Hundreds of protesters took part in Chicago's May Day events Thursday to stand for workers’ rights and demand an end to deportations. Progress Illinois was there for the day's events.
Chants of "Two million, too many!" could be heard throughout downtown Chicago Thursday afternoon as hundreds marched and rallied on May Day to stand for workers' rights and demand an end to deportations.
May Day, also know as International Workers’ Day, is an annual commemoration of the Haymarket Square riot that took place in Chicago in 1886 during the peak of the American labor movement. The day is typically marked by labor-focused demonstrations around the world. Since 2006, an annual May Day rally has been held in Chicago, and this year the events focused on the issue of deportations as an important part of the workers' rights debate.
This year, the activists delivered a loud message to the Obama administration — two million deportations is too many. Under President Barack Obama, some 2 million undocumented immigrants have been deported. Demonstrators called on the president to use his executive power to stop deportations now.
"He has deported more (people) than any other president in our history, and that ain't right," said Gaby Benitez with the Latino Union of Chicago. "He (says) that he supports the immigrant community on one side, but behind closed doors there (are) raids that are going on every day and there are families being arrested every day because of their immigration status, but also because the color of their skin."
Thursday's May Day festivities included a 3 p.m. rally at the Haymarket Memorial, located at 175 N. Desplaines St., before protestors marched to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Chicago field office at 101 W. Congress Parkway for a protest. During the march, fast food workers with the Fight for 15 campaign made a brief stop in front of a McDonald's location and chanted "McDonald's escucha: Estamos en la lucha!", rough translation: "McDonald listen! We are in the fight!"
Outside of ICE's Chicago office, Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), called on Obama to halt deportations immediately. In Illinois, about 56,000 children have lost a parent to deportations, Benito said.
“I’m angry,” he stressed. “This should not happen. Eleven hundred families today are being separated due to deportations.”
Back in March, Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security will be reviewing its practices to see if deportations can be handled "more humanely within the confines of the law."
Activists argue that Obama needs to go further and take swift administrative action on deportations, seeing as how House Republican leadership has refused to bring an immigration reform package up for a vote. Bipartisan legislation to overhaul the country's immigration system already passed through the Democratic-controlled Senate back in June.
Benito demanded that the top U.S. Republican House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH,8) and GOP leadership, "Stop playing politics with the lives of our families, and pass an immigration reform bill that keeps our families together by June 28." (The Washington, D.C.-based Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a national coalition of immigrant rights organizations, including ICIRR, set a deadline of June 28 for congressional action on immigration reform.)
In addition to activists associated with ICIRR, the Latino Union of Chicago and the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago/Fight for 15, today’s event saw attendance from the membership of various organizations, including SEIU*, Chicago Jobs with Justice, AFL-CIO, UE Western Region, Teamsters Local 777, the Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago Community and Workers Rights, Teamsters Joint Council 25, the Illinois Labor Historical Society, P.A.S.O, LIUNA Local 681, UFCW Local 881, Workers United, the Gay Liberation Network, the Chicago Teachers Union, ARISE Chicago, S.W.O.P, Centro Sin Fronteras and UNITE HERE, among others.
Ada Fuentes with Chicago Jobs With Justice noted that the struggle for workers' rights cannot be separated from the fight for immigrant rights.
"Oftentimes employers actually use immigration status against workers by threatening them with deportation, and that's only a problem because of the immigration system we currently have right now," she said. "If we had better laws, if we had people not fearing deportation, we would have better working conditions for all workers regardless of status."
Here is more from Fuentes, scenes from today's events and an interview with Alison Olhava, an organizer with Industrial Workers of the World, who says May Day "is all about honoring the past of the Haymarket martyrs and rekindling that sort of radical pro-union organization and getting it going again":
Meanwhile, members of SlutWalk Chicago, a group that works to push back against the culture of victim blaming associated with sexual assault, also took part in the May Day events, including a rally held earlier in the morning and afternoon by the Industrial Workers of the World in Chicago's Union Park.
Ashley Bohrer, a SlutWalk Chicago activist, participated in the demonstrations because "feminism has to be part of the discussion of labor rights and of immigrant rights."
“Immigrant women face rates of sexual assault that are higher than the general population,” she noted. “Women are frequently sexually assaulted crossing the border, and when they’re here, if they don’t have papers, they’re not going to go to anyone to report their abuse, and it's hard for organizations to reach out to them to get them that kind of support.”
“When we’re talking about labor rights in general, you can’t have a discussion or a movement about labor rights without talking about women’s rights,” Bohrer continued. “In this country, white women still make 77 cents on a man’s dollar. For black women, that’s 64 cents, and for Latino women, that’s 53 cents. So the world in which we all live and work is one that’s drastically and horribly and terribly unequal.”
What was Bohrer's takeaway from Thursday's May Day actions?
“The working class is alive, well and kicking, and we’re not going away,” she said.
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