Immigration Rally's Low Turnout Disappoints Advocates

Pablo Mendez of Camden, N.J., marches along Constitution Avenue with Ariana Mendez, his 8-month-old daughter.
Pablo Mendez of Camden, N.J., marches along Constitution Avenue with Ariana Mendez, his 8-month-old daughter. (Photos By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)

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By Darryl Fears and N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 8, 2006

A pro-immigration rally that promised to bring tens of thousands of marchers from across the nation to Washington yesterday managed to draw only a paltry number of demonstrators, raising questions about the movement's tactics and staying power.

With fewer than 5,000 people attending, organizers from other localities expressed two worries about the turnout: that they were losing the momentum built up by the huge marches in the spring, and that the movement's national organizers in Washington have lost touch with the people.

"I could have told you last week that there would not be that many people," said Ricardo Diaz, an organizer for A Day Without an Immigrant Coalition in Philadelphia. "Our meetings were low-energy."

Diaz said that the movement has failed to achieve any gains in Congress since the initial marches and that the people who attended them are disappointed.

"What did we have that was new?" he asked. "Why were we doing this?"

The We Are America Alliance of immigration rights groups billed the march as a post-Labor Day demonstration to show Congress that undocumented workers still want an immigration reform bill that would allow them to work in the country legally.

But, in contrast to spring's huge rallies -- which brought an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people to the streets of Washington, and even larger turnouts in Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix and Chicago -- yesterday's march was the latest in a string of protests that drew paltry crowds in the past week.

In anticipation of a crush of people, Metro had planned to start its rush-hour service an hour early, at 2 p.m. But by early afternoon, "there were not enough people in the system" to warrant the extra rush-hour service, and none was added, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.

Fifteen minutes before the march was scheduled to begin, only a few hundred demonstrators were milling before the stage.

Despite the poor showing, Deepak Bhargaba, executive director of the Center for Community Change, which helps fund and organize the alliance, said yesterday's march was important because it propelled the movement forward.

"I will say honestly that we continue to be amazed that people come by the thousands in spite of raids against immigrants," he said. "This was done without a lot of money and with a whole lot of guts."

It was also done in a climate that has markedly changed since spring.


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