Woodland Community College and UC Davis MEChA members proudly pumped their signs in the air to the rhythm of an estimated 10,000 people marching in Sacramento and chanting in protest of HR 4437.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s march from Delano to the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento and wearing their black Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán) t-shirts, Woodland’s MEChA students joined a group of protestors in West Sacramento, where the march began at 10 a.m. on March 25.
Making their way to Cesar Chavez Plaza in Downtown Sacramento, the students marched with protestors from the ILWU Longshoremen’s Hall, across the Tower Bridge and along the front of the Capitol, just as Chavez had done years prior.
Nina Narabaiz, a “MEChista” (member of MEChA) from the Woodland chapter, described the atmosphere as, “full of pride,” which was amplified, “when it began to rain right as we were finally able to see the Capitol. We paused and suddenly people started jumping up and down at the same time. It was really empowering because each time we paused we would start chanting together.”
Flyers were distributed listing the appropriate phrases and sayings to chant. A person from the crowd would begin by yelling out, “Si, se puede,” (Yes, we can), as the rest of the crowd would shout in unison, growing louder and louder as the excitement pulsed.
The march in Sacramento, as well as the mass demonstrations in Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Denver and Atlanta, was in protest of The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which is also known as HR 4437, or the Sensenbrenner Bill.
The US House of Representatives passed HR 4437 last December, with a recorded vote of 239 to 182.
In a report on the passage of the bill, GovTrack recorded the status of the vote as 92 percent of Republicans supporting and 82 percent of Democrats opposing the passage of the bill.
Among the laundry list of proposed actions, this legislation suggests that employers will be required to check the immigrant status of all of their employees with a national database, and the immigrants who are here illegally, or who don’t possess the proper documentation, will be treated as felons.
Octavio Melchor, the webmaster of Woodland’s MEChA chapter, voiced one of the most controversial arguments against the bill. “HR 4437 is a bill that will make it a criminal offense to help immigrants who do not have the proper documentation,” said Melchor. “Priests, teachers, and others would be forced to report people who are undocumented.”
Confirming this argument, The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform summarized the major provisions of HR 4437, stating, “Anyone or any organization who ‘assists’ an individual without documentation ‘to reside in or remain’ in the United States knowingly or with ‘reckless disregard’ as to the individual’s legal status would be liable for criminal penalties and five years in prison. This could include church personnel who provide shelter or other basic needs assistance to an undocumented individual.”
Shocked by the passage of the Sensenbrenner Bill, Woodland Community College’s MEChA chapter decided to take action. They spent three weeks figuring the logistics of the march, organizing the carpool to Sacramento, arranging days off from work, and making protest signs with approved phrases, like “We are not criminals!” and MEChA’s own motto, “La Union Hace La Fuera!” (Unity Creates Strength).
As the march was about to begin, Melchor was asked to give an impromptu speech for the people in the Hall to help motivate and empower them as they prepared to start their journey to Cesar Chavez Plaza.
Rallying the passion of the people, Melchor started by shouting out, “Viva Cesar Chavez! Viva Los Marchantes!” (Long live Cesar Chavez! Long Live the People Marching!)
At the end of the march, Narabaiz described breaking through the massive crowds with fellow MEChista Robert Ramirez. “We had one of the MEChA shirts on a stick and used it as a sign that we put in the air to advertise the sodas we were selling. Then we stood there and listened to the speakers while people were buying our sodas and shirts.”
Among the speakers was Al Rojas, a former farm worker and labor organizer in Sacramento, who had spoken with Woodland Community College’s MEChA chapter two weeks before the march.
Steven Payan, the co-chair of MEChA at WCC, met Rojas at a meeting for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
The LCLAA helped advertise and invite people to the Cesar Chavez March and suggested that Payan and his group march alongside other MEChA chapters. The group was further inspired by Dolores Huerta’s presentation against HR 4437 at UC Davis, which is posted on their website at www.mechawcc.com/.
When asked about the feeling he walked away with after marching, Melchor simply smiled and said, “I felt a part of a movement, a movement that is fighting for the equal treatment of humans. (I have) the feeling that by marching I am doing what is in my power to protest the legislation that will affect many people from all parts of the world.”