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Organizations unite for peaceful march on International Workers Day

LOS ANGELES — Thousands of people took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles May 1 to protest the policies of President Donald Trump during his first 100 days in office.

Protestors gathered at 11 a.m. in MacArthur Park, where they marched east at noon down Wilshire Boulevard to Grand Park and City Hall in recognition of International Workers’ Day.

Among the organizations taking part in the march were the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Black Lives Matter, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, TRUST South LA, the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, United Teachers Los Angeles and dozens more.

It marked the first time in more than 10 years there has been such unity among organizers of May Day marches. Organizers predicted that more than 100,000 people would participate, but the crowd fell well short of that goal.

Los Angeles police did not give an official crowd estimate, but authorities told reporters at the scene they were estimating around 15,000 participants.

“This is probably five times larger than last year, but it’s not as big as 2006,” Stuart Kwoh, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, told City News Service. “It is definitely 30,000 to 40,000 people, I heard.”

Gozi Anyanwu, a fifth grade teacher at Hudnall Elementary in Inglewood, said she marched because May Day is a day of coming together.

“I’m here to celebrate teachers, students, parents, families, working people,” said Anyanwu, a first-time participant at the march and an educator for 18 years. “I love my students, I love my parents, I love my school and I’m here to march for them.”

Lola Smallwood, co-founder of the LA Black Worker Center, said that the organization has always supported the march, but felt like this year was especially important to unify with the immigrant rights struggle.

“We’re here today representing the new era of worker rights organizing that brings immigrant workers and black workers together for justice,” Smallwood said. “This kind of unity is really important.

A woman holds up a sign opposing President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. (Photo by Dennis J. Freeman)

“Black families have been torn apart by governmental policies, black families have been devastated by economic policies, black families have been treated less than human beings for a very long time in this country,” she added, calling the black community a “canary in the mine.”

For Paula Minor, a former administrative worker for the city of Los Angeles and college counselor, the day was an opportunity to highlight the serious problems employees face today.

“The majority of workers are low paid, the number of jobs are shrinking … and the number of jobs for African Americans are greatly shrinking, so I think it’s important to stand up,” Minor said. “We think that our knowledge and experience of struggle in Los Angeles in this country is really important. [We need] to connect that black struggle with the immigrant rights struggle.”

Since retiring, Minor said she has dedicated all of her time to Black Lives Matter.

Nan Whitfield, a public defender for the county, felt that she needed to march to send a message that “we are united and will never be divided.”

“I just love it here because of all the diversity,” Whitfield said. “Different ages, different races, different ethnic groups. This is America, right here, on the streets of L.A., and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

For William Gonzalez, who served two years in Vietnam as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, the march was about recognizing the more than 100,000 American soldiers that have been deported.

“Donald Trump and his administration are deporting veterans and I don’t like that,” Gonzalez said.

Georgina Serrano, who is unemployed and marched with TRUST South LA, marched for worker’s rights and affordable housing.

“I’ve been homeless for more than two years, sleeping on my friend’s couch,” Serrano said. “I think there’s an incredible need for affordable housing, and also for the homeless people who are using the city as a reserve, which affects everybody.”

After the 2.3-mile march, protesters rallied in front of City Hall and were greeted with live performances by Inner City Dwellers and Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine.

Edward Coggon, a retired attorney investigator, took refuge from the heat beneath a tree after the march.

“If you have people being herded like animals from South America to Canada, anybody that’s ever been in church for a couple of minutes, knows that that kind of crap is wrong,” he said about why he marched.

Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke from a stage outside City Hall telling the crowd ‘here in Los Angeles, we show love is stronger than hate.’ (Photo by Dennis J. Freeman)

Mayor Eric Garcetti and representatives of participating organizations took to the stage at City Hall to share messages of resistance and unity.

“Los Angeles, we define you by what’s in your heart, not by what’s on your face, not by what’s in your pocket,” Garcetti said to the crowd of thousands. “Here in Los Angeles, we show love is stronger than hate, and it matters less who’s in the White House. It matters who’s in this house.”

As Garcetti addressed the immigrant workers and the continual threat they face under the current administration, protesters chanted: “Eric Garcetti, declare sanctuary!” The chant was in reference to the mayor’s hesitancy to declare Los Angeles a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.

Police set up a skirmish line to separate the pro- and anti-Trump forces in the Civic Center area. Both sides shouted back and forth, often using profanities, but there were no reports of any physical confrontations.

One person was reportedly arrested for burning an American flag. There were no other reports of arrests.