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Modesto Rising: 10,000 Protest, Unpermitted March Lasts Hours
Summary of May Day event in Modesto.
This May Day, close to 10,000 (1) people, most of them working class Latinos/Chicanos, came out to protest the proposed HR 4437 legislation in Modesto. The event was organized by Aztlan Rising and Mexica Council for Community and Solidarity, and encouraged students and workers to skip work and school, and march to Modesto’s south side, Crows Landing road. While the event was called by various groups, what is interesting is the way in which the mass of people choose to go on with the march even after it had reached its permitted end, and continued marching on, until reaching city hall. What follows is the experiences of one member of the Direct Action Anti-Authoritarian (DAAA) Collective, in the streets of Modesto.
While May Day started out as a day in remembrance of the anarchist Haymarket martyrs, and the bloody struggle for the 8-hour work day, this year everyone knew that there was talk of a “general strike”. The idea was simple; hit the American system where it feels it the most, in the pocket book. By not going to work, school, and also not buying or selling for a day, immigrant workers and their supporters hoped to send a strong message that they will not sit by while legislation like HR 4437 is passed. While actions looked like they were taking place all over California, when we heard from Aztlan Rising (2), that there was going to be an event in Modesto, we knew they we had to show solidarity. In preparation for the event, we made a large banner with, “Working Class Solidarity”, (in English), and “No one Human is Illegal”, (In Spanish), in red and black paint. We also brought buckets and drum sticks along for music/sound, and some anarchist propaganda.
When first arriving, the event seemed rather small, with only about 50 or so people milling around in a parking lot. Remembering that protestors were going to wear white, I looked at our group quickly, and saw how out of placed we looked. Both in our black and non-white attire, and also in the fact that several DAAA Collective members, (including myself), were white (skinned), as well. (It should be noted however, that about half the group is non-white, and some people live off of Crows Landing Road that work with the collective). We got out, and unfurled our banner, and after the other protestors had a chance to read it, they nodded in approval. (One woman came over and told us, “They were afraid that you were against them.”) We then went to giving out the literature that we brought with us. We passed out close to 200 copies of the brand new poster created by ‘Not my Government’ (3), and anarchist/anti-imperialist project out of the bay area. This new poster was a May Day special, and stated, “No Human is Illegal”, and info about the general strike. There were two versions, one in Spanish, and one in English. We also passed out a small pamphlet designed by the Delete the Border Network (4), which went over what May Day is, and a look at the Border Industrial Complex, and a short essay called, “Anarchism and Immigration”. Many people took the Not My Government flyers, and held them up as signs. The literature went over very well, with many people coming up to us, asking for copies, and also reading through the information. We then took to drumming as soon as the chants started up.
At around 11am, when about 8 collective members had made it out to the event, the march started. At one point, people that had been rallying at the other side of the street came over to join us where we were. It seemed though that they simply wanted to be on the same side as the other protestors, but at that point, we also got into the street, because it appeared that many people were staying. At that moment, people started marching down in a southerly direction. While I think that protestors had been okayed a right to use the street for the march, this is still unclear. Regardless, what was important was that now the crowd could be seen for the sheer mass that is was. Blocks and blocks of people were now marching, chanting, “Si se puede!”, and other slogans. We continued to march, chant, and beat out a rhythm with our drum buckets, as we walked at a slow pace with the rest of the crowd. At one point in the march, we came upon a large set up of the Modesto police, with several cars, lots of personnel, and horse stables. We started chanting, “Tell me what a police state looks like – That is what a police state looks like!”, which they didn’t seem to like very much.
We eventually went to a far end of the street, an then turned around and marched the other way. By the time that we had reached the point where the march had begun, we could see that see that the police had several cars at one section on the street, making a barrier between were the street was supposed to be blocked off, and where we were being allowed to march. Making our way to the front of the march, we then stood with others who seemed ready to keep the march going. After some deliberation on the front line, the crowd moved forward with the DAAA Collective largely marching in the front, holding banners and chanting, “Who’s Streets, Our Streets”. Several emergency cones were picked up, and moved into the street, and people were getting out of their cars and chanting along with us, and throwing up their fists. Several people brought up the idea of going to city hall, and a lot of people in the crowd seemed to like this idea, and it looked like we had a new destination.
After several blocks of this, police realized that we weren’t just going to go for just a couple blocks, and that we might have it in our minds to continue on with the march into an area of town that they didn’t know about. Several police officers attempted to stop the march, and stop various people and talk them out of continuing. At this point, one person in the DAAA Collective yelled out to people talking to police, not to converse with them, and just to continue marching. At this point, and older Chicano man jumped out, and pointed at this person, and yelled, “He’s not one of us! He’s here to make trouble!” The collective member responded calmly that he was just there to march with everyone else, and that he was not directing or telling anyone what to do. People seemed to be milling over the situation for several moments, but then continued on their march towards city hall. Collective members also stepped behind others marching in front, as to not make it appear that we were trying to take them in any one direction, but acting in solidarity with those marching. At this point, the march now had to pass over a freeway over pass, and also a city bridge in order just to get into the downtown area. Protestors did this with ease, and each time they encountered what appeared to be a police barricade, the sheer size of the crowd would force the police to back off. Police also went ahead of the march, blocking off various streets, and in affect, shutting down large parts of the city.
Protestors then reached city hall, and an impromptu rally then proceeded to happen. Some people addressed the crowd, and lots of water was shared. After about an hour of waiting in front of the building, and also after waves and waves of protestors arrived in front of city hall, the march took off again. In all of these instances, this happened largely from the people themselves, with some people taking on various roles within the unpermitted march, but no one really acting as a “leader”. The march then snaked around through down town Modesto, and then headed back towards Crows Landing Road, where the march had started originally. All collective members had left the march at that point, and as far as we know, people are still rallying in Modesto. At 3:30, there was supposed to be another march happening in Modesto, comprised of High School kids marching to the Junior College for a rally there.
This is been easily the largest political protest event in Modesto that I have seen. 10,000 out for a demonstration is a good size for the bay area, much less a medium sized central valley town like Modesto. This event also gave us some new skills and ideas for the next possible time that we show up for an event like this, based on things we did well, and things we can work on next time.
In things that we did well, and that we would like to pass on to other revolutionary anarchist groups, is firstly, having a clear message, and showing that you are in solidarity with immigrants in struggle. This doesn’t mean of course, that you should cover up your politics, or shy away from a radical message. Many people who were at first turned off by our black masks and appearance quickly came up and talked to us when they saw our banners, or read our flyers. The buckets also added a lot to the event. The music, and banging along to the various chants helped with the crowd’s energy, and when we entered the down town, the sound of the buckets being hit, made a huge noise, bouncing off the walls and filling the space with power.
Things that we can work on next time were several. Firstly, the fact that only one person in our group knew Spanish well was a problem. Our attempts at English chants feel largely on deaf ears, and I was also was sometimes unclear as to what was happening because of my lack Spanish comprehension. Perhaps simply going over some good anarchist chants before hand as a group could help in the future. Also, while the literature went over well, what we could use next time is lots more of it, and much more literature with Spanish. Free food and water also would have been a great resource for the day, as lots of people were hot and hungry. This would also give us a chance to further connect with the community, and talk about what the collective is, what it does, and what we stand for. Also, we need to make it clear in these situations that we are not showing up at these events to steer people into one direction, or to be their leaders. We are for militant action, and working class resistance, but we also understand that people have to organically come to those tactical positions, not be pushed into them by people that are mostly not from their neighborhood.
With that said however, we are overjoyed that the community choose to take to the streets, and understand that their true power lies in the collective strength to shut down the city, capital, and business as usual. A new bar has been raised, where will we rise to now?
1 According to the Modesto Police, as reported by the Modesto Bee, aired on their website, May 1st 2006. View video here: http://www.modbee.com/local/pmupdates/v-dp_evening/story/12123026p-12872902c.html
3 NMG has helped out the DAAA Collective, by giving us massive amounts of posters, stickers, and booklets. http://www.notmygovernment.com/