Hope in Chicago

This year’s May Day march in Chicago was a far cry from the million-strong outpouring in 2006. But the 3,000 who did show marched at the crossroads of the immigrants’ rights fight, faced with a government that could be the impediment or the vehicle for their demands.

Part of the exhilaration of the march during the last few years was that people with no organizational affiliation streamed like water from faucets from Chicago's 77 neighborhoods to protest unjust immigration laws and defend the right to organize. This year, without threats like a federal bill criminalizing immigrants, the mood was more like a parade. People came out to support immigration reform, not protest the government.

Others felt less of a need to march at all, given that we now have a president who has stated immigration reform is a priority for his first year in office. But of course, that will only remain a priority if we, the people, demand so.

During the march, I noticed a number of “Si se pudo!” (“Yes we did!”) buttons. These marchers had the right idea. Though clearly satisfied by Obama’s election, they still took seriously his call for citizens to organize themselves around the issues they care about.

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Rain dispersed the marchers before the program ended. Wet and a little disappointed, I waited for the next train, picket sign slung over my shoulder. I turned to a sister in a Teamsters jacket, clearly someone who had also just marched and asked in Spanish, “Well, what did you think?”

Her face lit up.

“Very good!” she responded. “Yes, there were fewer people, but think of Martin Luther King. We have to march, just the same, just like he did.”

At first surprised, I thought of what she said as I rode the train home, about the power of May Day to link us to people and movements of the past. I smiled, proud that this woman and I were joined together, carrying the tradition of fighters who came before us and hope for those who would march after us.

Adam Kader is the director of the Arise workers center in Chicago.