Thousands march for reform at immigration rights rally

American flags were front and center, and the police presence was minimal, as marchers marched toward City Hall in downtown Los Angeles Saturday.
American flags were front and center, and the police presence was minimal, as marchers marched toward City Hall in downtown Los Angeles Saturday. Julio Morales/KPCC

Thousands of people poured into downtown Los Angeles for Saturday’s annual May Day rally. The turnout was less than expected with about 50,000 attending - but the energy of the demonstration was strong. Much of the march focused on Arizona’s stringent new immigration law.

Organizers arrived at dawn, armed with clipboards, forms and information they were eager to share with undocumented immigrants about how they can become U.S. citizens.

Yaquelin Barrera, 16 years-old and one of the youngest working with the immigrant rights group Vamos Unidos, didn’t mind giving up her Saturday.

“I feel I have a need to tell my people they have rights and they shouldn’t be mistreated just because they don’t know English.”

By mid morning, Yaquelin could barely hear herself. The intersection at Olympic and Broadway was packed. A diverse crowd of thousands filled the intersection and several more blocks for a pre-rally event. Activists and politicians addressed the crowd from a platform. Speakers included Cardinal Roger Mahony and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“We are a nation of laws,” the mayor exclaimed. “Laws that are tough yet fair minded, not heavy handed and unenforceable.”

And with that, there was a chant from the crowd, in Spanish. They shouted: “Obama, listen! We’re in the fight.” Lots of signs were raised high as they marched on Broadway, through the fashion district, imploring President Obama to follow through on a promise for comprehensive immigration reform.

One Chicano activist marched with a banner that read: “No reform, no re-election.”

“United we stand, divided we fall,” he shouted. “We want reform for our people. Set my people free! Give ‘em amnesty. They deserve it.”

Hundreds of demonstrators wore different color T-shirts with the same words on the front: “Legalize Arizona.” That’s a reference to the new law in Arizona that requires police to check whether people are in the country legally.

“I think that’s a very discriminating law. And people are feeling it now” said Sergio Aguilar who wore his dental lab coat. He’s originally from Mexico. “I came to this country illegally, too - 20 something years ago. I worked my way out and now I’m a professional. I’m very proud of that. And I’m here with my people.”

By mid-afternoon, the smell of grilled sausages filled the air. And beyond the chants from demonstrators, there was music and dancing. Smiles. People snapping pictures with their cell phones.

“A lot of families, a lot of kids out with their parents so it’s been very peaceful,” LAPD Sergeant Julie McInnis said as she watched the crowd. Sergeant McInnis reported there were about 600 cops were on patrol.

“We’re just here for presence and to keep the crowd safe and the citizens involved in the march safe.”

The crowd began to disperse late in the afternoon. Some stayed on into the evening to stretch out a peaceful, festive day.

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