Sunday, August 8, 2010

March for Human Rights Draws Huge Crowd!

“Todos Somos Arizona”

IMPACT!’s “March for Human Rights” Draws Huge Crowd

Over 300 people turn out for anti-SB1070 protest

On July 29th, the day that Arizona’s SB1070 law went into effect, over 300 people came together in Petaluma to call for the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws and for a just, humane immigration reform. This large gathering was organized by IMPACT!, a Petaluma-based, youth-led community organization. In possibly the largest anti-SB1070 protest in the whole Bay Area, supporters from MEChA, the Committee for Immigrants’ Rights, Graton Day Labor Center, St. Vincents Church, Students for a Democratic Society, the Unitarian Universalists, Racial Justice Allies, and many more, marched across Petaluma, into downtown, led by the Danza Azteca (Aztec dancers). The “March for Human Rights” was perhaps the biggest protest in Petaluma since 2006, when millions took to the streets around the country to demand justice for immigrants.

How did the action go down

People began gathering at 6pm at McDowell Park. We had some difficulties getting our sound system to work, so many folks spent the first hour socializing, watching the Danza Azteca, and eating some delicious food prepared by IMPACT! Speeches began around 7pm, with representatives from MEChA, Graton Day Labor Center, the Committee for Immigrants’ Rights, Racial Justice Allies, and IMPACT! addressing the crowd of about 150. With signs in hand, the marchers took off, a little after 7pm, looping around to McDowell Blvd, and then to Washington St. As the march began, dozens could be seen sprinting to join up, and the ranks of the march eventually swelled to about 300 as it went along. The march stayed along the sidewalk, and the police were pretty absent from the event. Several officers could be seen in the distance keeping an eye on us, but only approached the march once or twice to remind people to stand on the sidewalk. We would’ve preferred to be in the street, but permits for street marches in Petaluma are absurdly expensive, and we couldn’t risk an un-permitted protest. So we made the most of our spot on the sidewalk.

The atmosphere of the march was noticeably positive, but also fierce and resilient. The overwhelming majority of passers-by gave supportive honks and waves of support. This was surprising, because if one were to read the letters-section of the paper, or watch TV, you’d be the under the impression that almost everyone, at least almost all white people, were pro-SB1070 and anti-immigrant. It was encouraging to see so many of our fellow Petalumans, both white and of color, vocally supporting the march.

Many people came out with their children. There was a strong presence of young people and students, who ended up leading most of the chants (a favorite being “Obama, Obama, don’t deport my mama!”) and keeping everyone energized. Lots of smiles were seen in the incredibly diverse crowd, as students mingled with workers and their families. Young white punks with skateboards in hand marching alongside immigrant day laborers. We stopped several times so that the Danza could perform. We headed into downtown as the sun went down. Our chants echoed through the narrow Petaluma Blvd. Folks eating in the upscale restaurants gave us the clenched fist (an odd image indeed, but welcomed nonetheless). People walking about downtown stopped in surprise to get a glance of this rare sight. Petaluma, a medium-sized suburb of 50,000, located 45 minutes north of San Francisco, is almost dead quiet when it comes to social protest. For many in our town, the presence of these 300 marchers was a welcomed change, a possible sign of more action and excitement to come. We picked up more people going through downtown, who maybe hadn’t started their day thinking they would end up at a protest. Then there they were…

Because we couldn’t afford a permit for rallies in two parks (each permit was $200), we began our march back towards McDowell Park. The energy was still high, even though the sun had nearly completely set, and we had been marching for nearly an hour and a half. Luckily, several local businesses and grocery stores had donated food and water to the march, which kept us nourished and hydrated. Standing several blocks away, you could hear the raucous cheers and chants of the crowd, which only seemed to grow as the sun went down. We ended in the park and everyone quickly dispersed, as it had now gotten to be about 9:30pm and it was pitch black. We cleaned up and headed out, said goodbye to all of our new friends, proud as hell to see so many people together, standing up for Arizona and for justice everywhere.

Lessons: How we made this happen

A few words here about what went into planning this march, why it was successful and what could’ve been done differently. The idea for this march came after four members of IMPACT!, one activist with MEChA, and one organizer from Students for a Democratic Society at Napa Valley College traveled to Phoenix on May 29th for the National Day of Action Against SB1070, which mobilized 100,000 people. The next day, we joined hundreds of people from around the country in a massive community assembly, where local organizers from Arizona put out the call for increased solidarity actions from people in their communities, leading up to a national day of action on July 29th. We immediately decided that we would call for a protest in Petaluma on July 29th to support the call-out coming from Arizona. However, we also wanted to go beyond just another protest. Once again following the lead of our brothers and sisters in Arizona, we planned for a “Human Rights Summer,” which would be a project to educate and agitate our community to oppose SB1070, as well as other anti-immigrant policies being enacted in our community, modeled after the Freedom Summer of 1964, where student civil rights organizers descended on the south to break Jim Crow segregation and register blacks to vote. Human Rights Summer consists of holding house meetings to discuss the issue of immigration, especially in Arizona, organizing actions such as the March for Human Rights on July 29th, raising awareness in our community through art and propaganda, and working with elected officials to introduce resolutions opposing laws like SB1070.

The organizing for the march on July 29th, however, didn’t actually get under way until the beginning of July, as many of the organizers were either on vacation, or at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. This left us with about three weeks to organize a successful march. Every day during those three weeks, the dozen or so organizers from IMPACT!, along with other supporters, met up to plan the march, make phone calls, paint signs and banners, and hit the streets to talk to the community about the march. We canvassed, knocking on hundreds of doors to spread the word. We flyered at churches and at the Farmer’s Market. We got tons of support from local businesses, who posted our flyers in their windows. We dropped a huge banner at the Wednesday Night Market in Petaluma, which read “Human Rights” (with an arrow pointing to the left) and “SB1070” (with an arrow pointing to the right). We gave a presentation to the workers at Graton Day Labor Center, many of whom attended the march. We appeared on two radio shows on the bilingual station KBBF, and had two articles printed in the local paper, the Argus Courier. ( We attended meetings and events of other groups, such as the Committee for Immigrants’ Rights, MEChA, and the Racial Justice Allies, to ask for support. We got donations of food and water from several local businesses, and spent hours preparing food on the day of the march. We also attended a similar march on July 28th in Napa, which was organized by SDS, Latinos Unidos, and several other groups, which brought out about 100 people. All in all, the young volunteer organizers of IMPACT! put in hundreds of hours trying to put together this protest in less than three weeks.

But hours of hard work are not enough to plan a good protest. This action would not have been nearly as large or successful had it not been for years of relationship building between our group and the many other community organizations and activists who helped us turn people out on the 29th. For years we have supported the work of others in our community by turning out to their actions, making food for their events, raising funds, passing out flyers, attending countless meetings, etc. It is through this relationship building that trust and respect develop. It takes time, but we have seen the results in the streets of Petaluma. Our allies, to whom we have demonstrated our trustworthiness and solidarity, turned out in large numbers and played a whole number of support roles for this march, from providing security, to clean up, to passing out flyers and setting up carpools of their friends, to monitoring the police and documenting the march with photos and video. While a great deal of the credit for this march is owed to the passionate and committed youth organizers of IMPACT!, it would not have been possible without the crucial support from our wonderful social justice community.

Now, it goes without saying that when a team of a dozen youth volunteers, most of whom have full-time jobs or other obligations, and who have little to no access to money or mainstream politics or media, try and plan an event like this in less than three weeks, there are bound to be some shortcomings, and we are well aware that not everything went so smoothly at this march. For one, we couldn’t get our sound system to work until about 7pm, an hour after the rally was supposed to begin. This mainly had to do with missing equipment, but also because we didn’t give ourselves enough time to make sure it worked. And although the speeches were very inspiring, and were translated, we had no prepared plan for that translation, so it didn’t go quite as smoothly as originally hoped. The first hour of the event was chaotic, with most people not knowing when we were to begin or where we going to march. There was no clear communication between the organizers and some of the groups who were invited to participate. And we didn’t have much time to explain who the organization is, what we do, or ask people to join us. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the organizing of the march was very frantic, and most of us were stressing out pretty heavily. On the upside, we completed almost all of our tasks and put together an amazing an event in very little time. However, as organizers we need to learn to approach our work in a more sustainable way, so that we don’t burn out or start to view this work negatively. Organizing should be fun, a chance for us to learn and grow together, to build relationships and skills, and create community. While this definitely happened with the march organizing, we also experienced the flipside of that, with too much to do and simply not enough time, people, or resources to make it happen, leading to our folks feeling constantly overwhelmed by an inescapable sense of urgency.

We also feel that another lesson that can be learned from this march is the merits of volunteer-based, democratic organizing. Many of us have taken notice of the rise of the nonprofit industrial complex, the reliance of grassroots movements on paid staff, huge budgets, and top-down corporate structures. While, in theory, there’s nothing wrong or undemocratic about increasing the capacity of our organizations with more funding, or even some paid organizers, but unless our core strategy is focused around volunteer-organizing, which is bottom-up and democratic, and accountable to the grassroots (not the big foundations who give us money), we will continue to lose strength and momentum as a movement. In more densely populated regions of the Bay Area, we see nonprofits with professional, paid staff, unable to turn out as many people as a handful of (mostly) teenagers with little “official” organizing experience, college education, and who only do this in their free time. There may be several reasons for this, but one important factor is that volunteer organizers do not view this work as a 9-5 job. They don’t take weekends off, nor do they go home at the end of the day to their other life. They are forced to do what needs to be done, whatever hour of the day it needs to be done, or whatever day of the week. They are more concerned with creating a culture which can sustain radical organizing. Creating this culture is key because if our aim is to create a world where we are all in family, where we support one another and are accountable for our actions, our organizations have to reflect that. In organizing this march, many of our members hung out together every single night. Sometimes we were doing work for the march, but most of the time we were just relaxing after our long day and getting to know each other better, and once again, slowly building those relationships. Oftentimes, in large nonprofits, the relationship between organizers is purely professional, and there is less of that spirit of camaraderie. When we start viewing our organizing as a job, and our organizations as employers, much of the visionary and idealistic passion which fuels the most effective organizations is lost.

Lastly, we couldn’t help but notice the total lack of media coverage of our march. While there was an article in the local paper the day before the march, there was no news of the actual event. As if it didn’t really happen. The Press Democrat (the local New York Times affiliate) even called us two days before to tell us they were going to run the story live on their website. Nope. While some of this may be due to our lack of time and people to make dozens of phone calls to every local reporter, we did send several press releases weeks in advance, and made follow up phone calls to news agencies. Several of the biggest news outlets knew that this march was happening and consciously chose not to cover it. We can only speculate as to why, but I am amazed that when the Tea Party organized their lackluster, racist right-wing little rally in Santa Rosa last April, it made front page news. When 300 people turn out for a march in Petaluma (which, as was mentioned earlier, doesn’t happen so often), not a peep. It’s because of this media blackout that we need YOU to help us spread the word. Please forward this report with people you know, along with the videos, to let people know how inspiring and successful this march was. The media will not tell our story for us, we must now do it ourselves.

(Video of the march)

What’s Next

Now that we have demonstrated that we can bring together hundreds of people to stand up for immigrants rights, what’s next? Well, Human Rights Summer is still on and we will be organizing “house meetings,” which are small, intimate discussions (5-10 people) where we are able to open up dialogue about immigration, dispel some myths and inform our friends, allies and family about this important issue. This is also a way to build a stronger base for our movement. The house meetings are meant to, at the least, inoculate our community against racist, anti-immigrant propaganda. But at the most, we hope to move people to take action and join this cause. We will also be spreading our message via propaganda and visible art, which always plays a huge role in raising consciousness on a larger level. We will also be calling for a larger community meeting for all those interested in continuing to work together on local battles for migrant justice. The date, time, and location of that meeting are still in the works, but we will inform everyone as soon as we know more. And lastly, we still plan on moving forward with resolutions at the city level to oppose SB1070 and all anti-immigrant policies.
Once again, we thank everyone who participated in the first-ever “March for Human Rights,” and everyone who helped make it possible. IMPACT! believes firmly in the principles of solidarity, and what we saw on the 29th was pure solidarity in action. We hope you will continue to support our small but strong organization, and we will continue to go where we are needed to support the fight for liberation.
As we build this movement together, and as we start to see proposals for immigration reform come before our elected officials in the coming months and years, we want to stand firm in our position and say that we will not back down or compromise when it comes to human rights and dignity. We will not sell out any of our people to get short-term political advantages. We know that if we betray our own values, we all lose in the long run. We continue to take leadership from the brothers and sisters in Puente, TonaTierra, and the National Day Labor Organizing Network in Arizona, and stand with them as they call for a just and humane immigration reform, not some backdoor-deal compromise with politicians which continues to criminalize the immigrant community and separates families. Let us be firm in our commitment and not support any politician or organization which treats workers like criminals, and immigrant families like slaves. In the words of Malcolm X, "You don't stab me in the back with a 6 inch knife, and
pull it out 3 inches and call that progress."
El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!

in solidarity,


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