LA Rebellion
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San Bernardino Marches Against the Wars

SAN BERNARDINO, 17 March 2007–About 700 anti-war, pro-migrant demonstrators marched through the streets of San Bernardino (pop. 185K) and rallied at the steps of city hall. On the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, anti-war rallies in larger cities, with their made-for-video traffic snarls and performance art, filled progressive news outlets. But around the nation, local communities like San Bernardino rose up, too, to say “no mas” to President Bush’s terrorism.

At 1:00 p.m., five hundred of the ralliers wound their way through the downtown streets to hook up with a couple hundred more waiting at City Hall. A few of the eighteen co-sponsoring organizations had official banners, including the National Alliance for Human Rights, which had called the march, but most of the signs were markers on cardboard, with a sprinkling of Mexican and U.S. flags. Not a costume in sight, no oversized Bread and Puppet-style papier-mâché figures jazzed up the plain message. A few largely ignored and sometimes unstaffed tables from World Can’t Wait and Left Books dotted the corners of the plaza. A local mariachi band kept the beat.

As they came up on the rally point, the San Bernardino marchers encountered a chilling force that their Los Angeles neighbors, seventy miles to the east, didn’t contend with: close to a hundred pro-violence and anti-migrant counterprotesters, shielded by a line of fifty of San Bernardino’s “finest.”

For the mostly Mexican-American San Bernardino protesters, the terrorism is too near to think about photo ops and dress up, too real for carnival masks. The Department of Homeland Security’s ICE division at least twice now has rousted hundreds southern Californians like them from their beds and hauled them off to prisons and deportation. Rumors persist of people snatched off public buses and bicycles to be disappeared, leaving families to wonder what happened, fearing notification that their loved ones are thousands of miles away, out of reach of any legal process. Military recruiters prowl these neighborhoods negotiating false promises of steady incomes, benefits, and citizenship with vulnerable young people obligated to parents and children. One speaker reminded the audience of Marine Lance Corporal José Gutiérrez, who, orphaned in war-torn Guatemala, at the age of 14 snuck across two borders for a green card. With tragic irony, 22-year-old Gutiérrez was granted U.S. citizenship posthumously, one of the first casualties of the war, dead of “friendly” fire in Iraq.

The people filled the city hall plaza and the stairs that led up either side of the modernist structure, and kids ran around the edge of the pool. One guy asked me if a was a minuteman. He seemed unsatisfied with my startled and stumbling denial, but I grabbed a passing friend who vouched for me. For this group, the immigrants’ rights speeches from organizational reps blended seamlessly with the anti-war speeches of the elected officials and candidates.

Congressmember Joe Baca was unequivocal: “I am against the war. It’s time we brought back our troops.” The next speaker announced to the anti-migrant zealots, “History belongs to us!” Then, turning back to the crowd in front of him, he continued, “But I’m more concerned with the racist Congressmen.” He added, “We marched 40,000 strong in Los Angeles to stop the war in Vietnam. We’ll have to do the same to save our children.” Then he put out the call, the core of a blueprint that one hundred and fifty organizations have united to distribute through the halls of Congress: no more deportations, unconditional amnesty, no wall at the border, no Bracero program, and family reunification.

A Chicano Marine, identified only as “The Sergeant,” took the microphone. He remembered his 3,210 compatriots who’ve died in Iraq and added that the leadership of this country needs to understand the potential loss. He called on the audience to support the troops–to get them out of harm’s way. His statistics were sobering: he cited 3,210 multiplied by 16 as the number of military wounded and disabled, and 3,210 times 30 as those suffering from the ongoing nightmare of post-traumatic stress. “They need help,” he reminded us, and he noted his own experience in a local V.A. hospital, where he was put at the end of a treatment list more than 300 long. He concluded, “The surge is the wrong move. Don’t listen to Fox News.”

Bobbi Chavarria, a military mother, spoke of her two sons spirited into the military by recruiters’ promises. She implored the audience, “Will you walk in peace? Will you talk in peace? Will you live in peace?”

A vice president from the Service Employees International Union assured the crowd, by now thinning in the uncomfortable heat of the day, that “millions of union workers are here with you today. We oppose the hate, this racist group,” pointing across the street. “We support comprehensive immigration reform. We stand here with you. We will win this year. We will fight the real terrorists–Bush and the ICE agents.” The crowd roared back, “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!”

Enrique Morones of Border Angels was the final guest speaker. He started by saying he was glad the racist vigilantes had shown up, that they proved two things: “There are racists still in America, and racism comes in all colors.” “Seventy-five percent of people in the U.S. support comprehensive immigration reform,” he reassured the audience. Pointing again to the protesters, he said, “They’re having internal fights about who’s stealing the most money.” “We are the best of the American spirit,” he reminded them. The audience moaned in sympathy and shouted out in outrage when Morones talked about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people who have died under the occupation. He called for a moment of silence for “the 3,210 soldiers, the 4,000 people who died crossing the desert, and the 600,000 Iraqi citizens who died in this war.” The silence of the vigil was pierced by catcalls from across the street. Then the people held hands and formed a circle that reached into every nook of the plaza, singing “De Colores,” a folksong popularized by El Teatro Campesino during the farm workers’ movement. Bobbi reached out her hand to me.

De colores, de colores se visten los campos en la primavera.

De colores, de colores son los pajaritos que vienen de afuera.

De colores, de colores es el arco iris que vemos lucir.

Y por eso los grandes amores de muchos colores me gustan a mi.

Y por eso los grandes amores de muchos colores me gustan a mi.

Twenty yards away across D Street were the red-white-and-blue attired, flag-waving fanatics, spewing their anti-Mexican filth and calling out for violence. “You have no rights!” they shouted. “We should have busloads of you people hauled out of here by ICE.” And, to a white-robed Catholic priest, “You freak, you pedophile. I know why you dress up in a skirt.” The jeering, insults, and calls for violence were unending, three hours of bullhorned invectives and threats. Turned backs were the ralliers’ response to those who had come to exemplify the oppression of Bush’s America. Only the occasional curious or fed-up soul wandered down to the sidewalk across from them. When one person went to the curb to shout back, the police, forming the front line of the anti-migrant, pro-violence crowd, warned the activist that he would be arrested if he yelled out.

An immigrants’ rights organizer explained that today’s rally was another step in what had started last October 25, when, in Los Angeles, the March 25 Coalition had swelled the ranks of World Can’t Wait’s march to drive out the Bush regime. ANSWER-LA, which has been on the forefront of both the anti-war rights movement and sponsored today’s march in Los Angeles, missed the connection that everyone on both sides of D Street implicitly understood: colonization within the U.S. is not much different from colonization abroad. Terror looming across the street echoes the terror of Baghdad streets, Gitmo carries reflections of years in a deportation camp, and Bush’s extraordinary rendition of “suspected terrorists” has some equivalency to his “ordinary” rendition of tens of thousands of residents. And 3,210 dead daughters and sons in the four years of the Iraq War is almost as many as the 4,000 daughters and sons who have died maneuvering around the walls between Mexico and the United States.

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