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May Day march in Grand Rapids: Immigrants demonstrate their power!

May 2, 2018

Yesterday, an estimated 2,000 people marched for immigrants rights, demanding dignity, respect and permanent protection for all immigrants.

Movimiento Cosecha GR organized the march, which also coincided with International Workers Day. Like the traditional workers movement, Cosecha GR uses the tactics of boycotts and strikes. The immigrant-led movement also frames the labor of immigrants as a source power, since so much of the economy depends on immigrants – most of the food system is dependent on immigrant/migrant labor, the services sector, construction, etc.

However, one main focus right now by Cosecha GR, is a campaign to get Driver Licenses for All people in Michigan. They talked about the campaign briefly before the march began at Roosevelt Park in the southwest part of the city, a primarily Latino/Latinx neighborhood.

The police presence was different from last year’s May 1st march. There were more cops, from the GRPD, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and even the Michigan State Police. Police were on foot, in cruisers, on bicycle and on horses. Having cops on horses was confusing and several organizers expressed that it was simply overkill.

The march came down Grandville Avenue, also known as Cesar Chavez Way. Many people were outside their homes cheering those in the march and offering other forms of visual support. Once the march crossed Wealthy St., it became clear that we were in a different economic area and those on the sidewalks were most white people watching the marches, with less enthusiastic support for those marching.

The Cosecha GR organizers were mostly following the route that the GRPD wanted them to take, but when we arrived to where the Founder’s Brewing Company was, the marchers quickly turned left onto a side street, catching the police totally off guard. Some of the cops tried to prevent people from taking this street, but there were too many people and they eventually conceded to the marchers.

This change of the route was strategic, in that the organizers wanted people to get to Market St and then go towards downtown. There is an on and off ramp for US 131 on Market and they wanted to back traffic up that was coming off the highway. This plan was highly successful, as you can see in the photo below how vehicles are backed up on the 131 S-curve.

When the marchers got to the 131 off ramp on Market street and realized that the traffic was backed up, they stopped and cheered for a few minutes, enjoying what they had accomplished. It was a beautiful moment of demonstrating their power.

There were other beautiful moments during the march. First, when people didn’t comply with the GRPD route, it clearly showed people that police do not need to be obeyed, based on how animated people got when they changed their route.

Second, when the march was going under the 131 s-curve on Market Street, the echo provided a great opportunity for those marching to get even louder. The marchers stop for a few minutes to revel in their excitement.

Third, the march organizers who were talking through a sound system during the whole march, not only led chants, but provided important information about the realities that immigrant families face on a daily basis. They talked about the constant fear that the community lives in and how people are being detained and deported by ICE agents. Those leading the march also addressed the oppressive role that the GRPD plays in their struggle and made numerous comments at the exact same time that Police Chief Rahinsky was present on Grandville Avenue.

A four beautiful moment was when the march was walking passed Rosa Parks Circle and the march organizers made the link between the history and struggle of the African American community and how they are following the same tradition of fighting for their rights and fighting for justice.

Another beautiful moment, was when the march got close to the Calder Plaza and organizers pointed to the a building on Ottawa St, which housed the investigation office for Immigration, Customs Enforcement (ICE). The march leaders used this opportunity to talk about the harm that ICE causes in the immigrant community and then led a chant demanding that ICE leave NOW!

As the march got near the Calder Plaza, one last example of how the police were demonstrating their paranoia, was their massive presence near Michigan Avenue, with police cruisers, a line of cops on the street and their use of city sewage trucks to block the road.

The immigrant-led march eventually made its way onto Calder Plaza, where Cosecha GR organizers let people know what the next steps are in the Driver’s License campaign and other upcoming meetings. Another Cosecha GR organizer shared his story of coming to the US, which was quite moving. He also read part of a poem, that also creatively expressed his feelings about his lived experience as an immigrant.

People hung out for another 30 minutes or so, chanting, singing, visiting with friends and just enjoying a successful demonstration of the power that immigrants have in this community.


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