“Immigrants Are Not Criminals” 150,000 Rally in Denver

[NOTE: The following report from the Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC) was posted on the Internet on March 25. I have edited it slightly for style and information purposes.—G.S.]

[The CPC report is followed by a later report from an alternate media publication, Rocky Mountain News, which was posted March 28.]


Families Join Together to Protest Anti-Immigrant Attacks in D.C. & Colorado
Progressive Coloradans: Time to Step Up Our Fight Against Discrimination!

(CPC Special Action Alert, Posted March 25, 2006)

Colorado Progressive Coalition members and community allies are a diverse lot, both as people and how we define our progressive values. On controversial issues like immigrant rights and immigration, we may not always agree on specific policy solutions—on open borders v. amnesty or guest worker policies v. legalization of undocumented workers, for example—but we can and must agree that we oppose discrimination in all forms.

Those who seek to demonize immigrants—or gay and lesbian people or people of the Muslim faith—may be looking to scapegoat their way to political victories today, but they will end up on the wrong side of history. While we can have differences of opinion on policy specifics, let’s join together to stop those seeking to add discrimination against the immigrant and gay and lesbian communities to our state’s constitution this fall.

Stay posted for future CPC updates on what you can expect to see on this November’s ballot.

Until then, please read on about the largest political rally in decades in Colorado, a powerful, passionate, and peaceful rally for immigrant justice that occurred today in downtown Denver. Drawing twice as many people as two sold-out Mile High Stadiums, this was a massive expression of resilience and [the demand for equal] rights. Thanks for your support of CPC and for civil and human rights for all.

They came from all across Colorado, from Denver to the West Slope and Greeley to Pueblo and all points in between. [Pueblo, incidentally, is a majority Chicano city in southern Colorado, near the New Mexico border—and near the monument to Rockefeller’s massacre of miners and their families, the Ludlow Massacre of 1914. Pueblo is also a stronghold of the Steel Workers union, which finally won a bitter fight of many years there in the 1990s.—G.S.]

Waving American flags, along with Mexican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and others, more than 150,000 people [emphasis added—G.S.] jammed downtown Denver on Saturday to protest anti-immigrant legislation in Washington, DC, and ongoing attacks on immigrants here in Colorado.

Sponsored by a coalition of groups, including Colorado Progressive Coalition and allies, including Rights for All People, Service Employees International Union, American Friends Service Committee, and Padres Unidos [Parents United], the Denver event followed similar large-scale rallies for immigrant justice this week in Chicago (300,000 people); Phoenix (30,000); Los Angeles (500,000); Atlanta (25,000 estimated), and other major cities. The crowds in all cities were mobilized by local radio and TV stations, particularly Spanish-speaking news outlets.

Why did so many people come together for the largest political rally in decades in Denver? Here’s why…

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on HR 4437, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin) and supported by Colorado’s own anti-immigrant politician, Rep. Tom Tancredo (Littleton). The bill focuses on punishment only, not comprehensive solutions, scapegoating immigrants, and criminalizing anyone—churches, public service agencies, non-profit groups, and others--for providing aid to immigrant workers lacking documentation.

This legislation is so mean-spirited that Los Angeles Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony has said that, if it passes, he will allow his priests and others to act against it, as people need to be fed, clothed, housed, and provided medical care if they are sick. Senator Hillary Clinton (New York) said recently, “This bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself. We need to sound the alarm about what is being done in the Congress.”

Here in Colorado, one of the national centers of anti-immigrant scapegoating, despite the many contributions of immigrants to our agricultural, construction, service, and tourism industries, the rally’s turnout clearly overwhelmed event organizers, who had hoped for 2,000 people and wound up filling the entire Civic Center Park from the Denver City and County Building all the way up the hill past the State Capitol!

Holding signs that said “We Are Not Criminals,” “we are honest and work hard,” and “you can’t spell U.S.A. without US,” the huge, peaceful crowd listened to speakers and music, and started an impromptu march that closed down parts of 14th Avenue and Colfax Avenue. One sign summed it up nicely “the more that you attack us, the stronger we get.”

Immigrant families have long been attacked in our state, and too many progressive people have remained silent as the Tancredos of the world build political careers through an extremist agenda. When the ballot initiative to deny public services to immigrants comes to Colorado’s November ballot we need you to join with us in stopping it. If it passes, children will not be able to access immunizations, women will not be able to access prenatal care, and victims of domestic violence will be reluctant to seek public safety services. In short, this initiative will jeopardize the public health and safety of our state.

We welcome you to join us in our work to stop discrimination in Colorado. Please email or call today to let us know that you’d like to volunteer.

Let’s not end up on the wrong side of history….

In peace,

Bill, Brandon, Cheyenne, Dennis, Françoise, Gail, John, Kaila, Lavinia, Lionel, Maclovio, Margaret, Miriam, Nisar, Tanya, and all of us in the CPC Family

1420 Ogden St., Suite # 107
1st Floor
Denver, Colorado 80218
United States

[Here is the report from the Rocky Mountain News. Note that it does not repeat the CPC estimate of 150,000.]

Some view immigration rally as birth of civil rights movement
by Stuart Steers, Jody Berger, and Rosa Ramirez, Rocky Mountain News

March 28, 2006

Spanish-language radio and television exhorted listeners and viewers to participate.

The Catholic Church signed on as an official sponsor.

Yet, organizers admitted that they were shocked by the 50,000-plus people who rallied Saturday in Civic Center to defend the rights of immigrants.

“We were stunned by the outpouring for the rally,” said Bill Vandenberg, of the Colorado Progressive Coalition. “It’s an emerging civil rights movement. We’re at a turning point in Colorado.”

The rally was one of the largest political gatherings in Denver’s history. Proponents said they hoped to build on the astonishing afternoon with voter registration drives and other initiatives.

“People came out of the woodwork for this,” said Gabriela Flora, of the American Friends Service Committee. “We were blown away. This is about what kind of society are we going to be, a society of fear and division or justice and inclusion.”

The rally was sponsored by a coalition of immigrant rights, labor, and religious groups. Plans for the rally were launched just eight days before the event, and organizers hoped they would draw a few thousand people to Civic Center.

“It was astounding. It wasn’t the professional activist class; it was grass-roots people who heard about it on TV and radio,” Vandenberg said.

The sheer numbers of participants, estimated by Denver police and organizers, speaks to the growing reach of the Front Range’s Spanish-language media.

“We have never seen this happen in Denver,” said Raffy Contigo, program director for Mega 95.7 FM, a bilingual station that helped promote the rally. “This was the first time we have shown the power of mobilization of our people. The message is clear. We want to live the American dream.”

Vandenberg compared it to the throngs of people who rallied in Washington, D.C., and other places during the 1960s heyday of the civil rights movement.

On the day of Denver’s rally, thousands gathered in other cities, including 500,000 people in Los Angeles. [No mention that organizers in LA said “more than a million.”—G.S.]

For months, Colorado has been polarized about illegal immigration. A proposed ballot initiative that would ban the use of state funds to aid illegal immigrants has stirred up passions in the state legislature, and talk radio has been filled with vitriolic denunciations of those in the country illegally.

Many callers to talk radio on Monday were fired up anew, saying they were alarmed by Saturday’s rally and the waving of the Mexican flag.

But it was Spanish-language radio and TV that proved crucial to drawing the huge crowd. Many of the stations talked about the rally continuously last week.

Fernando Sergio, who promoted the rally on Que Bueno, his afternoon program on KBNO- AM (1280), said he was as astonished with the turnout as everyone else.

“We thought 10,000 were going to show up, and that was a high number,” he said. “When we counted [more than] 50,000, we were like, ‘Wow, this is incredible.’ Had we organized in advance, at least 100,000 to 150,000 could have shown up.” [And did, according to the CPC.]

Like the others involved in the rally, Sergio was deeply offended by a bill that passed the U.S. House that would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant or to provide assistance to an illegal immigrant. He encouraged his listeners to bring American flags to the rally.

“This was an event of gratitude to this great nation,” he said. “We are human beings. We have our American dreams, and we want to contribute. We are just like you.”

Sergio said the rally brought out a cross-section of the Hispanic community, with recent immigrants being joined by those with long histories in Colorado.

The Catholic Church was also deeply involved in the rally. Many parishioners heard about the rally in Spanish-language media and asked church officials if they could go with others in their congregations.

“A lot of folks were contacting us before we were contacting them,” said Jamila Spencer, of the Colorado Catholic Conference. “People were calling us saying, ‘Can we go? Can we go with our church?’”

Still, Spencer admitted she was shocked, too, by the huge turnout. She thought as few as 500 people might attend. “It really shows you where folks are on this issue,” she said.

Nationally, the Catholic Church has been a driving force in mobilizing people on the immigration issue. In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahoney said that if federal legislation passed making it illegal to assist undocumented immigrants, he would instruct the priests in his archdiocese to disobey the law.

Bishops in Colorado haven’t gone that far. “We don’t know with clarity how it will affect the church,” Spencer said of legislation moving through Congress. “Our biggest concern is how it would affect the 10.3 million undocumented immigrants, including 1.6 million undocumented children living in this country.”

About 150 of the people who organized the demonstration and took part mobilized Monday night at the Denver Inner City Parish to plan their next move.

They discussed the possibility, among other things, of carrying out work stoppages and boycotts, and mobilizing with other immigrant and religious groups to battle any laws they deem anti-immigrant.

Members of the group plan to meet Thursday afternoon with Democratic lawmakers to discuss any pending legislation they believe is discriminatory and unfair to immigrants.

“We want to ask them what are they thinking when they initiate these conversations,” Ricardo Martinez, co-director of Padres Unidos, or Parents United, said. “It’s going backward.”

An effort to mobilize Hispanic voters for the November election also seems all but certain.

“We’re definitely going to get people to register to vote,” said James Johnson, political director for the Service Employees Union Local 105. “We’ll continue to educate people about the issues and candidates.”

Johnson’s union represents many of the janitors who clean downtown high-rises. He said many members of the union attended the rally, and the SEIU will continue to be involved with immigrant rights.

“SEIU represents a lot of the immigrant workers,” he said. “It’s an important issue for us.”

Lisa Duran, of Rights for All People, another sponsoring group, said she believes the gathering may be remembered as a moment when attitudes toward immigrants started to change.

“It was a blessed day,” she said. “We are hoping we can build some lasting movement from what happened on Saturday. We have 12 million hard-working human beings who have human rights like every other person. These are good people here out of desperate need. We can’t forget that.”