Demonstrators in Northampton mobilize for immigrant, worker rights

  • Some 400 people took part in a May Day march to the steps of Northampton City Hall, Monday, in solidarity with “A Day Without Immigrants” and a call for a general strike nationwide. Many held red flowers, a symbol of the “Bread and Roses” strike by immigrant textile workers in Lawrence in 1912. Top, Zoila Alvarez of Northampton takes part in the rally. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Zoila Alvarez of Northampton takes part in a May Day march in Northampton on Monday, May 1, 2017. Many at the march in front of City Hall held red flowers, a symbol of the "Bread and Roses" strike by immigrant textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Diana Sierra, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, speaks to about 400 people gathered in front of Northampton City Hall on Monday, May 1, 2017, at a May Day march in solidarity with "A Day Without Immigrants" and a call for a general strike nationwide. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tseng Shao Yu of Amherst speaks about her friend and co-worker Rinzin who took his life last year after being subjected to bullying and racism at their workplace. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Rosa Torres from Our Lady of Peace Church in Turners Falls addresses about 400 people gathered in front of Northampton City Hall on Monday, May 1, 2017, at a May Day march in solidarity with "A Day Without Immigrants". —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Jordan Abbott of Northampton, with sign, was among the hundreds who marched from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center to Northampton City Hall to mark a "Day Without Immigrants" May Day on Monday, May 1, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Students from Smith College staged a walk out on Monday, May 1, 2017, to join the Northampton May Day march from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center shouting, "Down, down with deportation; up, up with education." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Three-to-four hundred people arrive at the steps of Northampton City Hall on Monday, May 1, 2017, to mark a special May Day "Day Without Immigrants". —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    A man who only identified himself as Carlos holds a Huelga/Strike flag and a Pioneer Valley Workers Center flag as several hundred people gathered outside of the PVWC to begin a march to Northampton City Hall to mark May Day and a "Day Without Immigrants" on Monday, May 1, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 5/1/2017 10:47:30 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Downtown streets were blocked by police cruisers as hundreds marched to City Hall in support of immigrant and worker rights Monday afternoon.

“We are working to build the Sanctuary in the Streets network. They are trained respondents to deportation threats and efforts,” said Diana Sierra, lead organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center. “Once trained and in the network, if there is a deportation threat, you receive emergency texts to help and intervene.”

People from all over the Pioneer Valley marched in solidarity. Smith College had a student walkout, meeting outside of the Campus Center and marching down to convene with the larger group.

“We are walking out in solidarity with staff and workers who cannot march today. This is one moment in the long history of the struggle for equal rights and the protection of immigrants,” said Mia Lloid, 20, a sophomore.

“It’s important for young people to realize that they have that power and that many young people started big movements,” said junior Leslie Abraham, 21.

As the march moved toward City Hall, more groups advocating immigrant rights joined.

“We share a congregation with a Spanish-speaking church, so there’s about 20 of us here who feel strongly on this issue,” said Todd Weir, pastor of the First Churches of Northampton. “We fought three years ago to be a sanctuary city, so we are here in solidarity and called to action today.”

People’s reasons for marching varied. Some were protesting low wages, others protested employers who threaten to call federal immigration authorities on immigrant workers who may expose a business’s unfair practices.

“Since (President Donald) Trump’s election, employers feel more emboldened to threaten workers with calling (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). A lot of students are now committed to address these injustices,” said Kate Nadel, former University of Massachusetts student and International Socialist Organization member.

Others were more overtly political, brandishing anti-fascist banners and handing out anti-capitalist leaflets.

“The Veterans for Peace are here because we have a chapter in Mexico,” Eric Wasileski of the Greenfield chapter said. “Many people also had a green card but were deported after serving the United States anyways. A few of us decided to come out here today and support.”

Supportive crowd

Generally, those passing by were supportive. Cars honked and bystanders on the sidewalks waved to the hordes of protesters marching down the middle of the road.

“The protests are great. I have been protesting all my life myself. I’ve been doing it for 42 years now,” said Northampton resident Calvin Brower, 64. Brower showed his support by dancing and waving at the protesters from a bus stop on the sidewalk.

Parents of students at the Amherst Montessori School supported the march by organizing to pay for substitute teachers so staff members could march.

“We have families born outside of the U.S and immigrant teachers. So for a small school we really feel global and that’s why it was important that the parents helped support that,” school spokeswoman Susanna Thompson said.

Occasionally, passers-by would yell at protesters, typically because speeches were also in Spanish, sparking heated arguments.

“The protests are a waste of time and energy. Look at all the police being tied up because they are securing Main Street. I support immigration, but done the right way,” said Scott Milton, a Northfield resident in Northampton for work.

“We have plenty of homeless, we should take care of these people first. Talk about humanity when (protesters) walked by dozens of homeless who don’t even know where they’ll be sleeping tonight.”

But support was generally strong.

“May Day tradition is it’s a workers’ day. Over the years the U.S tried to make Labor Day that day to divest from the global workers’ day, but we got together today for workers’ rights,” said Hector Colon, 64, immigrant and Northampton resident.

Worldwide events

Workers and activists marked May Day around the world with defiant rallies and marches for better pay and working conditions.

Police detained 70 people in Istanbul as they tried to march. Garment workers in Cambodia defied a government ban to demand higher wages, and businesses in Puerto Rico were boarded up as the U.S. territory braced for a huge strike over austerity measures. In Paris, police fired tear gas and used clubs on rowdy protesters at a march that included calls to defeat far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

In the U.S., thousands of people from New England to the Midwest to the West Coast chanted, picketed and protested as demonstrations raged against Trump’s immigration policies along with the traditional May Day marching in favor of labor.

Actions began at 7 a.m. outside Northampton High School as Families with Power held its second walkout in support of immigrant workers. At 1:30 p.m., people met in front of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, then marched to City Hall, where speakers would tell their stories and experiences in both Spanish and English.

Speakers highlighted concerns over conditions for immigrant workers. Poor conditions often go unreported because employers threaten to call ICE on the workers. Poor business practices range from dangerous working conditions to long hours, tip stealing, sexual harassment and insufficient pay.

“I left my children and a poor country without enough money to pay for education. You can’t imagine the joy when I was able to send my children $100,” an immigrant who gave only his first name, Carlos, said. “I was working picking up trash and bottles to send money to my family.”

At the same time, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory reaffirming her commitment to protecting worker rights.

“Today, my office is sending a message: if you’re being threatened by your employer, our laws protect you.” Healey stated.

The advisory can be found on the attorney general’s website in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese as well as English.

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