But I am not addressing the law. I am speaking more from a place of heart, or philosophy, or thought, if you will. Discard the label. It's not important. I am talking about attitudes and reactions; I am talking about fear, and anger, and the fair treatment of other humans. I will leave it to the reader to define who has a "right" to be standing within the invisible American borders; who ought to be penalized for trying to cross those borders; the concept of "amnesty," and how they want to approach other people in their lives. If a person wants to ship all those who came here undocumented (in the last handful of years, or since the last bill passed on the subject) back to their country of origin, they are (of course) free to harbor that attitude. If this same person wants to think of my grandmother and grandfather as "aliens," instead of "humans," he or she has that right. These are personal choices and viewpoints. Ultimately, each person helps decide what type of America they live in by their own attitudes and thoughts and actions; by what kind of American they are.
"He described things not in or near to his heart, but toward his extremities and superficies. ... I would have had him deal with this privatest experience, as the poet does. The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.
So now I would say something similar to you, my readers. Since you are my readers, and I have not been much of a traveller, I will not talk about people a thousand miles off, but come as near home as I can."Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle"
At 11 a.m. on May 1, I headed over to the Garment District in Manhattan to cover a tiny part of the "Day Without Immigrants." The Garment District is the core of a huge industry, and a full third of the nation's garments are designed and created in this part of New York City. As WikiPedia tells us, "The neighborhood is home to the warehouses and workshops of the fashion industry," and "the fashion industry is the largest single contributor to the city's manufacturing sector."
Nationwide, the streets of many cities were filled with 1.1 million demonstrators, according to the Associated Press. Other sources put it at 1.5 million. The area I covered was only one city block along 7th Avenue between 40th and 41st street, and the action was comprised of roughly 200 people. The weather was clear, and the day warm.
I've covered events with video or photography for "artistic" purposes, but this was the first time I planned to cover an event as a "reporter." I am not a reporter. Not in the job-market sense of the word. I think of myself as a writer, or an artist, usually. And when it comes to actions, or marches, I generally think of myself as more of a potential participant. Not a "reporter." But the subject matter was important to me, and I thought I would get a little closer to the issue and try to help communicate a piece of it for others. Or perhaps just add to my own experience.
I did my best to document the event, and to take notes. I did my best to get a feel from the outside. But it was difficult to be so removed. Instead of letting a feeling swell in my heart, adding my voice to the chorus, or encouraging my fellows in their efforts, I was trying not to drop my wide angle lens, while I juggled with my memory cards, and reloaded my film camera. Though I wasn't completely separated from the energy of the day. I was wearing my Mexico shirt and a pin that read "I LOVE IMMIGRANT NEW YORK." So if my bias wasn't clear from the start of this article, there it is for you!
According to the Human Chain listing that I downloaded from the Village Voice's website, there were actions all over the city of New York on Monday. I chose the Garment District event, because while I knew that there would be a very photogenic and bustling crowd marching up Broadway, or gathering in Union Square, I was made curious by the idea of a "Human Chain" among "Garment District factory workers," which is how Sherry Kane of UNITE HERE! described it to me over the phone. In this instance, it meant about 200 (brown, dark brown, and pink) people standing from the corner of 40th and 7th Avenue to 41st and 7th, facing the street, holding signs, and chanting in support of Immigrant New Yorkers, immigrant workers, and illegal aliens. The event began at 12:16, a reflection of the date on which HR 4437 was passed in Congress, by a vote of 239 - 182.
One demonstrator held a sign that said "We Love America, But Hate HR 4437! It's awful! It's a shame!" Another woman's hand-drawn sign had the words "We Are America Now!" in four different languages. Cheering, laughing, and chanting were immigrants, their friends, and in one or two instances, family. They all clearly believed strongly in what they were doing, even though many were initially apprehensive about being photographed. In the beginning, the tension shows clearly in my earlier photographs. One woman, perhaps in her fifties, laughed upon seeing her friend stiffen in response to the cameras. "Today's not the day to be camera shy, dear!" she said to the woman next to her.
But I could see why some of these people might be afraid. On April 10 of this year, a nationwide demonstration took everyone but the Latino community by surprise, filling the streets in Los Angeles to overflowing (as well as in many other cities around the country) as demonstrators marched in larger numbers than were mobilized against the Vietnam war, to show their disapproval of HR 4437, which would "amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to strengthen enforcement of the immigration laws, to enhance border security, and for other purposes." Purposes such as declaring about 11 million people felons, as well as anyone who has helped them in any way at all. The marches were massive, and online and in print, it was impossible not to note a noticeable recoiling to the sight of "Mexican flags waving in the street" as well as the sheer numbers of Latinos ready to stand in solidarity with each other. Some Spanish-speaking radio DJs noted this "backlash," and fearful of hurting their own cause, advised the Latino community not to skip out of work, or walk out of school. Others felt it was the only way to show unity and support for the cause.
The police car, and pair of officers police present at my specific location stood facing the crowd, hands on hips. I guess I felt it might have been more sensitive to send police who were not pink-skinned (one with a shaved head) to face the line of brown faces, but I'm sure that wasn't intentional. Not everyone thinks so much about these things. I did not used to. I did see brown police on the block, but they were manning the corner booth, and not visible. These officers I speak of directly faced the wall of standing demonstrators.
I definitely did not understand the presence of what appeared to be Secret Service next to the police. They, too, faced the line of demonstrators as if there were to be some sort of confrontation. I didn't know for a fact that that they were FBI, or Secret Service. I only know the men wore striking, dark suits, had coiled-up wires dangling from their ears, sunglasses, a special pin on their tie, and very severe and rigid postures. One was Caucasian, and one was African-American, but both had matching shaved heads. If it were a movie, they definitely would have been Secret Service.
Because these suited men intrigued me so, I asked one of the officers who they were, but I was ignored. I then asked one of the men directly, but he only nodded and said "How ya doin'." He kept his hands and fingers interlocked at his waist in a strange, purposeful configuration which reminded me of gang members who make sure to show their affiliation whenever photographed or threatened. I asked him if he was "stackin'" as I flashed a psuedo-Crips sign (I am not a gang member, nor have I ever been one. This sign I flashed probably signified my "Live Long and Prosper" affiliation more than anything else, but then again, it was a comic offering.) The shiny-headed, tight-browed man seemed flustered at my happy question. I guess I was not supposed to talk to him. And of course, nothing makes a fear-monger more flustered than bald laughter. (Just ask Sir Stephen Colbert.)
One of the uniformed police quickly huddled with the intense, ear-wired fellow, turning his back to me, and standing between us. All at once, the Secret Service-type man and his cohort strode off toward 7th Avenue. I snapped a pic of their unified backs because I found them so fascinating. I still don't know what purpose they served standing and facing the crowd, aside to introduce an element of intimidation. They didn't come back, so I guess their role was not compromised by where they were standing on that day.
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