Friday, March 31, 2006

Peaceful Protest at City Hall--Uncanny Timing!

Last Tuesday morning while we were up on the sixth floor of City Hall meeting with the Dallas City Council about City Walk @ Akard, our downtown housing development, hundreds of area Hispanic/Latino students marched into the lobby of the building to protest the recent immigration reform bill sent over to the U. S. Senate by the House of Representatives.

The noise filled the entire building. From our vantage point inside the council chambers, things sounded like a pep rally in a charged up high school gymnasium.

The fact that the two events were occurring simultaneously struck me as quite remarkable.

Following the council meeting, everyone walked out into the "flag room" just outside the council chambers. Thanks to a glass wall, we enjoyed a perfect view of the large plaza and giant reflection pool just outside the front door. As security personnel and police ushered the students out of the building, they continued their peaceful, now joyous protest on the plaza.

Soon several decided to take a dip in the fountain!

It was a sight to behold.

News reports carried a few stories and letters to the editor regarding the protest and the students, some not so flattering. Most folks think these kids needed to stay in school. Their action on Tuesday was the second day this week that hundreds refused to attend classes.

I know the students need to be in class. And by today it seems that everyone is back where they need to be. I also realize that not every student involved fully understood the issues involved with the current immigration debate.

That said, I guess I have a slightly different take on it overall.

The students I observed were orderly, polite and determined, it seemed to me.

It also seemed clear that they understood at least something of what had been happening in our Congress and across the nation and how it all might affect them and their parents.

Mainly, they were involved.

I couldn't help but smile.

Interestingly, on Monday the U. S. Senate passed out of committee the McCain-Kennedy proposal that effectively negates the extremely strident legislation the U. S. House of Representatives came up with. The national debate is joined again on this crucial matter.

In the days ahead I'll probably have more to say about the issue, including some thoughts on the nature and necessity, at times, of civil disobedience; the need to take a fresh look at the wages paid working people in our nation; the place of history, culture and race in the current conversation; and how all of this affects urban life.

For now it is enough to confess that I left City Hall on Tuesday just thankful to see the children involved in the civic discussion.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

"I left...thankful to see the children involved in the civic discussion."

This week I heard from a good friend who had just returned from 2-weeks in Washington, working to overturn the House vote for an add'l $67 billion in war funding. We were bemoaning the vote, the waste of energy, the loss of vision, lives lost. We complained about our general apathy as citizens and wondered what we were teaching the next generation.

Out of this fog of war came a rainbow coalition of light and energy: wonderful protesting children! I thought I'd surely died and gone to heaven. Hail truancy!

Sure there were students who knew little about the issues; for them it was a free pass. But the ones I spoke with -- and I spoke with dozens -- were articulate, poised and polite, some uncannily so. Many of them said immigration reform was THE topic in their home, their neighborhood, and with their friends. Their energy and optimism was palatable. One tiny Latina girl, Margarita, told me she loved knowing her voice could make a difference. Viva democracy!

God bless them all for being part of the civic discourse. What a GREAT example they are to all of us adults and parents. :)

Anonymous said...

It upsets me that illegal aliens are trying to tell us how to run our country.

Anonymous said...

Larry,
While I have always appreciated the heart you have for the community you minister to, this is one time I cannot agree with you. Truancy is truancy and these kids did not leave their schools with permission. I have an educator friend in Garland who tells of a gathering of 150 students who were trying to leave school. The administration told them if they could tell them what the protest was about they would not recieve detention. Only 3 of the 150 could do that. Secondly, my husband works at City Hall and he did not describe the scenario quite as you did. He said that the kids actually came into City Hall and when authorities blocked the doors to the stairwells, the kids were banging on the doors. He described it as far from being orderly. I guess I struggle with supporting illegal immigration. There is a legal way to get citizenship in this country and it should be the same for everyone, not just those who have easy access to our borders.

Larry James said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Larry James said...

Anonymous, thanks for your post.

First, let me say that from my vantage point on the 6th floor of City Hall, the children looked as if they were having a peaceful celebration. About an hour after I left City Hall, I had to return for another meeting and I observed a number of the students walking away from the event. They all seemed peaceful and well-behaved. I also observed the police who were at ease and interacting well with the students. It seemed like a festival environment to me.

The bill that the House of Representatives passed last week makes it a felony for the parents of many of these kids to be here--even after many years of working and paying taxes. It also makes it a fenoly punishable by imprisonment for me to assist anyone who is here like many of their parents. In other words, workers at CDM could be jailed for assisting low-income workers who are undocumented.

At the same time, American desire for very, very cheap labor has created the situation. The desire of people to create a better life for themselves and their families is not unlike those who first came to this country.

You are correct. Law is law. But some laws are bad. The Jim Crow laws that dominated the South when I grew up were the law, but thank God those laws were set aside. The role of civil disobedience played a huge role in doing away with those laws.

The House bill is bad, bad law. And it is unrealistic policy to treat Mexico like we treat China, Russia or India. They are our neighbors. Why can't our border to the South be more like the one to the North.

This is much more complicated than simply obeying the laws.

Thanks for your post.

I don't know about your friend's poll on what the students knew or didn't know. I expect many knew nothing. I also expect that many more know much more sine they took part in the protest.

IBreakCellPhones said...

I disagree with the anti-Good-Samaritan part of the law. Nobody should be a criminal for providing food, water, or medical care for someone. It's different if you send them on their way, though.

And if we want cheap labor, repeal the minimum wage. That will make it easier to get an entry level job, employ someone with lower skills, and give people a foot in the door to employment.

Larry, would you treat a neighbor who is constantly setting up his lawn chairs in your yard, picking food from your garden, and destroying your property differently than you would a neighbor who is doing none of those things and respecting your property? That's why we treat Mexico and Canada differently.

Larry James said...

No, Ibreakcellphones, the neighbor I have in mind mows my yard, cleans my house, and when I leave my lawn chairs out in my front yard, he picks them up and puts them away for me. When I go out to dinner, he takes my order, cleans my table and washes my dishes. He also builds my house, does most of the heavy lifting and much of the digging of ditches that seem necessary in my city. That is the neighbor I have in mind. His main problem with my naiton is that he is poor and must make difficult decisions about how to support and sustain his family. That is the neighbor I have in mind.

Anonymous said...

ibreakcellphones, let us remember that we are all immigrants here, owning nothing and passing through to show God either our appreciation or contempt.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of peaceful protest: the Pope has called for fasting and prayer to end the Iraq war.

Do these actions carry any weight any more?

Anonymous said...

I wonder what would happen to this country if some people had their wish and all of the people in this country illegally suddenly vanished? All of a sudden most of the work we take for granted goes undone.

Let's not stop there though, why don't we deport those who entered the country illegally originally but have since become naturalized? I'm sure there are a lot of people who thought those immigrants shouldn't have been left off the hook either. Now all of a sudden there is no new construction.

While we're at it, let's deport anyone who is living on land that they've taken from other people. That seems to me to be a much more criminal act than just sneaking in to do some work.

You know what we'd be left with? A bunch of Native Americans.

We need to be careful how we treat the immigration debate lest we establish criteria we don't want to live up to ourselves.

Brandon

Jack said...

Anonymous- would you have objected to students leaving school to protest during Civil Rights era? There are some moral issues which require one to civil disobedience. Is the immigration reform one such issue? I believe yes. I have addressed the issue on my blog today as well. The students made their point, I hope they learned from the experience as well, and I hope they receive a quality education for the rest of the school year.

Anonymous said...

It seems many of us want sweet spot immigration that serves our selfish desire for low cost labor and prices. Few of us want to wrestle with the bigger issues like democracy, assimilation and multiculuralism. And we have yet to reconcile the other complicating factors, like U.S. demand for illegal narcotics, the Foxian growth of elites and the end of refom, and the unabated export of the unemployed, unskilled and (potentially) politically dissident. Good neighbor? I believe not. As a nation, Mexico is corrupt and corrupting; bordering the USA does not a Canada make. On this one, Larry, your heart is in the right place, but I believe your head is wrong.

Many of us are not against immigrants, just illegal immigration. In fact, if all the illegal immigrants in the U.S. were combined, they would add up to the 7th or 8th largest state in the union, suprassed only by CA, TX, NY, FL, IL, PA, and OH. Conversely, if 10-11 million Americans flooded Mexico for work, it would be called an invasion with worldwide protest accompanying it.

Our immigration policy and its enforcement is broken; our attitude toward assimilation is ambivalent at best. It's time for us to get a handle on all of it and move on, for our sake, and for the sake of our future citizens.

Larry James said...

Anonymous, you aren't the first, nor will you be the last, to question the soundness of my head! So, thanks for the post.

But really, you make my point here. Take your pick on immigration policy, how do you remove, cut out a population equal to our 7th largest state???

If we admit the system is broken, how do we, with that broken system, now remove this many people who are also in fact very important to all of us?

And, you might see an "invasion" of Mexico if we had a more viable and friendly immigration policy on each side of our southern border.

It is so amazing to me how we want cheap labor, free trade (that kills south and central American workers, to say nothing of our own) and strict immigration policy! The same people are voting for leaders who give them exactly what they now say they don't want.

I am not really very idealisitc on this one. Compared to what I fear you espouse, I am a hard-headed realist. We have what we have. We need to move people to citizenship while tightening the border, if that is what is decided. But you can just send 11-12 million people away. And you certainly can't tell people like me to turn away from them when they come seeking tools for a better life.