Protest for immigration reform takes place in Los Angeles
A band of dedicated immigration rights activists are camping out in downtown Los Angeles, in an attempt to collect one million signed pledges from people committing to vote for immigrant rights, to call on others to sign the pledge, and, if possible, to fast for at least one day. Organizers and participants of the event, Fast For Our Future, will be putting out a magnitude of energy and commitment in order to attain these signed pledges in the three short weeks, between Oct. 15 and Nov. 4, Election Day. The fast will continue until Nov. 5, the day after the presidential election, or until the one million signatures are collected, whichever is sooner.
The event is sponsored by the organization RISE, whose name derives from their call to arms, which is, “We must RISE to protect our rights, our families, our community, and our country – and fulfill the promise we made in the spring of 2006,” according to their website. The 2006 promise refers to a statement made during the immigration marches of that year that, “Hoy Marchamos, Manana Votamos,” which translates as “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote.” The RISE website indicates that it is directing its appeal to “Latinos, immigrants, and people of conscience.”
The goal of Fast For Our Future is to reignite immigration reform as a focal political and social issue, and to encourage immigrants to vote in unprecedented numbers. The RISE web site notes that “the oppression of undocumented immigrants is one of the greatest American human rights crises of our time. Since the failure of comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, this crisis has grown strikingly worse.
Amid an emerging national climate of growing hostility towards immigrants and often Latinos or brown-skinned people in general, the Bush Administration has pursued a policy of dramatically escalated and unregulated enforcement of the unjust laws of our broken immigration system.” This fast is not directed towards any particular candidate or bill on the ballot. In fact, there is no bill regarding immigration this election.
Fast For Our Future is based at an encampment at Placita Olvera, also known as Olvera Street. Los Angeles, home to one of the largest immigrant populations in the United States, is an ideal location for an immigrants’ rights assembly. Placita Olvera is a historical monument considered the birthplace of Los Angeles as well as a center of traditional Mexican culture. The encampment sits in a grassy public plaza bordered by the Placita Olvera and the Plaza Methodist Church. Across the street is the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, more commonly called La Placita.
The fasters at Placita Olvera are a diverse group of students, service workers, day laborers, executive directors of organizations, mothers, fathers, members of religious organizations, blue-collar workers, student activists and supporters. On Wednesday Oct. 15, the first morning of the fast, over 70 people were on hand to set up camp and talk to the media. 20 people camped the first night. By Sunday the number of fasters had grown to 45.
Two Occidental students are participating in the fast. Lissa Farrington (sophomore) spent four days and three nights at the encampment last week. She was especially challenged because her participation in the Oxy competitive dance team was disrupted. Still, she found it worthwhile.
She said, “Sometimes I wanted to quit the fast – being the only Oxy student there got lonely. But every time I used my limited Spanish to talk to the people I was fasting with, it all made sense. The amazing stories of the people around me made my commitment real and truly meaningful. I was constantly reminded of why I was fasting and how important it was for this hunger strike to catch on and really make an impact.” She said that the immigrant “raids and deportations are unconstitutional and the politicians should be held accountable to change the way immigration is dealt with in this country.”
Adalberto Rios (sophomore), spent the weekend at the encampment and was mid-way through day five of the fast on Sunday. He has been involved with this cause since he arranged for RISE organizer Frank Romero-Crockett to speak at an Oxy MeCHA-ALAS meeting.
Rios said he is “committed to informing people to create a unity of strength within the Latino community and to encourage Latinos to vote in record numbers.” He said that the number of immigrants “being detained and deported with no explanation or system of justice” was an indignation. He also said he was concerned about immigration concerns being overshadowed by the election and the economy. As a result, “no one cares about the immigration crisis,” Rios said.
Participation in the encampment is open to people of all ages including children, regardless of whether they choose to fast. Farrington said she encourages Oxy students to get involved especially by visiting the encampment. She said, “You don’t need to fast, or donate if that’s not your thing, but having a critical mass of people there is really important as a way of understanding the true impact of the fast and for media support.”
At the encampment on Sunday, there were about 50 tents grouped closely together in the grassy area adjacent to the plaza. The backdrop is a 44-foot long mural depicting Padre Hidalgo declaring the start of the Mexican revolution against Spain. Speakers played the music of Tijuanese alt-pop songstress Julieta Venegas. Rainbow-colored papel picado hung between tents, appearing impossibly fragile. Though no food is allowed in the encampment, the inviting smell of fresh tacos wafted over the area.
RISE asserts that with the participation of over one hundred, Fast For Our Future will be the largest number of people fasting at the same time in the United States and this will contribute the effort’s success. Others agree that grassroots actions like this are effective.
“During my lifetime the most significant changes have come from the bottom up rather than the top down,” ECLS and American Studies Professor Eric Newhall said. “The fact that today’s youth are increasingly politically engaged in a wide range of social and economic issues gives me a great deal of hope for the future. I hope that the next decade will bring change in immigration policy, health care, public education, economic philosophy and other areas that affect the quality of life for millions of Americans.” He said that “whether that happens or not depends on the level of commitment of ordinary citizens.”
The commitment of ordinary citizens was revealed in the 2006 nation-wide marches for immigration reform. Millions turned out for those events, exceeding organizers’ expectations. Those marches were a response to proposed legislation known as H.R. 4437, which would raise penalties for illegal immigration and classify unauthorized immigrants and anyone who helped them enter or remain in the U.S. as felons. Many protests not only opposed this bill but also sought a plan to legitimize those workers who had entered the United States illegally. There was also a request to improve efficiency of the Immigration Services.
These days the presidential candidates barely mention the immigration reform. Social action like Fast For Our Future could make a difference in expressing the concerns of people concerned with immigration rights.
For more information about the fast, visit http://www.fastforourfuture.org.
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