May Day 2010 Protest March

I emerged from the subway stop at Pershing Square just as the march was getting started. It had taken me longer to get there than I planned, and I exited from the depths to bright sunlight and bright white shirts and an overwhelming number of American flags.

Immigration reform protestors wearing white shirts and carrying lots of flags

The organizers had requested that particpants wear white shirts, and everyone figured out on their own that it's a good idea to wave American flags if you were born in some other country and you're bitching about this one. If the ratio of American flags to participants was greater than 1 to 1, it's because of past criticisms of similar marches as anti-American.

Immigration reform protestors wearing white shirts and carrying lots of flags

The first moments I popped out on Broadway were electric. I'd never been in an atmosphere like it before. There were more people than I'd ever seen in one place before, linking arms, shouting, angry at the injustices they saw and proud to be marching in protest.  I got goosebumps from the experience, feeling the electricity flowing from the protestors; the crowd was energized, self-confident, angry, and empowered, and I was deeply moved by the experience.  It was the friendliest large crowd I've ever been in. People readily tried to move out the way to let others pass, and I found a smile was almost always returned with no hesitation. People seemed genuinely thankful that I was there photographing, and behaved politely and compassionately to me and everyone around them.

Although the march was overwhelming hispanic, it was not exclusively so -- there were people of every race and ethnicity there (our immigration policies dismay people of every nationality) and I never once felt unwelcome or unwanted there.  There were a large number of children there -- people had seemed to bring the whole family -- and, while the younger ones were a little puzzled about what it was all about, it was clear that protesting was a family affair.

Marcher in a crowd waving an American flag

The march ended near Los Angeles City Hall, where there was a platform set up, and musicians performed protest songs for the crowd.  Towards the stage we were packed about as tightly as it's possible to be packed, and the crowd stayed polite and helpful. This was an astonishing experience for me, largely because my other experiences with being packed that closely were punk rock concerts. Not getting elbowed in the head kept puzzling me, until I remembered where I was.

Once the band finished the speeches began, and what had been an energized group of protestors became a bored, hot, and crowded group of people just starting to realize that their feet hurt and they had to go to the bathroom.  Our illustrious mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, spoke, giving roughly identical speaches in English and Spanish. His Spanish is only somewhat better than mine -- my accent is better at times -- and our mayor is equally uninspiring in both languages. People almost immediately began to drift away.

I heard varying estimates for the size of the crowd, from 50,000 up to 250,000, and I have no way of knowing how many people were there. But you could look down Broadway for blocks and blocks and see nothing but people, crowded in, and red and white flags, and white shirts off into the distance.  It's obviously impossible to photograph 100,000 people from ground level, but I was very pleased with some of the portraits I was able to take at the march. I think they give the flavor of who was there and what it was like to be there much more than a shot of a hundred thousand dots taken from a helicopter.

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