I arrived at the Siler City Immigration protest at about 4:15 pm yesterday afternoon. There was a line of people walking from the highway starting about 1.5 miles away. People had signs and nearly everyone had an American flag. There were smiles on everyone's faces as we passed work crews, old couples, young people with their friends, and entire families, including babies in strollers. Nearly everyone was wearing white t-shirt. As we got closer to the protest site we could hear chanting in spanish, a nation divided can never be united. As we drove by the protest site there was line of policemen from siler city, chatham county, and surrounding cities lining the sidewalk. Also people were chanting Yes we can! in spanish. We pulled into press parking (some newspaper workers caught a ride with me( their article is here) and I joined the protest as the journalists went off to inverview and take pictures.
When we first got out of the car the journalists were approached by a non-hispanic who asked them not to ask people's legal/illegal status to avoid retribution in case INS were to read the article. There were also flyers being passed out by groups that told protesters their rights in Spanish and English. I was very impressed by the dedication of some of the protest support groups to educate everyone about their rights when it came to free speech and what to do if they were harrassed or arrested.
It seems that so many of the problems with immigrants could be taken care of by providing information and assistance in Spanish until they learn english, from medical issues, to basic laws, especially regarding things like Drunk Driving, but I digress...
When we arrived I would estimate there were about 1000 people there. There were many signs. About half in Spanish and half in English. They said things like "We love NC". "We pay taxes too!" "no human is illegal" "stop racism". There was a little girl (probabaly around 8 year old) holding a sign that said "No More Abuse by Police". She was asked in spanish by someone about the sign and she said that police are unfairly mean to people for being hispanic and i want it to stop. Her parents seemed very proud of her. One of the things that I noticed the most was the abundance of families, and also how happy everyone was. Everyone there was very proud to be there, you could tell how much these people loved their city that they built. During the speeches, one of the few ones in English (I don't speak spanish, but nearly everyone I asked could translate for me the main ideas) the speaker said 15 years ago this downtown area was dead. Now because of the huge hispanic influx, the downtown area has totally rebounded and now nearly every storefront was filled with a local tienda or restaurant. Siler city went from nearly dead former industrial town to a very walkable downtown area with stores and restaurants all over the place.
Several speakers spoke, unfortunately I couldn't understand many of them, but the general ideas were increased access to education, not passing the house bill, getting people on the path to citizenship and a declaration of the importance of immigrants to the NC economy. A mexican folk musician played on guitar and sang and a drum group played and everyone danced for a few minutes.
As I left a little early (at about 6:15) the protest had probabaly quintupled in size and I'd guess it to be between 5-8000 people. Nearly 95% (again a guess) were hispanic immigrants or children of immigrants.
As I was leaving the crowd was singing this land is our land first in english, then in Spanish. It was a really touching experience to see how much these immigrants love our country, and really to see how many families were there. The children were waving American flags and speaking english and spanish to each other. These children are much more aware of their native culture than my mother was even though they are both the children of immigrants. This protest really made it obvious to me that these people are here because they want to make a better life for their families. The same reason that my grandparents came from Sweden in the 1930s. All they want to do is work and drive and get educated and serve in the military without harrassment, like my grandparents. I've felt very pro-immigration before, but this protest has galvanized my opinion. We need to stand up for these people that we rely so much on. Immigrants are some of the most hard working and family value oriented people in America. Just because they are from another country some people want them out. You change laws because they are wrong, Admitting that a law is wrong isn't the same as encouraging people to break the law. Some sort of bill needs to be passed that would allow these people to get on track for citizenship, allow them to get drivers licenses, allow them to go to college, allow them to serve in the military and eventually vote. Anything less is terrible.
I have pictures of the rally posted here: