Student Groups, Workers Rally For Immigrant, Union Rights Amnesty

Students and Campus Employees Protest Treatment of Workers, Immigrants on Workers' Day

Photo: Talya Hezi and Iris Hemmerich spoke with the media after yesterday's rally for immigrant and worker rights.
Michael Kang/Photo
Talya Hezi and Iris Hemmerich spoke with the media after yesterday's rally for immigrant and worker rights.

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Dressed in white and wearing green armbands, hundreds of students and workers rallied on Upper Sproul Plaza yesterday as part of a day-long protest supporting the rights of workers and immigrants.

In celebration of International Workers' Day, campus groups including Xinaxtli, By Any Means Necessary and Students Organizing for Justice in the Americas joined in a general rally and march to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's office. About 200 people participated in total.

"After three years, we're still waiting for the chancellor and the community to respond," said senior Jackie Madrid, a member of Xinaxtli. "Nothing has been done for the communities, and workers are being treated as less than a human."

The groups were protesting the alleged erosion of rights for immigrant students and the wages and working conditions of members of the labor union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents some 1,100 workers on the UC Berkeley campus.

A performance by the dance group In Xochitl In Cuicatl kicked off the rally. Three dancers, wearing indigenous Mesoamerican dress, blew conch shells while others banged on drums and waved burning sage to bless the rally.

"It's a way to ask that everything goes well," said dancer and senior Marcella Sadlowski. "It's important to remember our traditions of Chicanos, Latinos, however people want to identify themselves."

Several community leaders also spoke at the rally, including City Councilmember Kriss Worthington and campus workers from the union.

The leaders called for UC Berkeley to follow the examples of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley and declare itself a sanctuary for immigrants by refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Young people will not accept racist second-class treatment," said second-year Boalt Hall School of Law student Ronald Cruz, a member of By Any Means Necessary. "The university has an obligation to protect the rights of its own students who study here."

Unlike last year's protest when ralliers and police had a confrontation at the BART station, this year's rally saw no disputes with law enforcement, said rally organizer Ben Feinberg.

In addition to UC Berkeley students, twelve students from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley skipped school yesterday to participate in the protests.

"We're very supportive of our culture," said eighth-grader Jessica Ayula. "Our school doesn't want us to do this."

Many protesters dressed in white to represent innocence and amnesty for immigrants, with green armbands to show solidarity for the union. They stressed the arbitrary nature of borders in their posters and chants, from a sign reading "Who's the real immigrant, pilgrim?" to the chant, "We didn't cross the borders, the borders crossed us."

"Borders are lines drawn in the sand," Sadlowski said. "America is a name given to this continent by an Italian mapmaker."

While most protesters had specific, proactive goals for the day, others focused on raising awareness on campus.

"I'm just hoping that students get more involved," said freshman and Xinaxtli member Elena Vilchis. "It's very disheartening to see that students don't care."

Although the workers and the immigrant students had different aims, many saw their combination into one large protest as encouraging.

"I'm a very big advocate of coalition-building and bringing people together," Worthington said. "I would be here whether I was running for public office or not."


Contact Rebecca Wallace at [email protected]

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