Thousands took to the streets throughout the Bay Area yesterday in support of immigration reform and workers’ rights on May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.
While the United States celebrates its Labor Day at the end of summer, more than 80 countries around the world celebrate their labor day on May 1. Activists in the Bay Area and across the United States used the day to draw attention to issues ranging from the Gang of Eight immigration proposal in Congress to a higher minimum wage.
In San Francisco, protesters marched from the Mission District to Civic Center Plaza, organized by a coalition of immigrants’ rights organizations, including the Cantonese, Latino and Filipino communities.
Self-identified undocumented immigrant Emmanuel Valenciano, 24, said he used to be afraid of deportation and was constantly worried about the future.
“We try to stay in the shadows,” he said. However, Valenciano, whose family is from the Philippines, is now urging others to mobilize.
He said he is marching to show that undocumented people are often criminalized and struggle because of a lack of job and financial security.
In Fresno, marchers waved red and black farmworker union flags on their march.
Organizer Leonel Flores had hoped for a bigger turnout, he told KQED’s Sasha Khokha. But in recent weeks, rumors have been flying in rural farmworker communities about immigration raids.
He said lawmakers in Congress can’t be talking about immigration reform and how they’re going to create a path to citizenship, while at the same time the government is still deporting people. They’re still pushing for programs where the police work with immigration agents, they’re still going after farmworkers and raiding restaurants where the cook is undocumented, Flores said.
San Jose demonstrators told KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler they were marching to make their demands clear to Congress — stop deportations, create a pathway to citizenship and enforce equal labor rights.
Zelica Rodriguez, policy and organizing director with the immigrant advocacy group Siren, said there’s still a lot of work to do.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” Rodriguez said. “It’s taken decades to get to this point, so people really need to get involved, send postcards, make calls, go to actions. It’s time to put the pressure.”
Another rally in Mountain View began an 11-day rolling hunger strike in support of undocumented immigrants.
In Oakland, protesters rallied for the “Fight for $15″ movement, which advocates for a $15 minimum wage.
Protest organizer Barucha Peller told SFGate.com that Oakland residents simply can’t get by on minimum wage.
“Oakland is talking about gentrifying and pulling in more businesses, but the workers themselves can’t survive in the money that they’re making,” Peller said.
KQED’s Deborah Svoboda photographed the march and rally in San Jose.
Slideshow: May Day march and rally in San Jose
Listen: KQED’s Sasha Khoka in Fresno and Steven Cuevas in Los Angeles report on California May Day rallies for The California Report:
KQED’s Sasha Khoka, Peter Jon Shuler, Rachael Marcus and the Bay City News contributed to this story.