Monday, March 27, 2006


Viewing the photographs from this weekend's protests in Los Angeles against H.R. 4437, the draconian House anti-immigration bill, was surreal. An undulating sea of people stood together peacefully, holding flags, banners, and homemade signs. FMC and I sat open-mouthed, staring at our computer screens. How could we have missed the build-up to this momentous event?

It's simple. Though we are both Latinos, we listen to English-language radio, we read English-language papers, we watch English-language television. We were in another world, far apart from the everyday lives of those marchers.

As we were driving home from grocery shopping on Sunday, another story about the massive protests aired on NPR. FMC turned to me, and said a bit feebly, "You know, I would have been there, but..." I looked back at him calmly. "But it would have interfered with your comfortable upper-class life?" We laughed awkwardly, knowing this was true for both of us.

We've often had discussions about illegal immigration. He's much more impassioned than me on this issue, perhaps because his family immigrated here (legally) from Guatemala and he knows what it's like not to be a citizen. I sometimes play the devil's advocate in these discussions, though in my heart of hearts, I know that "those people" are my brothers and sisters as surely as anyone else in this world. How can I turn away from people who only want better lives for their children and their families? Isn't that what everyone wants? Isn't that the American Dream?

I was speaking with a co-worker today about the protests as a group of high school kids marched up the street past our office building. We spoke of the racial and class implications of the House bill. How is it that we talk politics every day, complaining about the Patriot Act, but we're not marching in the streets? The truth is that as upper-middle class individuals, we often have nothing to protest. We can afford high-speed Internet, satellite television, nice cars, fancy restaurants. We have no needs, only wants, and selfish wants at that. We can afford "free" speech.

Despite my membership in the ACLU, it's been a long time since I protested anything in person. After all, I can just email a letter to my Senators from a website, or buy a bumper sticker with a pithy anti-establishment slogan. This weekend's marchers have everything to lose and they put it all on the line. They are American heroes, whether they are citizens or not; they are standing up for what they believe in the face of a seemingly unstoppable power.

Rights and freedom and equality are not just ideals. They are real, tangible, and utterly fragile. They can be taken away with the stroke of a pen, but I have to believe that we can stop that from happening. I'm not sure how, or where, or when, but I feel the desire for a meaningful revolution bubbling up all around. This weekend's protests may be the impetus for a new movement, the coalescing of groups together to create real change...or we can keep on donating money to activist groups and hoping that someone else will do the real work.

I don't know for sure if anything will change. I can let you know what happens with me, but I'm curious...if a revolution comes, are you in?

* Title taken from a sign held by a protester as mentioned in the LA Weekly.

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