May Day Reportback

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As always, we disseminate autonomous contributions and reports on actions and developments in the region.  Received from the Bloomington May Day Group, and posted in this spirit:

A Day Without Immigrants 2017

On May 1st, 2017 Bloomington, Indiana joined the largest immigrant strike since 2006. The Bloomington May Day Group, a group of five Bloomington residents (including undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni) working as part of Cosecha Indiana, hosted a rally, a march, and a financial boycott to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for ALL immigrants in the country, regardless of country of origin/heritage, race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, socio-economic position, status under the law, etc. These actions were a direct response to the call for a day-long Migrant Boycott made by Movimiento Cosecha, a national movement devoted to the advocacy for the over 11 million immigrants in the United States, many of whom are undocumented.

Their event, promoted through the Bloomington Immigrants Rights/Derechos Inmigrantes Facebook page, described multiple levels of participation in the event: “We will not buy. We will not go to school. We will not work. […] We will get together to be in solidarity with each other and show support to those targeted by the Trump administration. We will share stories of those affected and we will tell our government that Hoosiers in Bloomington won’t allow more families to be ripped apart!” According to the main local organizers, the idea was to demonstrate how much immigrant presence and labor are worth to the United States, and what would happen if there were no production and no work from immigrants and their allies. If immigrants were to disappear from the country, the people remaining could not survive with their current standard of living.

The May 1st all-day peaceful strike actively began at 9:30am on the Indiana University campus. Specifically in response to the national call to not buy, on April 30, the Sunday before the boycott, the Bloomington May Day Group had reminded the strike participants to fill up their gas tanks, and buy the food, drinks, and whatever else they needed in order to honor the boycott. On Monday, multiple groups of people, mostly students, flyered at the picket lines that the local organizers had established the week before. Some of the flyers distributed to university staff, students, and faculty, informed people of the pickets located around the Indiana Memorial Union food services, around the IU Bookstore, and around the food services at the Wells Library. They asked people to not cross the picket lines and to not buy anything on or off campus (though if needed suggested funds be diverted to local immigrant businesses). In addition, the flyers briefly educated the public on histories of labor unions: on April 27, Bloomington’s local strike received the endorsement of the White River Valley Chapter of the Southern Indiana Regional Labor Council, and, as such, they were tagged in these flyers. Other flyers contained information about the local rally, and yet others contained Cosecha’s national press release. Students of color flyering at the IMU were harassed and asked to leave the premises on multiple occasions, accused of solicitation. Still, picketing efforts continued in shifts at different points of the IMU until 4:30pm. Over 1000 flyers were distributed.   

In addition to the flyering, starting on April 25, The Bloomington May Day Group encouraged participants and supporters of the strike to visibly align themselves with the movement by wearing preferably red bandanas. Although Cosecha’s official color is yellow, the local community was determined to flag the migrant boycott’s connection to the labor movement. Simultaneously, they could honor the National Farm Workers Association/United Farm Workers, who have inspired Movimiento Cosecha, and who have led civil rights activism for decades. The organizers signaled this as an opportunity to learn more about César E. Chávez and Dolores Huerta, as an occasion to fortify coalitions among immigrants, and as a chance to connect with International Labor Day events and protests across the globe.

So, on May 1st at 5:30pm, IU Bloomington’s Sample Gates —which had been appropriated but two weeks earlier by six different police and “security” forces hired to protect a white nationalist to whom university leadership had given a platform to speak— were painted red and reclaimed by over 50 students and other Bloomington supporters of the national immigrant strike. They wore bandanas on their heads or as armbands, and they carried red flags, the United Farm Workers’ logo explicitly sewn on one of them. This rally, organized primarily by Students Against State Violence, was to serve as a feeder rally for Bloomington’s main rally: student activists rallied in solidarity with the larger Bloomington community. Members of the Bloomington Solidarity Network, among other local groups likewise attended.

The main rally took place on May 1st, at 6:30pm, at the steps of the Monroe County Courthouse. For the two minutes leading up to the official time of the main event, the chants from the march from the feeder rally filled the air of Bloomington’s downtown square. The campus march, accompanied by a truck draped in banners and from which a sound system played music, had made its way down 4th street, locally known for its international cuisine and for its immigrant owned and/or staffed businesses. The Bloomington May Day Group had reached out to all of these restaurants, in addition to other local business around the city, over 40 in total, inviting them to participate in the national strike by closing down on May 1st. Although not many did so, student solidarity with their different communities became visible through the march. As the campus march approached Kirkwood Avenue from the south, on Walnut Avenue, harmonized “Black Lives Matter,” “No Human Is Illegal,” and “No Ban, No Wall” chants demonstrated overall anti-xenophobic and anti-racist sentiments.  

The main rally began with a brief intervention by one of the main organizers. Her speech reminded immigrant and nonimmigrant participants alike of the communities too often erased even by progressive rhetorics that claim that the United States is a country where “we are all immigrants”: settler colonialism is not immigration, enslavement of black and African people was not immigration, and Native and Indigenous people in the Americans are not immigrants (the national strike also invited people to divest from the banks that continue to finance the Dakota Access and other oil pipelines). The rally held a moment of silence for all of these racialized and criminalized communities, as well as for immigrant survivors of the Holocaust, honored through an acknowledgement of the rise of anti-semitism and fascism in the country, as evidenced, for example, by the pro-Hitler flyers posted in front of Middle Way House in Bloomington (note: attendees honoring the life of Toby Strout, former director of Middle Way House who died February of this year, moved to from the Buskirk-Chumley Theater’s event to Bloomington square to join the immigrant rally).

The main rally proceeded. It explicitly began with the crowd’s listening to and participation in the song “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” a collaboration from the Hamilton mixtape among K’nann, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente Calle 13. The guest speakers followed the song. Much like the rest of the crowd, they ranged from undergraduate students, to Bloomington residents who had been part of United Farm Workers, to graduate students, born in the country and abroad. Their participation varied from explicitly political speeches, to the genre of storytelling, and the reading of poetry. More songs were woven in between the speakers, including the Mandarin version of the song “History” by Korean Pop group Exo-M. The speakers called attention to histories of colonization in the West as well as in the East, to issues of Islamophobia, environmental racism, capitalist oppression, and disability politics, among others. On multiple occasions, they addressed the difficulties and the survival of undocumented migrants both locally and in the United States at large. In attempts to stay warm with the temperatures constantly dropping, one of the organizers led chants in both English and in Spanish in between the speakers. Some in the crowd danced, jumped, and covered their faces with the red bandanas the organizers distributed till the end.  

After the sixth and last speaker, the rally’s host, reminding the crowd that they were there to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for all immigrants, invited everyone remaining to follow the Bloomington May Day Group to march toward the Bloomington jail in order to deliver a petition to Monroe County Sheriff, Brad Swain. The petition titled “Keep ICE out of Monroe County Jail!”, which had been circulating online since April 25, read:       

We, the undersigned Monroe County community, direct this petition at Monroe County Sheriff, Brad Swain, saying that we will not tolerate cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE holds are requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain a potentially undocumented person for 48 hours after their lawfully completed jail term.

Given the following:

1) We care about our community and will not watch families be torn apart by deportations.

2) Deportation is an inhumane and ineffective method of addressing immigration.

3) There is controversy over whether ICE holds in local jails are constitutional.

4) Complying with ICE is fully optional for sheriffs. Many local sheriffs across the USA have decided not to help ICE and Sheriff Swain has the legal autonomy to make the same choice.

5) Sheriff Swain is solely accountable to his constituents. He is elected by and works for the people of Monroe County. He has no obligation to help federal police deport Monroe County residents.

-We demand that Monroe County Correctional Center guarantee that it is solely accountable to Sheriff Swain’s constituents.

-We demand that Monroe County Correctional Center and the Sheriff’s Department not ask immigration status or collect immigration information from anybody.

-We demand that Monroe County Correctional Center not comply with ICE holds.

-We demand that Monroe County Correctional Center not share information with ICE or allow ICE into their facilities.

We vote and we are watching.”

This petition was digitally signed by 133 people and signed on paper by an additional over 50 people. These signatures were meant to show those who continue to persecute immigrants (i.e. the Trump administration with programs like the newly launched VOICE) that they are HERE TO STAY!

The main march began at the intersection of Kirkwood and Walnut Avenues. The red banner that read “Protection, dignity, and respect,” led the way. The sound system, dragged at the back of the march next to banners that read “Sanctuary Now” and “Decolonize IU”, blasted the tunes of “Latinoamérica” by Calle 13, Totó la Momposina, María Rita, and Susana Baca. The beats of the songs provided the pace of the march. The crowd marched south, down Washington Street. As they passed the church at the intersection of Washington and 4th Street, the rhythms and lyrics of “Sidi Mansour,” a song by Tunisian singer Saber Rebaï, called out to Allah. They turned onto 4th street and continued heading west until they reached College Avenue. There, they turned right, and took the street against traffic. The chanting continued all throughout: “Immigrant rights are human rights,” Education, not deportation,” “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” “Every nation, every race, punch a Nazi in the face,” “El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido,” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”. As the march approached the Monroe County Jail, on 7th Street, the rumbling of the drums of “Matador,” by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, cleared the path among the cars.

Once at the jail, another one of the organizers announced he would go inside to deliver the envelope with the petition to the Sheriff. The crowd encouraged him on, and, when he stepped back outside, everybody received him with cheers. He thanked everybody for coming, and organizers acknowledged one another, recognizing the hard work everyone had put into the events. The crowd then dissolved.

That evening, to wrap up the day, a member of the Bloomington May Day Group, posted the following on the Bloomington Immigrants Rights/Derechos Inmigrantes Facebook event:

Thank you all who came out today to show your support for the more than 11million immigrants in the U.S.! #ADayWithoutImmigrants #MayDay2017 #ParoNacional

Remember this is just the beginning of a long and permanent struggle that is not just about rallies, marches, and the media. It is about constant work and solidarity in our everyday lives. This 1-day migrant boycott was meant as the first mass call to demand permanent protection, dignity, and respect for ALL immigrants!

However, Movimiento Cosecha, and those of us in Bloomington who support immigrant rights are in this for the long run. We will immediately start preparations for our next strike. The ultimate goal is to have a week-long immigrant strike in order to call attention to how much immigrant labor, money, and lives as worth!!

We will start these preparations primarily through educational campaigns. So, keep in touch, continue to support the movement, and spread the word.

Again, thank you everyone for coming out today–we couldn’t have done anything without this wonderful crowd and community!

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