Standing on the front lines of the immigrant rights movement is a network of eager volunteers and tech-savy organizers who have labored for weeks to make Monday’s rally in downtown Chicago possible.
The march through the Loop and rally at Grant Park are designed to show both support for immigration reform and opposition to legislation that would criminalize the actions of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants.
Collaboration among groups representing the city’s Arab, Asian, Black, eastern European and Hispanic communities, along with labor groups and religious leaders, has resulted in a demonstration that could bring out as many as half a million people, organizers say.
“Stand in solidarity with people of all races and nationalities because immigration legislation does not just affect one group; it affects everyone!” Sadiya Ahmed with the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote in an “action alert” sent out last week via e-mail.
Recognizing that an increasing number of African Americans are not supporting the battle cry of illegal immigrants, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and others have worked to broaden the debate.
“Haitians must get the same protection that Cubans get, and Dominicans and Africans,” he told the Defender. “This is not just a Mexican drive. It affects all our people.”
The seeds for Monday’s rally were planted after a demonstration at Chicago’s federal plaza on March 10 unexpectedly drew more than 100,000 people, catching many by surprise. Similar rallies have been held in cities across the country since then, casting a national spotlight on the debate over immigration reform.
In Chicago, representatives from roughly 200 area organizations formed the Committee for the March Tenth Movement, the umbrella group that planned Monday’s rally. Unlike other immigrant rights groups in other cities, organizers stress they are not calling for a work stoppage and student boycott.
The initial proposal to rally at the city’s federal plaza was shelved when Chicago officials determined that Grant Park’s grassy fields would be better suited to handle the crowd.
“Normally, at a second event you would expect less people to turn out, but this time the exact opposite is happening,” said Gabriel Gonzalez, director of organizing for the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “People are realizing it’s now or never.”
No major problems were reported at the last rally, but city officials are still bracing for the massive influx of demonstrators into the Loop. Many of the officials will be clustered in a joint command center where they will monitor the crowd.
Companies that manage downtown Chicago skyscrapers are telling their tenants to consider rescheduling meetings and deliveries for another day because of potential for delays.
The fire department says it will have its EMS responders divided into two units. Some will occupy a staging area near the site of the rally, while others will remain on standby in the event that additional resources are needed, said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
The police department, meanwhile, has prepared for the rally the same way it would for any other large event, said spokeswoman Monique Bond.
“As long as the march is peaceful and public safety is respected as it was in the past, we don’t anticipate any problems,” Bond said.
Union workers helped build the stage and sound system at the rally site, while roughly 300 volunteers were recruited to serve as “security marshals.” At least 100,000 leaflets promoting the march have been printed up, along with 5,000 picket signs that read “We are America,” Gonzalez said.
Ahmed’s alert was disseminated via e-mail to all of CAIR’s members, college students and hundreds of other people registered with Internet list serves.
“It’s a very exciting time,” she said. “It’s something that’s been building up to this point now where we pretty much have a movement.”
Among those who have joined the movement is 21-year-old Soo Suh, president of Korean Americans United Serving Equality at University of Illinois at Chicago.
She said her group recently met with an official from a Korean cultural center who promoted the rally. Suh, who came to the U.S. with her parents from Seoul when she was 6, said she plans to attend the march before her final exams begin at 3:30 p.m.
“It personally touches me,” the political science major said. “I know friends and have other family friends that may be illegal immigrants that really suffer from not having certain rights.”
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