Tuesday, April 11, 2006

¡Sí­, Se Puede!

Yesterday was the most hopeful day since i moved to Washington. I attended a march that was part of the National Day of Justice for Immigrant Justice. I left work a bit before 4, as SEIU helped organize and everyone was encouraged to participate.
after a few minutes of talking to my boss jo tapped me on the shoulder. she and ethan had come out for the march as well. somehow i had forgotten my kippah so i borrowed one from ethan.
a few minutes later the first marchers who were coming from mount pleasant appeared. they were marching down 16th street, towards the white house, the path i take to work every morning. when they emerged from the short tunnel, it was clear that 16th street was filled with five lanes of people as far as i coulde see. there were at least a mile's worth of people. as they neared we could begin to hear what they were saying. there was a sea of bright colors, signs, puppets, drums, dancing, and chanting. the most common refrain was ¡Sí, Se Puede! [yes we can].
(Photo from the NYT)

after a couple of cell phone exchanges jo, ethan, and i met up with jess, evin, eli, marc, alexis, and co. as promised, they were just behind the white puppet with the yellow face. we began to chant, clap, and observe all the posters. The most surprising thing was the lack of irony, the lack of anger, and the presense of hope and yearning. no signs said things like "another [insert identity] against the [whatever is being protested]". The most common sign was the American flag. It waved from large poles. It was worn like a cape. People literally wrapped themselves in it. It was the first time i have ever been at a rally/march/protest that was strongly nationalist. The people were saying "we are americans" yearning to be fully accepted.

As our march continued people spilled onto the balconies of their buildings. jo noticed a crew who were working at the restaraunt atop the hotel washington. they were 12 or so stories above the street but they came the side of the restaraunt and pumped their fists. the crowd erupted. we were marching with researchers, construction workers, painters, chefs, servers, and clergypeople. the entire day i saw several hundred thousand people, and i was the only one wearing a kippah.

a few minutes later we met up with some of Jo's friends from work, including Jamie, a friend from our years toghether at Galil. after checking in with them we pushed on toward the mall. a bit later we got there. a catholic leader was addressing the enormous crowd. the next speaker we heard was Rabbi Scott Sperling, the director of the mid-atlantic council of the reform movement. the speech went something like this--
Rabbi: i am so proud to be here today
Crowd: [CHEERS!]
Rabbi: In two days we will celebrate the holiday of passover.
Crowd: [CHEERS]
Rabbi: That is the one about the exodus from Egypt, with Moses and uleavened bread.
Crowd: [¡Sí, Se Puede!]
Rabbi: We stand at the Red Sea
Crowd: [Cheering]
Rabbi: Bush stands with us, [this part didn't make any sense, maybe i misheard it]
Crowd: ¡Sí, Se Puede!
Rabbi: The story is a story of freedom
Crowd: [¡Sí, Se Puede!]
Rabbi: The story of the israelites is a story i am thinking about today.
Crowd: ¡Sí, Se Puede! ¡Sí, Se Puede! ¡Sí, Se Puede! ¡Sí, Se Puede! ¡Sí, Se Puede! ¡Sí, Se Puede!
...etc

it quickly became clear that no one had any idea what the hell sperling was talking about and the cheering didn't match his statements at all. he was really jazzed up and i guess the crowd sensed that. perhaps it was a language barrier issue as sperling's speech was not being translated.

more speeches went off. the best clergyline was from the fellow who said
"LET MY PEOPLE STAY"

(washington's archbishop-Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)
the march was amazingly inspiring. people who so badly wanted to be recognized as americans took to the streets, flags in hand, sings in hand, voices peaking, and beats pulsing. What could be more quintessentially american?



UPDATE:
just heard that the metro ridership record was set yesterday as a result of the rally. over 800,000 rides were tallied. This fails to count the hundreds of buses and folks and undercounts those who marched one way and metroed the other, like me, jo, and jaime.
As for numbers, it doesn't seem the big papers publish them anymore. the organizers said there were a million. there were enough that i could see nothing but people in any direction, so i have no way of knowing whether there were 200,000 or 2,000,000.

2 Comments:

At 4/11/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

that's awesome, i'm sorry i missed it

 
At 4/11/2006 , Anonymous Jo said...

I like how in Spanish the exclamation point doesn't go just at the end, but at the beginning, so you know to enter the sentence with the appropriate (enthusiastic) kavannah.

 

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