March 21, 2010: With crowd turnout twice the expected size, I squeezed my way toward the main stage to hear faith, labor, community, and immigrant leaders tell America why we need to reform immigration. However, the speeches were largely muffled by the chants of the thousands who rarely, if ever, have their voices heard.
Though I was frustrated at first by the rally's dynamic, I eventually understood that the deep cry for change, articulated by chants of "!Sí se puede!" (Yes we can!); "!Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" (Obama listen! We are in the struggle!); and "!El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!" (A united people and community shall never be defeated), was exactly the message America needed to hear. "Sí se puede," coincidentally the slogan of Obama's presidential campaign, is rooted in a deep hope that if America truly lives up to its full meaning, then anything is possible for the immigrant. The second: "!Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" stems from the civil rights tradition that "justice delayed is justice denied" and that "the greatest freedom in America is the right to protest for rights" (Dr. King). Lastly, "!El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!" while the most difficult to translate, is grounded in the two most prized institutions at home and abroad: our families and communities.
In many ways, Sunday's march was modeled after the 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," and I immediately felt the connection to King's dream as I saw black, brown, and white together hand in hand. The marchers were of a multitude of faiths, nationalities, ages, political ideologies, and sexual orientations, and they were united under a cause greater than their individual differences. Forty-seven years after King's "I have a Dream" speech, we marched under a new paradigm, one in which the assembly of more than 200,000 people (the vast majority of whom were immigrants and racial minorities) did not even instill the fear of violence. Instead, I witnessed children petting police dogs, perfect strangers taking photographs with arms around each other, and overwhelming jubilation.
Reflecting on the 1963 "March on Washington," Coretta Scott King stated that for a brief moment, the kingdom of heaven was present on Earth. The same was true this past Sunday.
Looking forward, we must acknowledge the hard work that still remains. We cannot forget that the way things are now must be reconciled with how they should be. Present immigration procedures continue to divide families, deport workers, underpay laborers, defer students' dreams, and offer no agency to those still living in the shadows. And so the call remains for activists and empathizers alike to, as Dr. King said, "continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive"; with the knowledge that "change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability" but (as Cory Booker adds) must be carried on the shoulders of servants; with the hope that someday God's kingdom will come; and with love for our fellow neighbor.
Marco Saavedra is a campaign intern for Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.