At Silicon Valley’s march for International Workers Day, activists echoed a recurring theme: that the concerns of laborers overlap with those of all marginalized people. Organizers of San Jose’s May Day rally said Monday’s event also took on greater urgency because of President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric and attacks on civil rights.
“Trump showed us that it’s so easy to play people against each other,” said Huy Tran, a 34-year-old attorney for the Justice at Work Law Group. “But I think this movement is a way to show that we’re all part of a bigger struggle.”
Huy joined activists who marched from the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose’s East Side to the SAP Center in downtown. Before the procession took off down Alum Rock Avenue, people cheered and clapped as speakers, poets and dancers took turns on the stage. The crowd responded periodically by chanting in unison.
“Get up, get down, there’s a migrant movement in our town,” they shouted.
“When our immigrants are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
“The people united will never be defeated.”
Aztec dancers elaborately adorned in feathers led the way from the East Side to the heart of the city. Trailing behind them, a parade of hundreds that swelled into a conflux of about 3,000 as the evening wore on. One group of marchers carried a huge puppet-like effigy of Trump—orange face distorted in a wrinkled grimace, garish yellow hair, abnormally long red tie.
Outside City Hall, activists took bats to “walls of alternative facts,” paper banners scrawled with falsehoods uttered by the Trump administration.
Throughout the day, protest signs, costumes and homemade T-shirts inspired countless selfies and snapshots. Twenty-seven-year-old Jayden Lee wore the transgender pride flag as a cape. A woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty raised a torch in her right hand and in her left, a sign declaring that “no human being is illegal.”
Students from the Roberto Cruz High School Leadership Academy held up bright and bold-lettered handmade signs.
“Something smells bad in the White House,” one read. “We should flush it.”
“Yes, he Klans!”
“We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!!”
“We are not immigrants, we are the original Americans.”
Roberto Cruz High Principal Yesenia Marquez said a lot of her students were too afraid to show up to class after the November election. But the school held a town hall and a know-your-rights training that empowered the students to act.
“Supporting our community means supporting immigrants,”Marquez said.
Elsewhere, a poster took a shot at a tone-deaf commercial that tried to co-opt political resistance movements to sell soda. “We need papers, not Pepsi,” it read.
“Justice is the opposite of just ICE,” quipped another sign, referencing Trump’s orders to ramp up U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations.
Rabbi Melanie Aron’s sign bore a phrase oft-repeated at the march, “No human being is illegal.” She said she attended with two other rabbis on behalf of a Jewish social justice organization called Bend the Arc.
“For Jews, supporting immigrant rights comes partly from an identification with our history,” she said. “As a people, we have been refugees, we have been displaced and persecuted. But this is also about basic issues of justice.”
People should have the right to keep their families intact, she said, as well as the right to housing and health care, to a dignified job and the chance to build healthy, stable lives.
“For some of us, it was a struggle just to be here,” said Maria Guerrero, a 28-year-old barista at Intel. “Some people were scared to take the day off work.”
Major tech companies that allowed employees to take the day off to protest had to be pressured to extend that commitment to vendors as well. Dozens of lawyers across the country—including Ruth Silver-Taube, of the Silicon Valley Wage Theft Coalition—offered to represent pro bono workers whose employers retaliate against them for taking the day off to protest.
“Some people are still at risk,” Guerrero said. “Subcontractors are seen as less valuable.”
At least Guerrero had reason to celebrate, she said. Her union, Unite Here Local 19, ratified a contract two weeks ago that raised the wage floor to $15 an hour and included protections for immigrant workers. The labor deal marked the culmination of nearly 20 months of organizing.
Michael Sanchez, a Tesla worker on disability leave, said there’s a lot of fight left before he sees similar resolution at his workplace. Five years of 12-hour days installing underbody batteries at Tesla’s Fremont factory herniated two discs in his neck, leaving him in constant pain but with enough time to rally for stronger worker protections. But attempts to unionize 6,000 workers at the company’s East Bay facility have been met with intimidation and harassment, according the United Automobile Workers, which filed four complaints against Tesla with the National Labor Relations Board.
“We’re trying to build a union, but there’s that fear factor,” Sanchez said. “People are afraid to speak up.”
Jeff Powers, 73, said working conditions have deteriorated in the past two decades. When he became a passenger train conductor for Amtrak 20 years ago, he said, the crews were bigger and enjoyed more institutional support.
“The loss of worker protections have led to understaffing in the railroad industry,” he said. “Crews have shrunk, which follows the trends in other industries to require fewer people to do more work.”
Maricela Gutierrez, head of immigrant advocacy nonprofit SIREN, noted that South Bay labor activists have long championed immigration reform. But she said the coalition behind this year’s May Day demonstrations has never been more diverse, representing queer and transgender communities, religious and ethnic minorities, feminists, students, renters and every imaginable cross-section of the working class.
Supporting each one of those groups means resisting federal policies that exclude refugees and target undocumented immigrants, said Rev. Rowan Fairgrove, a member of the activist group Rise Up for Justice. It also means pushing for laws that protect tenants from eviction and make health care a basic right, said Tom Linebarger, a retired painter and affordable housing advocate.
“This community belongs to all of us,” Gutierrez added, “and we must band together in this political climate to push back against harmful policies from the federal administration that promote hate and fear.”
Nassim Nouri, a member of the Santa Clara County Green Party, said the same goes for environmental justice. She pointed to her sign, which named the party’s four core principles: social justice, ecology, democracy and peace.
“We can’t stand for one of these without the other,” she said. “We stand for democracy, so we can have peace, so we can protect our ecology and promote social justice.”