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May Day protesters march through downtown L.A. amid gloomy skies and drizzle

Lupe stood behind a flat-top cart in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, carefully turning sizzling bacon-wrapped hot dogs as scores of May Day demonstrators chanted nearby.

For the middle-aged woman and other street vendors on the economic margins, it’s a good day when large crowds turn out for a protest. May Day, which has drawn hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the past, traditionally has been one of those good days.

But on Tuesday, Lupe, who did not give her last name because she is in the country without legal documentation, couldn’t help but be underwhelmed.

“There are not enough people today,” she said in Spanish as her hot dogs cooked alongside piles of onions and jalapeños.

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May Day has long been a key event in Los Angeles for a protest mash-up of political causes, notably worker and immigrant rights. Although this year’s marches — set beneath gloomy, drizzling skies— drew thousands of spirited participants, the crowds were notably smaller than in years past.

Some blamed the weather, with temperatures in the mid-50s. Some said it was bad timing, being in the middle of the workweek. Others wondered whether there was a bit of protest fatigue compared with last year, when the Trump presidency was new and people seemed to be more fired up.

For the vendors, bigger is always better.

“I want to work in areas where people are open to taking my money,” said Andy Abraham Arias Alvarado, 25, who has been a street vendor for a few months. In a way, he said, his business on Tuesday depended on people being willing to show up to express their grievances against Trump.

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As chants filled the air near Hill Street, Alvarado shouted at a potential customer: “Hey, you want something to eat?”

“Yeah!” the man replied, sealing the deal. Alvarado grinned as he grabbed a hot dog and slapped it into a bun.

Legalizing street vending was among the hodgepodge of causes for which demonstrators marched. Others protested the shootings of unarmed black people by police and violence against transgender people. Many voiced their frustrations against President Trump’s immigration policies and called for an end to deportations.

“God Loves Dreamers #HereToStay,” read one man’s sign.

“Keep Families Together,” said another.

Labor union members in matching purple T-shirts blew noisemakers. People danced to Spanish-language music. A man wearing camouflage stood silently, holding a cardboard sign with an image of Trump wearing a Nazi uniform and Hitler mustache.

A small group of Trump supporters gathered on a street corner near the march in the afternoon. Some wore “Make America Great Again” hats. Others had American flags draped around their shoulders.

When the larger crowd marched past the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters on Spring Street, some yelled expletives about cops. Streaming past City Hall, some pounded on drums and chanted, “Si, se puede!” As they moved past a federal building, others waved the Mexican flag.

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​​​​​Gabby Bradley, who has attended May Day protests every year since 2005, had worried the gloomy weather might deter people.

“Last year, there were more people here,” said Bradley, 43, of Redondo Beach, as a cool breeze pushed back her hair while she stood in Pershing Square. “President Trump had just become president, and people were eager to express themselves.”

Scenes from the May Day march in Los Angeles.

Still, she said, the crowd was just as energetic.

“People are looking at different ways of organizing,” she said. “Some are telling people to register to vote. Others are phone banking. As long as we continue to have a presence, it’s a good thing.”

Nearby, Alejandra Mendez, a 19-year-old-street vendor and mother of two, grabbed a hot dog, placed it in a bun and sold it for $5 to a customer. She has been a street vendor for three years and came to the protests to sell food and show solidarity with the demonstrators.

“The price of rent, gas and food is going up,” she said. “If people are working, they should be able to get fair wages.”

Mendez, who came to L.A. from El Salvador in 2006, is in the process of getting her citizenship, she said. In the current political climate, she said, it’s more important than ever to support the legalization of immigrants.

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Still, she said, she hoped turnout this year would have been better.

“It looks empty,” Mendez said as the march was getting started.

April Tejeda, 17, of West Covina said she had missed school the last two years to serve bacon-wrapped hot dogs to the big May Day crowds. She had hoped to sell out by early afternoon but still had half her supply left.

Brian Kaufman, 40, of Norwalk attended his first May Day march last year, when the crowd was larger and electric. It was just a few months after Trump’s inauguration, and the fear of his policies gave way to action in the street, he said.

“There was a feeling in the air that we had to stand up and say something,” Kaufman said.

He guessed the weather could have contributed to this year’s thinner crowd.

“But it’s just as loud and just as passionate,” he said.

Francisco Sanchez, a lawyer for the International Institute of Los Angeles, marched to support his clients who are here illegally and who fear deportation.

“My parents are from Mexico, and this march connects me to a long narrative,” said Sanchez, 35, of Boyle Heights. “I did not struggle like my parents did and those we represent. We are a nation of immigrants, and we should stay that way.”

Sanchez said the Trump administration and its policies add hardships to many working-class families trying to make a better life.

“Today is a reminder that we face a lot of threats,” he said. “And that we have allies.”

Alejandro Trujillo, who teaches high school government classes in El Sereno, said that his school gave students and staff the day off and that he would have come in rain or shine.

Trujillo, 30, said he has made it a point to teach students about worker rights and encourages them to use their voice to participate in civic affairs.

“There’s all kinds of rights such as healthcare and prison and immigration that need reform.… A lot of people want their voices heard.”

3046372_ME_0501_May_Day_IK
May Day march and rally began at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times )

melissa.etehad@latimes.com | Twitter: @melissaetehad

angel.jennings@latimes.com | Twitter: @angeljennings

hailey.branson@latimes.com | Twitter: @haileybranson

Times staff writers Ruben Vives and Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.


UPDATES:

6:10 p.m.: This story was updated with additional details from the protest.

5 p.m.: This story was updated with additional interviews with protesters.

1:05 p.m.: This story was updated with interviews from the May Day march.

This article was originally published at 3 a.m.


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