Thousands of men, women and children representing diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, races and faiths gathered on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles on May 1 for International Workers’ Day, peacefully demanding “full rights for all,” including increasing minimum wage to $15 an hour, implementation of President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration and an end to police brutality nationwide.
The 2015 May Day festivities, dubbed “On May Day, No Justice Delayed,” featured a rally at 3 p.m. on the corner of North Broadway and West Cesar E Chavez Avenue, under the ornate Twin Dragon Chinatown Gateway. Under the blue skies and hot afternoon sun, the crowd swelled — in numbers, energy and enthusiasm — as Los Jornaleros del Norte played ranchera music atop a flatbed truck, in anticipation of multiple guest speakers on hand to address key issues.
The Rev. Jim Lawson, a renowned civil rights leader and university professor, opened the rally with a vehement call to work together to bring about true change.
“We, the ordinary people of America, cannot expect any agency to do the work of equality and deliver justice for us; they will not,” he cried, eliciting cheers of approval from the assembled crowd. “We have to do it ourselves, and the heart of what we do needs to be non-violent struggle, non-violent civil resistance and non-violent direct action — like strikes, boycotts and parades and marches.
“The first step of non-violence is for you and I to love one another,” continued the Rev. Lawson. “We must reject the hatred [and] organize in such strategic ways and large numbers that we will forge and force the power structures of the United States to [support] equality, living wages for all the people of our country, and support truth and justice … for ourselves, our children and for our grandchildren.”
Maria Elena Durazo, a vice president of UNITE HERE, a labor union that represents 270,000 workers in various industries across the U.S. and Canada, was also among the dozen or so speakers that helped electrify the May Day celebration.
“Do we want respect? Do we want a stop to deportations? Do we want living wages?” she asked. “Then we have to become citizens, we have to vote, we have to march, we have to go out on strike, and never give up! Can we do it? Yes we can!”
Maricela Serrano is just one of the many who are seeking a living wage. She has worked as a homecare provider assisting elderly and disabled people for 10 years.
“We do everything we can for the people we work for; we are there to help them, and we accompany them too,” explained Serrano, a longtime parishioner of Guardian Angel Church, Pacoima. Despite her decade of hard work and devotion to her clients, she earns only $9.65 per hour. She prays this will soon change.
“We support this march every year, for justice, for immigration reform and this year we’re on a path pursing a $15 minimum wage,” said Serrano, who was accompanied by numerous fellow homecare workers and SEIU ULTCW union members. “It’s beautiful to be here today, all supporting each other.”
Immediately following the rally, participating immigrants, civil rights activists, laborers, students, clergy and other supporters marched through the streets of the surrounding downtown area, donning an array of colorful union T-shirts and chanting, carrying signs and banners calling for justice, fair pay and immigrant rights.
“What do we want? Fifteen! When do we want it? Now!”
“Families do not have borders!”
“All religions believe in justice!”
A peaceful, positive and joyful atmosphere overflowed the entire march route, where U.S. flags were plentiful, including a giant American flag — which was nearly the width of the street — held aloft by more than two dozen marchers.
For Lupe Yarrito, a first-time May Day marcher, the day’s primary cause was clear: human rights for all. A self-described “100 percent lifelong Catholic,” Yarrito has been an activist for 20 years, focusing mostly on immigrant rights.
“People sometimes tell me, ‘Why do you get involved? You’re a U.S. citizen,’” she told The Tidings. “But it hurts me to see what happens to so many immigrants. We expect and want humane immigration reform for the people; no more delays.”
In mid-February a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction temporarily halting President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which would shield up to 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation nationwide. The two programs — Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) — would allow immigrants who arrived illegally as children and parents of U.S.-born and/or resident children to apply for work permits and temporary protection from deportation.
“We also want more peace on the streets; the police need to stop killing our people,” added Yarrito. “After what happened in Baltimore, we are all Baltimore, standing with them because we are all human beings. … Today is about unity.”
At the end of the march, participants entered Grand Park for the first-ever May Day Resource Fair for workers, students and families. The public fair featured more than 50 tables offering free information related to immigration issues, wage theft, fraud, criminal defense, housing attorneys and many other topics.
A sampling of organizations involved in this year’s May Day events included: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Fight for $15, MLK Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, UCLA Labor Center and more.