Gearing Up, and Girding for, Protests
As organizers and police made final preparations Sunday for immigration protests and possible boycotts around the nation today, residents and business owners in the path of marches in Los Angeles were bracing with a mix of excitement, anxiety and even some anger.
Los Angeles police expect the largest of the demonstrations to occur this afternoon on Wilshire Boulevard. Authorities are preparing for hundreds of thousands to march down one of L.A.'s most storied streets, following a route between MacArthur Park and the Miracle Mile that’s a microcosm of the city’s ethnic and economic diversity.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. May 3, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 03, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Protest preparations: An article Monday in Section A about Wilshire Boulevard preparing for immigration protests misidentified the Conga Room as the Congo Room.
Many businesses along Wilshire plan to close for most of the day -- some so that workers can join the protests, others in hopes of avoiding potential problems. Parents were figuring out how to pick up their children from school, while some residents -- such as Ted Moreta of Hancock Park -- were getting out of town altogether.
Moreta, who lives on a tree-lined street near La Brea Avenue, was planning to spend Sunday night with family in Orange County to avoid the expected gridlock on his commute to his job at a scuba diving training company in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Despite the inconvenience, the 42-year-old said he supports the demonstrators. “It goes to show what America is all about.”
Across the country, immigrants and supporters planned to form human chains in New York City, and marches were planned in Orlando, Fla.; Allentown, Pa.; Louisville, Ky.; and Seattle. Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia planned to deliver a homily about immigration reform during a noon Mass. And in Tucson, an organizer urged “no buying at all,” not even phone calls to Mexico.
Demonstrations are also planned around Southern California. Among the cities expected to see protests are Pasadena, Pomona, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Riverside, San Diego, Oxnard, Huntington Park, Long Beach and San Bernardino.
“A lot of people don’t have the means to get to Los Angeles, especially students,” said Deborah Vasquez, executive director of the American Latino Voter Education Fund, who is helping organize events beginning at 2 p.m. in Santa Ana at the Plaza of the Flags at Santa Ana Boulevard and Flower Street.
Although there are differences of opinion among those participating in the marches, there is general support for reform that would include a path toward legalization for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. The vast majority oppose a bill the House of Representatives passed in December that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and those who help them. The bill would also beef up enforcement at the border, including adding 700 miles of fencing.
Most also agree that a way should be found for undocumented immigrants to be able to live and work in this country legally without constant fear of deportation. There is disagreement over whether those participating today should stay home from work and school and not buy or sell anything.
In separate news conferences, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Cardinal Roger Mahony reiterated their plea that students not take part in the day’s activities until after school.
Villaraigosa also warned motorists to prepare for gridlock in the affected areas. “Democracy is not always convenient, and it’s unavoidable that Angelenos will be inconvenienced by these protests,” he said.
A spokesman for Villaraigosa said the mayor has no plans to take part in the marches but will monitor them from City Hall. He was also scheduled to fly to Texas to urge National Football League officials to bring a team to Los Angeles. The mayor has not supported a boycott but has said that it is a personal decision.
After presiding over Sunday’s 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Mahony also said that boycotting was up to individuals.
“I just simply ask them [boycotters], whatever they do, to do it in a way that is peaceful and that helps change the hearts and minds of Americans in a positive way,” he said.
One march in Los Angeles is to begin at noon along Broadway from Olympic Boulevard to City Hall. Officials expect many of those protesters to then head to MacArthur Park for the much larger march planned for the afternoon down Wilshire to La Brea Avenue.
The Wilshire march will begin in the dense immigrant community around MacArthur Park and head west past the office towers of Mid-Wilshire and Koreatown. It will pass the tony estates of Hancock Park before ending in a neighborhood known for high-end furniture stores and nightspots such as Campanile and the Congo Room.
Although many said they support immigrant rights, there is debate about whether the march will be too disruptive.
“It’s an inconvenience because this also happens to be the community we serve,” said Sana Katz, manager of Westlake Pharmacy.
The store is a few blocks from MacArthur Park, where for decades old apartments have served as an entry point for immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador and other Latin American countries.
As an immigrant from Russia, Katz said she can empathize with illegal immigrants’ struggles. But she worries about her customers, many of whom are on low incomes. The march falls on the first of the month, right when some customers need refills for their prescriptions. She and her staff spent last week trying to fill prescriptions early so they could be delivered before the crowds arrive today and streets are closed.
Across from Westlake Pharmacy, hot dogs and onions sizzled on the wheeled cart of Jorge Analuisa. The Ecuadorean vendor, who has been in the United States illegally since 1988, said he’s fully prepared to lose his usual $60 in sales today to participate in the march.
Analuisa was one of an estimated half a million demonstrators who gathered in downtown L.A. on March 25, which officials called one of the largest protests in city history. He believes the May Day demonstration will help spotlight the plight of illegal immigrants such as him.
“I won’t earn, but I won’t lose either,” Analuisa said in Spanish.
About a mile west, the march enters the Mid-Wilshire district, home to some of the city’s most famous architectural landmarks, including the Art-Deco Bullock’s Wilshire building, the domed Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the green-tiled Wiltern Theater.
Many of the ground-floor businesses along this stretch will also be closed -- and not just out of solidarity with the marchers. Several merchants expressed concerns about vandalism or even violence, some noting that the weekend marked the anniversary of the 1992 L.A. riots, which devastated their neighborhood.
Leslie Hong said the real estate school she works with will shut down and roll out a large gate that encloses its front parking lot. Although she knows the demonstration is supposed to be peaceful, she can’t help thinking about the downtown liquor store her family lost during the riots.
Jonny Lee, 30, said he doubts problems will occur, pointing out that organizers have taken care in previous marches to make sure things run smoothly. But he said he still has vivid memories of looters sacking shops in Koreatown in 1992. So he’s closing his computer business early and staying around to keep guard. “With that many people going through here, you never know what’s going to happen,” Lee said. “All it would take would be one or two people to say something stupid.”
Lee, who legally moved from Korea when he was 9, has mixed feelings on immigration. He said it would be impractical to prosecute and deport all undocumented immigrants, but felt providing amnesty to all would just promote more illegal immigration. He was also unconvinced that the march and boycott would have its intended effect.
“Just because a bunch of people come in and protest doesn’t mean they’ll get what they want,” Lee said.
Hair salon owner Hanna Yi praised the marchers’ ideals, agreeing that many businesses -- though not her own -- rely on low-wage illegal immigrants. But she’s unhappy about shutting down today, saying she’ll lose about $2,000 in sales. Her employees will receive only partial pay. “The idea is good,” Yi said of the march. “But business-wise, we don’t like it.”
Farther west on Wilshire, beyond Koreatown, the side-streets are dotted by the regal mansions of Hancock Park.
There, residents were scrambling to deal with logistics, such as how to pick up children from school or run errands.
“It impacts everyone negatively who lives in this area,” said Hancock Park resident Gail Gardner, 58, who lives a block from Wilshire Boulevard and canceled the medical appointment her husband had scheduled for today. “We’re just going to burrow in.”
Gardner criticized the city for permitting the march and said she doesn’t support its purpose. “People should be here legally and should go through the proper channels,” she said.
Patricia Lombard, who lives in the gated enclave of Fremont Place, said some of her neighbors might be less than thrilled about the likely traffic problems.
But she said she believes in the cause of immigrant rights, noting that her family has been going through the difficult process of helping their housekeeper gain legal status.
So today, Lombard plans to pick her children up early from school. Then, she said, she will cheer on the marchers.
“It’s time for a change,” said Lombard, who is president of the Fremont Place Assn. “I’m hoping that the United States gets off its butt and does something.”
Times staff writers Carla Rivera and Seema Mehta and the Associated Press contributed to this report.