New England activists had what may have been their biggest opportunity to thrust immigration front and center this past weekend — and some local activists are disappointed that the movement didn't make a better showing.
The flyer called for a Copley Square protest "to repeal Arizona's SB1070 at the National Governors Association annual meeting," which Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, was to attend. The rally's organizers, the Washington, DC–based ANSWER Coalition, had hoped to attract 1000 protesters, but a failure to reach out to local activists left the actual number at about half that.
"They didn't engage us, the bases," said Yessenia Alfaro, director of organizing at Chelsea Collaborative, a 20-year-old organization that serves about a 1000 Latinos in Chelsea and surrounding areas. "I know there were flyers handed out during the Fourth of July weekend, because some of my members came to me, showed me the flyer, and asked why our logo wasn't there. We didn't know anything about a protest until then."
According to its press release, ANSWER Coalition had summoned about 20 organizations, including groups from Connecticut and Rhode Island. ANSWER spokesperson Jennifer Zaldana said that about a dozen local immigrant groups, including the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and Proyecto Hondureño, were invited.
The clear disconnect between the national folks and the local muscle was disappointing and frustrating, especially since the crowd that congregated was small — definitely less than 400 people. Those who did show up under the blazing sun that was suddenly followed by heavy rain were met by a much smaller but equally zesty group of Brewer supporters, bearing signs that read I LOVE JAN and ILLEGAL CRIMALIENS GO HOME [sic]. Members of both camps clashed several times, calling each other "bigots" and "racists."
Inside the meeting, according to the New York Times, rank-and-file Democrats were warning Obama administration officials that immigration is becoming a toxic issue in statewide elections. If local grassroots organizers were hoping to change their minds, they may have squandered their best chance. The Times and the Boston Globe buried brief mentions of the protest in larger stories — and at least in Boston, the nightly TV news devoted more time to protests by local cops taking aim at Deval Patrick outside Fenway Park.
Lucy Pineda, of Latinos Unidos de Massachusetts, an immigrant group in Everett, felt her members needed more time to plan for the protest.
"It's definitely a shame," said Pineda, adding that only 14 people from LUMA, including her own children, had joined in the Saturday protest. "We could have bused in a lot of people."
"The worst part is that immigrants here are enraged about this issue and would have responded to this," added Alfaro. "What's done is done. But now, what's next?"