Calling for peace in Iraq and denouncing federal legislation that would criminalize undocumented U.S. residents, the 27-day Latino March for Peace from Tijuana to San Francisco took a detour through Oakland Monday morning.
Some 200 marchers were cheered by hundreds of students at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic High School in the heavily Latino Fruitvale district, before marching some 40 blocks to a rally and rest stop at Laney College.
Before noon, the marchers took BART across the Bay to a series of rallies in San Francisco that would end the month-long protest.
War resister Camilo Mejia, who spent nine months in jail for refusing to return to fight in Iraq, was among the core group that had walked most of the 241 miles.
After the Laney College rally, he told reporters that he could see irony in the current situation: “You have Latinos here who are being heavily recruited [to fight], while you have their parents and relatives being treated as criminals.”
The federal legislation that passed the House and is before the Senate is HR 4437 that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and increase the potential for employer discrimination and abuse of workers.
Mariposa Burciaga of MEChA, an acronym that translates as Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, was among the Laney students who organized to bring the protest to the college.
“A lot of students aren’t aware of what’s going on,” she said. “It’s important to know what’s going on in the world, especially the effects on people of color. [The legislation] is unfair and inhuman.”
Latinos are just beginning to understand their power, she said: “We are like the sleeping giant.”
Stephen Allen, an 11th grader at the Life Academy, one of Oakland’s small high schools, spoke to the crowd. He said he’d had to decide whether to stay in class, “but I thought it was more important to be here, fighting for the rights—not just of Latinos—but everyone.”
Denise Morales, 15, had a personal reason for walking out of her Life Academy classes. Morales said her parents came from Mexico to work. “They shouldn’t call us animals because we want a better life,” she said.
Oakland’s Street Academy, the Latino Peace Alliance, Labor Against the War and UC Berkeley’s Peace and Conflict Studies were also represented at the Laney rally.
A Peralta Federation of teachers delegate to the state California Federation of Teachers Convention this past weekend, Susan Schacher said she was at the Laney College rally protesting the war and celebrating the union’s non-endorsement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein “because of her stand in support of the war and the war budgets.”
At the heart of planning the march was Fernando Suarez Del Solar, whose son was killed March 27, 2003, seven days into the war.
Addressing the high school students at the early morning rally at Saint Elizabeth’s, he said: “Three years ago my son died in Iraq. Three years ago I lost my son, who, like you, had dreams. I never want to see your faces on the propaganda for war.”
He called on the students to act: “You all collectively have to change what is wrong.””