The New Civil Rights Movement
The struggle of Latina/o communities across the nation for immigrant rights has given birth to a new civil rights movement. This powerful new movement opens the way to defeat racist attacks against immigrants and the Latina/o, black and other minority communities.
The right-wing racist attack against the gains of the old civil rights movement, including the national attack on affirmative action and integration, can now be reversed. Standing proud, up on our feet, no longer invisible, we can win the respect and dignity we more than deserve. The aim of anyone who believes in equality and justice must be to strengthen and build the power of our new civil rights movement.
To achieve this aim, we must build a new youth leadership.Our young new civil rights movement has already achieved a great deal.The most reactionary provisions of HR4437, the federal anti-immigrant bill, have already been eliminated.
The churches and community organizations which serve us no longer face the threat of legal penalties. The ridiculously racist proposal of turning 12 million immigrants without papers into felons is now a dead letter.
Both Democratic and Republican Party politicians now support bills that would lead to some portion of undocumented workers achieving legal status. While these initial gains are important, they are far from adequate and just and merely represent the beginnings of what we can achieve.
To win full rights for all immigrants and to stop the constant harassment by police and immigration officers and other governmental bodies, our new movement must become much, much stronger. We have the social power to end the segregated second-class treatment we experience every day.
We are in a position to win bilingual education for ourselves and our brothers and sisters, decent job opportunities for everyone in our community, make it possible for our family members to travel back and forth from the United States to Mexico, El Salvador, and other nations without fear or danger.
The prejudice, discrimination, and occasional physical attack we face in our schools and on our jobs can become a thing of the past.The promise of equality can be made real, but only if we build a leadership for our new movement that will not stop fighting until victory is ours.
Youth Leadership is the Key
Youth leadership is key Developing a militant, politically conscious, left-wing youth leadership for our new movement is everything. The potential of our new movement, how broadly we build it, and what we win, will be completely determined by who is in leadership of our movement.
The boldest, most determined, and angriest leaders of our new civil rights movement thus far have emerged from the high schools and middle schools. The young leaders who are prepared to fight by any means necessary must take charge of the direction of the new movement for it to continue to thrive and develop.
Some of the church leaders and politicians who endorsed and helped build our huge weekday marches and rallies opposed the May 1st boycott. In the next few weeks, we will hear a larger chorus of voices telling us that we should not miss another day of school or work to advance our fight.
We will hear from those who call themselves leaders of our movement that we should limit our actions to evenings and weekends. More and more of those who claim to be our leaders will tell us that our most powerful tactic is to vote in the November elections. Voter registration campaigns will start in earnest.
Talking and studying the issues, instead of walking out, marching and rallying will be proposed as the main activities of the movement. Committees will be set up and young people will be marginalized. If the movement limits itself to this strategy, it will be shut down.
It is our job as young people to stop this from occurring. Setting aside our fears and hesitations about being mass leaders is of critical importance now.If history teaches us anything, it is that young people have a special responsibility to lead the struggle if the aim of the struggle is to achieve deep, fundamental, and lasting gains.
Our struggle for equality, dignity and respect is, above all else, a question of power. Changing the status quo requires militant mass action. Building a movement capable of organizing our power begins with a leadership dedicated to organizing the most determined sections of society that stand to gain from a victory for our side.
We will hear over and over from older leaders that respectability is the key to success. Trying to impress white society with how “reasonable,” “responsible,” and restrained we are is a recipe for defeat. The birth of this new civil rights movement makes clear that militant mass action is the key to winning.
The high school walkouts of the last month and a half have done more to inspire and galvanize our movement than any other single action.The struggles waged in LA during the last week of March and first week of April represent the high point of what we have achieved in action as a new movement thus far.
Los Angeles students: a model for the nation
On Friday, March 24th, thousands of students, primarily from East LA, Huntington Park, Bell, and Southgate high schools walked out. Seeing thousands of students marching in the streets of LA inspired young people all over the nation to follow their lead.
Latina/o workers in the Los Angeles area, wavering over whether or not to take off work, were inspired by the action of the youth and chose to act themselves. On Saturday March 25th, over one million Latinos, with and without papers, of all ages, marched and rallied in downtown Los Angeles. The potential of our power was evident to all.
The question of immigrant rights and civil rights was placed at the center of the American political and social agenda. On Monday, March 27, Latina/o students in the LA area took our struggle a step further. That day, the high school and middle school walkouts, starting with the walkout at Huntington Park High School, were televised.
Students and youth, electrified by what they saw, left school, home, and jobs to join a march that would begin at Huntington Park High School and wind through LA, gathering support as it progressed.Southgate High School students who were trying to walk out and join the march faced the resistance of both police and school administrators.
The marchers and the students from Huntington Park, Bell, and Southeast High Schools worked in concert to free the Southgate High students. The Southgate students who were locked in managed to avert administrators and push up against the gate, while the students on the outside got around the police and pulled on who had been barking out threats of suspensions and arrests were forced to back down. The mass action of the students was stronger than their opponents. The pride and strength experienced by the students who participated in this action will never be forgotten.
The student action did not end at Southgate. The student march continued until it reached the prison-like schools of South Central and Watts. Latina/o and black students, anticipating the arrival of the march, waited outside their locked down schools to join the procession. Together, Latina/o and black students marched down to city hall.
The march, which had begun as a Latina/o expression of the struggle for immigrant rights, had become the voice for every Latina/o, black, Asian and white student who is sick and tired of being warehoused in LA’s poor, overcrowded, majority Latino and black schools. Integrated and determined, the march expressed the desire of every person in the society who is treated as nothing but yearns to be everything.
Students from all over California and every corner of the U.S., including Dallas, Houston, Detroit, New York and Washington, who saw news coverage or heard stories of the protests were inspired to act. In the week that followed, many of them walked out and marched as well.
Starting with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then Cardinal Roger Mahony of the LA Archdiocese, students are hearing that the walkouts must stop. Everyone from principals to politicians, parents to priests, has urged us to never walk out again.
Winning full rights for Immigrants
Some commentators and teachers, scared of the action of young people, have said that many of us had no idea why we walked out. These self-ordained leaders of the movement must never have known or must have forgotten how degrading and demoralizing our schools can be.
We must not allow them to extinguish the bright flame of our desire to be treated with respect and dignity that burns hot within each of us. Even if we cannot put into words all of our demands, each and every one of us who walked out and left school knows we were fighting for freedom. For those hours that we marched and fought together, we felt free for the first time in our lives.
The strangers we marched with are forever bonded to us in a way that many family members we have known for a lifetime could never be. Our walkouts and rallies have been decisive to gaining the progress we have made.
Making history is the best way to learn history. The young leaders of the new civil rights movement can learn a great deal through the actions we have already taken. Drawing out and systematizing the political lessons we have learned will help us take the next step forward. The fate of the new civil rights movement is in our hands.
Originally Published May 1, 2006