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Ceci Wheeler: May Day In Pittsburgh

My Recollection On May Day In Pittsburgh

By Ceci Wheeler
May 1, 2006

Pittsburgh, a city with a superb labor history, celebrated a perfect sunny May Day, International Workers’ Day for Immigrants’ Rights.

All members of our Pittsburgh Friends of Immigrants for Immigrants’ Rights worked hard to organize this event, and we did what we could to promote the Great American Boycott 2006 – a day without an immigrant (National Strike), which reached more than 1.5 million people on the streets!

I am thankful to everyone who helped, endorsed, and participated this day. It was certainly a great experience and a motivator for future events.

But will our efforts stop the anti-immigrant machinery that started a few years ago with the Patriot Act targeting our Middle East brothers and sisters?

PFOI is conscientious on the size of the immigrant community in Pittsburgh, in fact we only cover a 3% of its population, and thus there is a need to speak up for those who are here.

Let’s look at the map in the right in this link which shows Pennsylvania as one of the 43 states considering anti-immigrant legislature, such as: strengthening laws on employment of undocumented workers.

We know that if employers get punished, employees may not have a chance to work any longer.

Just recently, an anti-immigrant resolution was introduced in County Council by two local Democrat legislators, which would authorize our police enforcement to arrest undocumented individuals in Allegheny County.

On April 11th, PFOI introduced its own resolution to City Council which asks for protection to immigrants and a welcoming attitude to new comers; it is being reviewed at this time by City Council.

And going back to the boycott, today I noticed a shortage of traffic, and we haven’t determined if there was an economical impact in Pittsburgh.

So far, I am not aware of any school walk-outs, but the IWW, Pittsburgh Chapter, had indicated to us that they had called upon their members to strike on May Day in our support and the national movement.

I understand there were also a few single-owned businesses that closed their doors, and a few independent workers that did not attend work and engaged in both events planned for today.

Our May Day started good. By 2:50 p.m. the county jail plaza had already about 15 people or more sitting in the cemented benches and fence along the plaza. Some others were writing their messages in their signs, while others rested underneath trees.

By the time the vigil ceremony started at 3:00 p.m., the crowd was decent; the corporate media vans were already parked closely, and protestors were being interviewed by both local alternative media reporters and major local broadcasters.

A reporter asked Marisa Manheim why she had her face painted in white, and she replied that she did it as a symbol of solidarity with other races and if we all had one color of skin, perhaps color people would not be targeted as they are.

By 3:30 p.m., there were between 75-100 people in the vigil remembering the 1.4 million immigrant detainees deported in the past 10 years and the 22,000 in jail as per May 1st.

Rev. Theophilus conducted the ceremony and several speakers participated in her call to share thoughts. Ed Bortz from the Green Party of Allegheny Party, one of our endorsers and members read an inspiring poem.

Thereafter, the crowd aligned along the 2nd Ave. sidewalk with their signs and slogans supporting immigrants’ rights and full amnesty while cars honked in support. A large American flag basically held hands with a Mexican flag.

By 5:00 p.m., the vigil ended and the group grew to about 300! We asked everyone to clean after themselves to leave the location as clean as we found it before we left.

The march begun on time. Our large white banner “Immigrants’ Rights Now!” directed the march while the number of marchers kept increasing as we walked from jail to the City County Building where we stopped to read our “Proposed Resolution in Support of Immigrants’ Rights” to City Council. Doug Masiroff read it.

Oddly enough, three policemen in bicycles politely escorted us through our city route, they were never called by us because we were planning a peaceful march on the sidewalks, but I imagine the city did.

In addition, Pittsburgh wouldn’t be Pittsburgh without their radical youngsters marching for justice, but what was most annoying was the visit of our anti-immigrant young black male, “devil with the blue dress, blue dress” who marched next to me and kept trying to create trouble. (see

There were also the typical “alleged” look-alike FBI agents or paparazzi’s type of photographers who say they are reporters and take pictures of protestors’ faces over and over again from very close distances with the only purpose of intimidation; especially when the marches are small in size. We took pictures of them too.

One of them was a man dressed with a white shirt, gray hair and in his 40s, who kept taking pictures of a very young Mexican boy’s face who was one of the carriers of the Mexican flag.

I asked him why he did that and if he worked for the FBI and he said “no” and he asked me if I wanted my pictures taken, I replied “no, they already have a very thick file on me.”

If in fact, he was a journalist, his attitude did not level up the attitude of a professional, ethical journalist, he joked around with the policemen as they were old friends, at least that was my impression.

In spite of those simple shortcomings, the march was very successful, people joined us while we walked, and there were good chants and enthusiasm. It ended at Mellon Square Park across from Senator Arlen Specter’s office.

We used the same bullhorn that Michelle Gaffey used successfully for chants through the sidewalks in our scheduled open mike at the park.

After we invited our marchers to speak, it was great to hear them exercise their freedom of speech and send messages to our legislators that Pittsburgh was demonstrating in support of the Great American Boycott 2006 for immigrants.

Furthermore, many of us were impressed by the bravery of a Hispanic woman who stated in Spanish that she was undocumented and had come to this beautiful country because her family was extremely poor and there were no jobs in her native country, otherwise, her little children would’ve starved to death.

Others said that they were here to work and they were not criminals; that all they wanted was the chance to work and raise their families.

There is no doubt that everyone was energized and happy that Pittsburgh was part of the immigrant movement.

PFOI pledged to continue our vigilance on immigration policy, to protest against unjust laws, and we re-stated our support for full amnesty and legalization of all immigrants and nothing less than that.

Finally, we encouraged Senator Specter to keep working for a “true” comprehensive immigration reform that leads to full amnesty. We do need laws that protect undocumented and documented immigrants nationwide for once and for ever.

We feel that there is no need for more enforcement or borders, we are not at the verge of a civil war as many ultra-right fundamentalists, neo-conservatives and neo-Nazis are trying to imply.

There is not an immigrant invasion and the majority of the American public knows that. We are convinced that the solution to this problem would be full amnesty and legalization for all immigrants.

"Amnesty is not a bad word for me," and it may be the only answer to this controversy.

Finally, we announced our next event: The Pittsburgh Regional Conference for Immigrants’ Rights on Saturday, June 3, 2006.

I hoped that by the end of our May Day this evening, our friends of immigrants had asked themselves, who and why voted for anti-immigrant bills and the reinstatement of the Patriot Act, legislations that have created an environment of hate among races and immigrants in the name of national security.

And keeping that same train of thought, I also hope that the immigrants’ rights movement is led by immigrants for our immigrants. I believe that our outcry for autonomy and compassionate responsibility to help our own is increasing nationwide and it is unstoppable.

Immigrants will decide "who" to vote for next “without being told” by those who write anti-immigrant legislation and allow horrendous immigrants’ witch-hunt tactics, arrests and deportations.

We ought to wonder why inhuman ancient laws which were already discarded from our history books are being used again to target innocent immigrant working communities or to accuse compassionate people of being something that they aren’t, such as, terrorists.

Didn’t legislators know that these ancient laws hurt other immigrants and communities decades ago?

Did they think that unfair legislation against poor immigrants would be passed quietly without the reaction of their friends and families? Let me tell you, a sleeping giant woke up in defense of those who contributed greatly to the economy of our country then and now.

How was a day without an immigrant for Pittsburgh? It was significant: the best always comes in small packaging.

When you vote, consider new local candidates who stand up alone and bravely for immigrants’ rights, not for a political party, someone with social conscience.

We already know what political parties have done for us in the last 200 years or so and how they have recently discredited amnesty.

I invite friends of immigrants in Pittsburgh and other regions to join our path towards justice for immigrants. Undocumented workers deserve their legalization just as our Europeans brothers and sisters got theirs in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Just as women got their right to vote in 1920, and just as our African American brothers and sisters got their civil rights and their right to vote in the 60s, all of these revolutionary changes were necessary for the development of our civilization. But it was not enough.

These people were also identified as “illegal” in their time prior to their legalization.

A good way to assist with legal assistance to our peoples is volunteering for pro-bono legal organizations who are not interested in financial reward but human treatment, democracy and freedom, for example: The National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Which brings up the thought of unity used in the following phrase: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” It sounds nice and it is a right statement. I used to say the same using long wording on my emails and postings to remind my friends that all people hurt and we should support each other. I am sure many people feel the same.

So while thousands of undocumented immigrants detainees are added in our jails and more detention centers and jails are been built in our country with your taxes, we in Pittsburgh, the Steel City built by undocumented European workers, also remembered them on May Day – without the support of larger organizations, churches, politicians or union traders.

It was a collective triumph for the national immigrants’ rights movement!

This is my 2006 May Day recollection.


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