When People March
When people march, especially in such a powerful, spontaneous, and non-violent way, as thousands did
on April 10, 2006, unjust social structures begin to tremble, and eventually collapse.
Text and photograph by Eduardo Barraza
Phoenix, Arizona – April 15, 2006 - The segment of Grand Avenue that stretches from 7th to 19th Avenue
is not as busy or transited, compared to many main avenues in Phoenix. Plenty of dilapidated and
abandoned buildings, a burned motel, and empty lots make this section of Grand a rather desolated area
where homeless, hustlers, and people on bikes are at times the only thing that bring some action to this
wide, unattractive, and obscure section of what’s really part of US 60.
Along this mile, emerging art galleries like “The Trunk Space” rise close to “The Henry Company Liquor
and Grocery,” an old convenience store frequented mostly by people looking to buy not groceries but
beer. At least half a dozen churches like the “Phoenix Inner City Church” and “Roca de Salvación” thrive
nearby the “Smoke Shop” and “Bikini Cocktails,” all looking for souls trying to quench different kinds of
thirsts. The vibrant-painted tire shops and used-car dealerships that compete for attention in a tough
zone for businesses, are perhaps just about the only colors that stand out in the middle of this rundown
A much, much smaller ‘business’ takes claim in the middle of an empty lot right behind “Llantera del
Norte:” a homeless man that has piled up a mountain of stuff in a grocery’s cart, including traditional
products such as bags filled with discarded aluminum cans, and innovative ones, like used and old bike
tires and tubes. Walking across the lot, the man heads to a nearby recycling place. Most of the few
motorists who drive through this mile don’t pay any attention to him, rushing either toward 7th or 19th,
but rarely stopping along this stretch that becomes even more desolate in the area directly under an
underpass of Interstate 10.
This mile of apparent calmness became paradoxically the setting of the historic and multitudinous April
10th march. The usual boredom of this area, only altered by the whistle of the train crossing McDowell
Road, was shaken by the imposing passing and the uproar of thousands and thousands of human
beings marching toward the Capitol in search of an immigration reform. Nothing or nobody could have
predicted, not even a few months ago, that one of the most solitary areas of Phoenix was to become the
route of what was estimated to be 150 to 200 thousand people. Never before, and perhaps never again,
will such a disregarded spot in Phoenix be the scenario of what became the largest, single and peaceful
demonstration in Arizona.
A deeper dimension of amazement unlocks when we think that just a year ago, a concentration of people
of this magnitude was literally unachievable. How was it possible to gather this huge amount of people in
one event? To understand this, we need to think within a new context of historic relevance. To think of a
march of these proportions in Phoenix with an 80’s or 90’s mentality is not possible. We need to see this
event within a new historic framework, and recognize that Phoenix is not the same, that it has changed,
and that it did, to an extent, unexpectedly. The resistance to accept this reality in many makes evident
that the demographic shift caught them by surprise. For those who are part of this rising social
movement, for the thousands of demonstrators, there was surprise as well, but they incubated it,
perhaps unknowingly, for years. Giving birth to their demands in such an impressive way was the result
of a latent process whose time has come.
A march of people like the one that took place on March 24th, and more evidently the April 10th march, is
only attainable when the sentiment of a marginal people has been contained within for a long time. It
develops inside, imperceptible for mainstream society, but eventually overflows, uncontainable. The
thousands –millions across the United States– of men and women who have been in this state,
particularly without legal documents, who have worked, and being partially and covertly accepted, had
become tired of the ambivalent attitude of the community that accepts their labor but denies them legal
status. Many of them, undisputable good, hard-working, and passive men and women, are so
interweaved in the social fabric of this country, that sooner or later were going to realize the two-
facedness of a society that accepts them and rejects them. And that an assertive action was needed.
When people march, especially in such a powerful, spontaneous, and non-violent way, as thousands did
on Monday, unjust social structures begin to tremble, and eventually collapse. A people’s movement
forces a society to be confronted with itself, and to do what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared: "that this
nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed…that all men are created equal.” But equality,
after four decades since King’s words, continues to be an ideal hard to sell in 2006. So thus, many
believe the undocumented individuals, those who composed the majority of the marching crowd, the
ones who did not enter the country through the door of legality, have no right to march for rights.
Perhaps they are missing the whole point. For those who get the point, it makes absolute sense, even
when they may oppose an immigration reform: a marcher who already has a right has no need to march.
Another striking aspect of these marches is that thousands of people have mobilized as one, practically,
fundamentally, and philosophically without a true and genuine leader. This is a leaderless movement, a
people’s movement. This evokes the biblical parable: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on
them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” There are organizers, but
not a philosopher who can shape the movement, and lead the people toward a common goal. The
people express their opinions in many different directions. They continue to wear out the “Si se puede”
chant because no social movement’s philosopher has coined a new, powerful phrase to summarize the
struggle. On top of this, the organizers, and even the people, are divided culturally and linguistically.
Some can’t speak Spanish correctly; others have difficulty with English. A group starts to idolize some
organizers, but fails to identify with long time Mexican-American leaders. Some adhere and follow the
latter, and reject the former. Can a movement with these characteristics prevail?
In spite of all these circumstances, people started to show up for the march –one by one, in groups,
entire families– at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. By Noon, the coliseum grounds were packed, as well as
the corners where Grand, 19th Avenue and McDowell intersect. They were almost as many United States
flags as there were people. The multitude was waiting to begin the march in perfect order, mostly quiet,
except when, ineffectively, the organizers and some entertainers tried to make them lift up their voices.
Days before, some people who opposed the march were wishing for rain to ruin the march; conversely,
there was no rain, but an immense cloud that some people believe was a godsend. The train whistle was
heard a couple of times. Some of the marchers thought the engineer was saluting them, but the whistle
blow is a standard procedure when the train is going through McDowell. The people cheered anyway.
The number of people overcame the march’s volunteers, but their orderly behavior made up for the lack
of enough helpers.
The march began shortly after 1:00 PM. People inside the coliseum’s grounds became trapped for several
minutes. Because the crowd outside was so thick, it took a while before people could get out to the
street. In a matter of minutes, people started walking down, southeast bound on Grand Avenue, toward
7th. The usually quiet avenue became a loud one when, intensely and passionately, people began
chanting. By the time the multitude approached the freeway’s underpass, the view was already
impressive. The strength marchers represented was felt powerfully on the streets. On a sidewalk, three
Mexican-American elders, two men and one woman, who were watching the march expressed their
opinion about illegal immigrants by saying in Spanish: “the dirt should go down the drain.” Another
couple, both on wheelchairs, cheered from the sidewalk as well. Two young men, both Anglo, got on top
of their art gallery’s roof for a better view; one was smiling, cheering the marchers on; the other one had
an expression of disbelief. Police officers were attentive, but to an extent bored: the marchers did not
give them any extra work.
Most carried flags, some big enough to be held by a group of people and seen from the news helicopters
above. The cloud helped enormously to decrease the heat. The mile’s length from 19th to 7th Avenue
was too much for some kids and people who almost called it quits. When people finally reached 7th
Street, the smell of fried chicken from Church’s distracted some marchers. At the intersection of Grand,
7th Avenue and Van Buren, the marchers split. Some kept going straight on Van Buren toward 3rd
Avenue, following the organizers, who detoured to pass by City Hall and greet Mayor Phil Gordon. Many
were confused since the original plan was to go south on 7th to Washington, and then head toward the
Capitol. Some followed this original route. Individuals scattered even before reaching 7th and started
walking south straight to Washington. Some used Van Buren, walking westbound toward the Capitol as
well. At one point, it was evident that marchers felt confused, and of course many were already tired.
Some went through Adams, others through the sidewalks on Washington. Most made it to the Capitol.
There, an army of television crews and trucks were profusely covering the march. As soon as some
reached the Capitol, they set out back to the coliseum. People used any street heading north to reach
Grand. Toward the end of the march, people were walking everywhere. No major or relevant incidents
were reported. That night, news anchors were reporting an amazingly orderly, peacefully, and of course,
The impact of the march, from a social and demographic perspective, was astonishing. No one in their
right mind can ignore the strong presence that immigrants represent in Arizona, and the rest of the
country. However, the influence it had on legislators appears to have been of minimal effect. The minds
of senators who oppose immigration reform were not changed, perhaps only became “more intense”
after the march, as one radio caller put it. Just two days after the march, they approved a senate bill
that, if implemented as law, would charge immigrants with trespassing, a Class 1 misdemeanor. This
sends a clear message to those who are here without documents, that it will take more than marches to
have an effect on politicians. Among immigrants, there’s uncertainty about how the march helped or didn’
t help their cause. Organizers are now calling for a one day economic boycott on May 1st.
A few days later after the march, the one mile stretch of Grand Avenue has fully returned to its regular
and quite aspect. The homeless man with the loaded cart was not seen during the march, but he has
resumed his routine as well. On Good Friday, April 14, he was spotted in the same empty lot, checking
the tire of a man’s bike, perhaps trying to sell him one of the many he carries in his cart, filled with the
assorted stuff he finds on the streets. A brand new, small American flag noticeably sticks out of his cart,
most likely a remnant of the march. The few companies along this now historic segment of Grand, even
the homeless man, are back doing business as usual.
Published by the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues in Phoenix, Arizona
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