice, the accountants who keep us on track, the donors who channel their money through their hearts and souls. We honor the community that welcomes and supports, in the spirit of that storybook first Thanksgiving, whoever it is that arrives at our table.

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks…

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May Day march brings community & action to the streets

SolidGroundBannerEditedThe first day of May is one when we feel relief knowing that our harsh winter weather is over and we eagerly await beautiful blooms in spring and (hopefully) bountiful harvests in summer. Traditionally in the past, a “May Day Basket” filled with Easter-like treats and flowers may have been left at a neighbor’s doorstep; a gesture meant to deepen community ties by sharing the celebration of spring and its promise of new beginnings. However, this ritual is slowly fading.

The promise of spring also informs the century-old International Workers’ Day, May 1st is also a day in which activists demand social change, especially as they pertain to immigrants’ rights. The origins of this day trace back to the late 19th century when thousands of workers in Chicago organized, demanding an eight-hour work day, fair wages and safe working conditions. A bomb was thrown into the crowd of picketers (the culprit is still unknown) which spurred a shooting frenzy with police, killing over a dozen people and wounding dozens more. This tragedy became known as the Haymarket Massacre, one that propelled the first day of May forward to unite those in solidarity, never forgetting those that lost their lives in Chicago over 100 years ago.

While violence has marred recent Seattle May Days, this year’s events started peacefully with a rally at Judkins Park, where thousands congregated, assembling signs and conversing with familiar faces. Shortly after 3pm, we were off on our 2.5-mile trek to downtown Seattle, during which temperatures reached up to the mid-80s. Thousands more joined the march as the crowd proceeded down Jackson to Boren Street.

People held signs that read “Health Care is a Human Right” supporting a single payer national health program and “¡Sí se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”), observing the United Farm Workers’ rallying cry so many years ago. Chants like, “Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (Obama! Listen! We are in the fight!) – calling upon the President to curb the over 2 million record deportations that have occurred under his administration – and “What do we want? 15! When do we want it? Now!”— demanding a livable wage of $15 per hour in Seattle proper (and eventually across America) – were heard throughout the march.

But the message seemed disjointed and all over the place, like too many options on the social justice menu. An all-encompassing rally demanding justice for all facets of inequality? Could the statements be confused for a chaotic and unfocused purpose?

“It was an important day of coming together around issues that affect everyone,” says Leah Grupp-Williams, Food Resources Program Assistant at Solid Ground. In the past, Leah has helped organize the May Day March with the May 1 Action Coalition. This year she planned a group from Solid Ground to attend the march. When asked why this march is so important to her, she replied, “Our current immigration policy is an example of how racism thrives in this country. And it’s important for Solid Ground to continue to have a presence in grass roots struggles.”

Another member of the Solid Ground team who attended the march offered his personal connection to the rally. Gordon Pun, Facilities Manager at Solid Ground, states, “I am an immigrant who wanted to be in the U.S. I wanted a better future and freedom in the U.S. …an opportunity to grow.” As he recounts his own experiences, he also relates his story to current immigration issues. “I see the struggle that immigrants have to [endure]. I see why immigrants have to cross the border. I feel bad that the families have to break up. That’s really sad.”

Even though he has a direct affinity with those cries for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform, Gordon still agrees with the notion that there may be a community sentiment after all. “Everyone has their own reasons for being at the march,” he says.

And isn’t it true? That we all have our own reasons for all-encompassing advocacy? Whether your family is threatened with deportation every day of your life, a friend is living at poverty level because they make minimum wage, or your coworker just filed for bankruptcy because they couldn’t pay their medical bills, we all know someone. We might even be living it. But whether the former or the latter are the case, one has to feel a sense of unity and collective emotion to witness so much participation in a movement that is focused on helping out fellow Americans who are, in essence, strangers. To see them in good health. To prosper and live without fear of separation from their families.

Knowing these issues still plague our people, how can such things that anger and outrage us at times also make us happy in some ways? Happy that thousands came together for the same altruistic purpose. Happy that destructive behavior and obscenities were largely absent among thousands of people within the cramped streets of Seattle. Happy that that feeling of community, which is few and far between for some, showed its face on that warm, sunny, first day of May.

 

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Drop the I-word!

Recently, I attended the “Facing Race” conference in Chicago sponsored by Applied Research Center and Colorlines magazine, which focused on racial justice issues. The plenary and workshops that I attended were great and provided me a new sense of commitment and insight about why this work is so important.

But what resonated with me most was the Drop the I-Word campaign. The I-Word campaign views the word illegal(s) as a damaging word that divides and dehumanizes communities and is used to discriminate against immigrants and people of color. The I-word is shorthand for illegal alien, illegal immigrant and other harmful racially-charged terms.

Cute girl with tagline: I am not an illegal

From the Colorlines website...

I am an immigrant and have members of my family who are undocumented, so I feel firsthand the impact of the word illegal. Members of my family live daily in the shadows, always looking over their shoulders, afraid that ICE will be knocking at their door any minute. They live in a world we can’t ever imagine, with no rights to organize, no rights to fight for better wages, decent hours or working conditions. Many in our society view them as draining vital resources away from their communities, without understanding the immeasurable contributions (economically and socially) that undocumented immigrants have given to this country. Being labeled illegal aliens rips the souls and spirits of my relatives and denies them the potential to fully achieve their American dreams of better housing, education, healthcare, and most importantly, as human beings.

It’s time to hold organizations and institutions accountable for perpetuating the word illegal. It’s time to see everyone as a human being regardless of status, because, aren’t we all immigrants one time or another?

Go to the Colorlines website for more information on the Drop the I-Word Campaign.

Here is the campaign’s video.

What does immigration reform look like?

Every year for the past five years or so, members of Solid Ground’s staff have joined in the annual May Day Immigration Rights Rally & March – marching in solidarity with hardworking community members and their families calling for comprehensive immigration reform. And every year on this day, a few thousand immigrants and allies gather and march demanding reform that will make it easier for immigrants and their families to legally live and work in the United States – and to end the destructive policies that lead to detentions, raids and deportations that are breaking up families and separating children from their parents.

Solid Ground / Poverty Action staff, family & friends

Irene Woo, Solid Ground’s Anti-Racism Coordinator; Bev Spears, Statewide Poverty Action Network’s Director & Maru Mora-Villalpando, Washington CAN! Community Organizer

But this year – fueled by outrage in response to last week’s passage of an Arizona law that promotes racial profiling by encouraging law enforcement to question anyone about their immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented  – Seattle’s 10th Annual May Day march was larger and more passionate than ever. It’s not clear exactly how many people attended – one estimate was more than 10,000 – but from my vantage point, a virtual river of people filled the streets from Judkins Park in the Central District, flowed down South Jackson Street through downtown and Belltown, end emptied into Memorial Stadium at the Seattle Center.

A river of marchers at 14th Ave S and S Jackson St

 

There were joyful moments: a Latino dad draped in an American flag, his small son riding on his shoulders; drums beating; people chanting. But overall, this was serious business, and the signs marchers carried reflected it.

From “Stop Racism / Alto El Racismo” to “Do I Look ‘Illegal’?” to “I Pay My Taxes / My Husband is Not a Criminal” to “First Natives, Then Blacks, Now Latinos, Who’s Next?” to “My Skin Color is Not a Crime,” the messages expressed a demand to stop injustice, honor our common humanity, and fiercely resist laws and a political climate that dehumanizes people who are striving to create better lives for their families.

As Renée Saucedo, Community Empowerment Coordinator at San Francisco’s La Raza Centro Legal eloquently puts it, “We must continue to support immigrant communities in their struggle to obtain a fair legalization law. We must not allow certain advocacy organizations to negotiate away rights on their behalf. By organizing, marching, etc. we must continue to demand just immigration laws and to work towards ending policies which criminalize and exploit members of our community.”

May Day March & Rally for Immigrant Rights!

From our friends at Washington Community Action Network:  

Washington CAN!'s youngest spokesperson, 11-year-old Marcelas Owens

 

Join Washington CAN!, Statewide Poverty Action Network, Solid Ground and many others at the 10th Annual May 1st March & Rally for Immigrant Rights! In 2006, thousands of people across the nation took to the streets to protest inhumane immigration policies and support immigrant and worker rights. In Seattle, the May 1st march has historically been a grassroots effort with full support from all sectors of the community and driven by the Latino community in the Puget Sound Area. 

There is an indisputable need for immigration reform for everyone in our country. We need comprehensive immigration reform that reflects our American values of justice, fairness, and respect for humanity. We believe all communities can come together to better our country. 

Event Information: 

  • Rally 12:00pm at Judkins Playfield (behind St Mary’s Church- 611 20th Ave S, Seattle)
  • March 12:30pm
  • March will end at 1:30pm followed by a program with elected officials and music at Memorial Stadium in the Seattle Center (401 5th Ave 98109)
  • Contact: Email maru@washingtoncan.org

Thank you for all you,
The Washington CAN! Team 

***************************************************************** 

¡Marcha y mitin del 1ero de mayo por derechos de los inmigrantes! En el 2006 miles de personas a través de la nación inundaron las calles para protestar políticas  migratorias deshumanas y un apoyo a derechos de los trabajadores e inmigrantes. En Seattle la marcha del 1ero de mayo ha sido históricamente un esfuerzo comunitario con apoyo absoluto de todos los sectores de la comunidad y liderado por la comunidad Latina del área de Puget Sound. 

Hay una necesidad indiscutible de una reforma migratoria para todos en este país. Necesitamos una reforma amplia que refleje nuestros valores Americanos de justicia, igualdad y respeto por la humanidad. Creemos que todas las comunidades pueden unirse y mejorar nuestro país. 

¡Acompáñenos a la Décima Marcha Anual por Derechos de los Inmigrantes e invite a sus amigos y familiares! 

Información del evento

  • Sábado 1ero de mayo, 2010
  • Mitin 12:00pm en el parque Judkins Playfield (detrás de la iglesia St Mary – 611 20th Ave S, Seattle)
  • Marcha 12:30pm
  • Marcha terminará a la 1:30pm y será seguida por un programa con oradores políticos y música en el Memorial Stadium en el Seattle Center (401 5th Ave 98109)
  • Reservaciones: mande un correo electrónico a maru@washingtoncan.org  

Gracias por su apoyo, 

La Red Activa – Washington CAN!

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