50,000 to March for Immigration Reform

The number 50,000 has been getting thrown around a lot by DNC protest planners. Recreate 68’s Mark Cohen has used the figure several times over the past year to estimate how many demonstrators his group could bring to Civic Center Park, while Adam Jung of Tent State (i.e. the Alliance for Real Democracy) says the city shouldn’t be surprised if 50,000 festival-goers/illegal campers show up to a series of concerts his group is throwing the week of the convention.

Today, an immigrant rights coalition called the We Are America Alliance held a press conference in front of the Colorado Democratic Party headquarters in the Santa Fe Arts District to announce plans to hold a march for immigration reform on Tuesday, August 26 through downtown Denver. The number of anticipated participants: 50,000.

Why 50,000? Is this magic number for protests realistic? On one hand, the amount seems like a low ball when compared to the 200,000 or more that showed up to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. But Denver is not New York and Barack Obama is definitely not George Bush. In fact, some organizers have expressed worry that the Obama nomination – with his anti-Iraq war stance and the whole first black president thing – could reduce their protester flood to a trickle. Maybe so, maybe not.

The We Are America organizers say this is not a protest against the Democrats – their platform on immigration is “awesome” – but a way to vocally encourage arriving politicians to further fight for reform, end ICE raids, tear down the boarder wall, etc. (Strangely, the organizers are not aware of any attempt to pull off a similar event in St. Paul for the Republican National Convention, which would make more sense.) And just in case turn-out doesn’t materialize in Denver, organizers are willing to hedge on the numbers game.

“Well, right now we’re saying anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000,” says Nita Gonzales, organizer and principal of West Denver school Escuela Tlatelolco Centro De Estudios.

But a 50,000-person count does seem solidly plausible for the immigrant rights groups, which proved themselves in May 2006 by pulling off an humongous 80,000 person rally downtown that completely shocked the local media (the non-Spanish-speaking media, at least). They could easily pass that figure if they’re able to get even a third of the undocumented population in the region to show up, not to mention from the surrounding states like California, New Mexico and Texas that Gonzales says organizers are currently working.

In fact, they hope to start the march from the same location they used in 2006: Viking Park across from North High School. They plan to head South on Speer Boulevard, past the Pepsi Center, and end at Sunken Gardens Park at West 8th Avenue. Unfortunately this doesn’t fit with the parade route the city has spent so much sweat and tears designating. The official route requires marchers to start at the State Capitol on Colfax and dogleg West toward the stadium. Gonzales hopes some kind of arrangement for a special route can be worked out. Making an exception would open a can of complaints from other protest groups, but surely it would be in the city’s advantage to avoid having tens-of-thousands of immigrants and their Latino-American (voter!) supporters end up in the culturally-significant Sunken Gardens rather than dumping them into the 50,000 square foot protest cage – er – “demonstration zone” being set up adjacent to the stadium.

This is especially true given that a segment of the marchers will likely be Democratic delegates themselves. A perfect example is District Three Councilman Paul Lopez (pictured), a DNC delegate who spoke at this morning’s press conference in support of the march. Lopez, a longtime labor activist who helped organize the massive May Day rally and who currently represents a district whose population is 70% Latino, has many forces pulling on his political coat tails. But he says his heart is telling him to participate in the march.

“I have to wait to see the [convention] schedule to make sure I can make it to the march,” he says. “But taking part in the convention is my first priority as a delegate.”

Gonzales even extended an invitation to Barack Obama. After all, what self-respecting Democrat doesn’t love a good protest? – Jared Jacang Maher

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Jared Jacang Maher

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