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Manejando Sin Miedo: Reflections on the May Day march with Movimiento Cosecha GR and the fight for Drivers Licenses for All

May 2, 2019

(Photo credit goes to Luis Fonseca)

It is important that I let those who read this that I was one of the crowd safety people who was at the May Day march, assisting Movimiento Cosecha GR to help keep people safe from those who wished to do harm to immigrants – both individual racists and the police, which have demonstrated their allegiance to state violence by cooperating with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Many of us gathered early at Garfield Park and wondered what kind of a turnout we would get. The rain was coming down steady at 11am, which would no doubt deter some from marching with us. However, the main reason we would have smaller numbers this day was due to the GRPD and the City of Grand Rapids insistence that we walk on the sidewalk or risk arrest. The GRPD put out a message on Tuesday, which stated in part:

Without a permit, any participant who enters the street or uses a bullhorn, sound truck or other electronic sound amplifying device may be cited by police and/or arrested.

This threat against the immigrant community kept some from participating in the march yesterday. We know that in recent months that there has been increased ICE activity, with more people being detained and more families being separated. Our brother Brandon Reyes, a bright and passionate DACA student will be taking a voluntary departure this Friday, as the US legal system has determined that he in not worthy to stay in a country he has know for most of his young life.

Despite the weather and despite the levels of state violence that the immigrant community has endured, there was no indication that those who were slowly gathering at Garfield Park would be anything but intimidated by the threats of arrest. Movimiento Cosecha GR organizers and volunteers did an amazing job preparing for this march, making connections with people and following the lead of those in the community who have told them over and over again that the ability to obtain a drivers license would be a huge win.

The insurgent hope that grew as we got closer to noon could be felt in the crowd that was gathering, it could be heard in the excitement in people’s voices as they began to chant and urge each other on in this struggle and it could felt in the deep affection and solidarity being exchanged in the embraces people gave each other.

My job for the day was to talk to the cops and convey whatever they were telling us to the organizers. The GRPD arrived early, with cruisers parked around the perimeter of the park, then with a whole team of cops of bicycles who waited in the distance. Eventually, two officers approached us in order to communicate the “plans they had for us.” Frustrated that they could not get information from us, the two police officers made it clear to us that if we attempted to walk in the street at any point, that we would be arrested. In addition, they stated that they were going to use their own amplification system to let those gather at Garfield Park know that there would be consequences if people walked in the street.

Despite the police presence and the threats made against people, it did not deter people from their excitement as the marchers began walking around 12:30. The rain had also stopped at this point, which we took as a positive sign. As we began walking along Burton Street, the cops on bikes rode next to us making sure that people would not enter the street.

The energy was high as lead marchers used megaphones to begin chants, chants that animated to crowd throughout the march. There were families who marched, the young, the old, those who sang, those who prayed and those who demanded justice. As we made our way down Division people came out of their homes and some out of businesses to greet us, some even joined the march as it made its way through the mostly Latino/Latinx business district of Burton Heights. One business owner came out and pointed to the sign she put up show that they would be closed for the day in support of Cosecha’s call to not shop, to not go to work and to not go to school. It was a beautiful demonstration of solidarity and those marching let her know how grateful they were by cheering and touching her outstretched hand signifying the mutual love that was so evident throughout the day.

At one point we realized that the Michigan State Police also had their own bicycle squad. While walking south on Division, not only did we realize that the State Police were there, but that even more GRPD officers were present in cruisers blocking roads. As we approached 28th street, the number of police grew even more, as the Wyoming police now joined the already excessive police presence, mostly in cruisers. At this point there were easily more than 100 cops present to make sure that we did not march in the street.

One of the legal observers there said to me, “I wonder how much money these three police departments are spending today in their attempt to control the march?” It was an important question and I don’t think it would be unreasonable to think that tens of thousands of dollars were spent of taxpayers money to attempt to manage the demonstration. I thought to myself, imagine how many people who were currently being detained by ICE, could be bonded out on the amount of taxpayer dollars that were being wasted on policing a march being organized by those who practice non-violence?

The police kept saying that they didn’t want us to interfere with motorist’s ability to move about during the march. The irony is that it was the decision of the police to stopped traffic all along the route, blocking intersections and highways exits all along the route. The fact is, it was the police who disrupted traffic and provided us a larger public audience to communicate with throughout the day. There were some who expressed their frustration with those marching, but the overwhelming response was one of support, with cars and semi-trailers honking horns, signaling to the crowd that they too were with us in the struggle.

As the march made its way west on 28th Street, we soon approached Roger’s Plaza. The plaza is home to numerous retail stores and restaurants, but it also has a Secretary of the State office. Now walking on the far end of the parking lot of Roger’s Plaza, the space provided people with the opportunity to widen the march, which re-energized the crowd. Sensing the electricity of the people, Cosecha organizers stopped in the parking lot, right at the spot that was parallel with the Secretary of State Office. Cosecha organizers then used this opportunity to once again talk about the importance of the campaign to obtain Drivers Licenses for All and how it would provide those in the immigrant community greater freedoms and lessen the chance of being detained by police and ending up in the custody of ICE.

The timing of the group pause in front of the Secretary of State Office was amazing. Just as the march began again, the sun appeared in the sky and we turned off of 28th street in the final stretch of the march.

As we moved along the road to our final destination, we passed the Wyoming Police Department, which now included GRPD  and Michigan State cops in such large numbers that would have thought there was a police convention being held that day. However, no amount of police presence, nor the threat of arrest, was ever going to dampen the spirits of those marching.

As we made our way into the park, we gathered in a large circle in order to hear from a few of the Cosecha organizers who expressed their gratitude for everyone who made this day possible – those who made signed, those who did crowd safety, the businesses that closed for the day, the churches that donated supplies, the medics, the businesses who donated food, the people who set up the amazing feast we were about to partake in and the countless volunteers who gave time and energy over the past few months. There were also members of Brandon Reyes’ family who spoke, sharing their gratitude and communicating Brandon’s deep affection for everyone who has supported him and the ongoing fight for immigrant justice.

Just as the march had begun, people again began to embrace each other as they moved through lines in the area set up for getting food. There was a great deal of laughter and story telling going on. People sat at the tables in the park and some sat on the ground, eating tamales and tacos and fresh fruit that was available. I sat with friends, Mexicanos, who language shifted from Spanish to English and back again, sometimes switching in mid-sentence. Once we were done with our food, we embraced and said our goodbyes.

Today was a powerful display of community and even though we have not yet won Drivers Licenses for All, one got the feeling that it was an inevitable outcome that you could see on the faces of those who spent the last 5 hours chanting, marching and sharing food. This is the same spirit that was embodied in those who gathered in Haymarket Square in Chicago in 1886, where workers were demanding an 8 hour work day. People showed solidarity on that original May Day gathering, they engaged in mutual aid, they fought for justice and they believed in revolutionary love. The same spirit of resistance and love was demonstrated today and I was grateful to both witness and be a part of it. La Lucha Sigue y Sigue.



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