May Day Protests As Much About Democrats as GOP and Trump
Since the 1990s, Washington, DC has been a sanctuary city for immigrants. Now, Republicans want to dismantle that protection status in cities across the United States and Democrats are doing little to stop them and in some cases are working with them
Protester: One mic.
Crowd: One mic.
Protester: One mic.
Crowd: One mic.
Protester: One mic.
Crowd: One mic.
Protester: It’s a beautiful day for a strike.
Translator: [Spanish] It’s a beautiful day for a strike.
Thomas Hedges: On Monday, thousands of people across the country participated in May Day marches in support of workers and the disenfranchised.
Crowd: Say it loud, say it clear.
Thomas Hedges: Washington, DC was home to one of the nation’s largest demonstrations, with some 3000 people marching from different parts of the city to Freedom Plaza downtown. Then continuing on to the White House.
Sapna Pandya: It’s May Day. It’s May 1st. It’s the international worker’s day. We’re here celebrating that, commemorating that. In addition to that, we as workers, as students, as immigrants, as Muslims, as people of color, as poor people, different groups coming together have called for DC to be on strike today. That’s what we’re doing here today.
Hannah Kane: What binds us here today, of everyone who is here present, is that we are all under attack. We were under attack under the Obama administration, but the attacks under the Trump administration have intensified. ICE rates have increased. Immigrants are afraid. Muslims have been banned. Police have been given additional powers. All of these attacks by the Trump administration then coalesce here in DC, where our mayor has not done enough to make sure that her residents are safe. We are all here today under the same message, DC is on strike. DC [Spanish] DC is on strike.
Thomas Hedges: The action focused specifically on what are known as sanctuary cities. Cities that effectively protect its citizens, regardless of race, legal status or national origin, from harsh federal measures that seek retribution.
Sapna Pandya: Many Languages, One Voice has been working with all the locals, with Black Lives Matter, with Bread for the City, with a number of different organizations that are out here today. Basically to bring together how expanded sanctuary means a place where we can actually afford where to live, send our kids to good schools, be able to afford health care, to be able to get access to city services, regardless of the language that we speak. These are all some of the things that we’re all out here for. Where expanded sanctuary means more than just police don’t cooperate with ICE, it also means that we are able to call this city our home and be able to live our fullest dignified lives here. That’s what’s missing.
Thomas Hedges: While many mainstream news outlets characterize the marches as anti-Trump demonstrations, people here were, in fact, criticizing Democrats as well, for their complicity in the actions targeting workers, immigrants, and black and brown people in the United States.
Sapna Pandya: Here in DC, of course we have a democratic city counsel. We have a city that is 98% votes democrat, right. We’re not actually protesting against Republicans or the right wing, so much as we’re calling out Democrats to do more and to actually not hide behind this thing of we can’t actually act because the Republicans won’t let us. There’s a lot we can do here in DC. Affordable housing is one of those things that Bowser, in particular, has been promising for years. We have not seen any action. Today there were a bunch of advocates and activists that entered the Wilson building and actually delivered, the Wilson building’s our City Hall, and delivered eviction notices to the mayor. Basically saying if you’re not going to do the job that’s needed of you, if you’re not going to actually put money behind affordable housing, true affordable housing for the poorest district residents, then we evict. Then we say that you’re not doing your job and you don’t belong in City Hall.
Hannah Kane: It’s true that our mayor, Muriel Bowser, is a Democrat. Post-Trump election, she gave us a one sentence answer, reaffirming that DC was a sanctuary city. Then held zero press conferences. Has met with no community members and has refused to consider that the sanctuary that we currently have is not enough. Sanctuary where just ICE does not collaborate with local police is not enough. We need to expand sanctuary so that it covers all of our residents and actually makes everyone feel safe.
Protester: Transformative sanctuary means understanding that immigration and ICE is just another police department.
Protester: If DC is going to be a sanctuary city, our schools must be free from bullying and harassment. Our schools do not need police or ICE officers. Our children must be able to learn and grow, free from violence.
Sapna Pandya: DC is one of the first places in the country that actually declared ourselves a sanctuary city. That was back in the 90’s, actually that we had said that. At that point we were providing literal sanctuary to folks who were fleeing violence from Central America. That is currently still the policy on the books. Trump, of course, has threatened to take away funding from sanctuary cities. We do know that the courts have actually just said that that is not going to hold up. Now there’s no real threat to sanctuary cities.
That’s actually why, all the more, we are calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser to not hide behind that. She’s been hiding behind that and saying we cannot do more. We can’t act out more strongly against the president because we’re a sanctuary city and they’re going to pull all of our funding. We’ve just seen the courts say that that can’t happen. Basically our mayor can now do more. She can actually put the real policies that are needed into place and fund those policies that are sitting on the books that haven’t been funded yet, like the NEAR Act, which is a bill that was passed a couple years ago, not funded in order to basically look at police accountability and put more money into things like mental health and schools and health care, as opposed to putting more cops on the streets. What we need is funding for our futures, as people of color.
Thomas Hedges: While there was a huge outpour of immigrants who stood in Freedom Plaza and in front of the White House on Monday, organizers also said that there were many undocumented immigrants who are too intimidated to demonstrate their frustration publicly, as the Immigration and Custom Enforcement, or ICE agency, cracks down on deporting more immigrants. The fight for those immigrants is deeply personal, as the threat of having their families separated is real, unpredictable and, as many say, tormenting.
Anna Randon: My name is Anna Randon. I am a member of Black Lives Matter. I’m also Afro-Latina from Columbia Heights. ICE is the same thing as police. As a black person, Afro-Latina being targeted as a police brutality, so this is what we stand for. Black Lives Matter are here, pride in police brutality, but we also have MLOV, which is, they fight immigration. We want no ban and no walls. This is separating family from each other. That’s horrible. Can you imagine your kids without you?
Thomas Hedges: Do you know people who have been deported?
Anna Randon: Yes, many people who has been deported. Many kids who are here in the United States without their parents. They’re little kids, acting different. Some of them, their parents are not deported yet, but they’re scared for the parents to go to work. They’re scared to come out of school and the parents not be there to pick them up.
Thomas Hedges: Are some of them scared to even be here today?
Anna Randon: A lot of them are scared. A lot of them are not here. Half of the Spanish people are immigrants, are not here because they are afraid to come out their house. They only come out literally to go to work, to take the kids to school. Sometimes they even scared to do that.