May Day 2017

Over 30,000 people marched across the 6th Street Bridge for May Day 2017. Photo provided by Voces de la Frontera.

“No somos uno, no somos cien, somos millones” was chanted by thousands of people on Monday, May 1 as community members marched from the nonprofit organization Voces de la Frontera to the Milwaukee County courthouse in recognition of May Day.

The phrase meaning “we are not one, we are not a hundred, we are millions” inspired protesters throughout Wisconsin, such as Bryce Ohly, a Mount Mary University chemistry major, to march in opposition to Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.

In March, Clarke signed a letter of intent to the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would allow sheriffs to detain anyone thought to be in violation of immigration laws in a program known as 278 (g). Recognizing the potential for racial profiling and separation of families, VDLF dedicated their 2017 May Day march to organizing a massive resistance.

“We use May Day as a way to march and stand in solidarity with different workers throughout Wisconsin – throughout the country but also recognize the immigrant worker and fight for the justice of the immigrant worker and their family,” said Nayeli Rondin-Valle, VDLF New Sanctuary Movement Program Coordinator.

May Day was originally an ancient pagan holiday that marked the beginning of summer but since the 1880s, has shared the date of May 1 with International Workers’ Day. This led to May Day being known as a day of protest for labor rights by unions across the world.

In 2006, it also became a day for immigrants when the U.S. held massive demonstrations and protests in response to H.R. 4437, a proposed immigration enforcement bill that would classify undocumented immigrants and anyone who helped them enter or remain in the U.S. as felons.

This legislation impelled VDLF to organize its first May Day march in 2006, known as a Day without Latinos. Eleven years later, VDLF still marches, but under an updated demonstration name that represents current struggles.

“A day without Latinos, immigrants and refugees symbolizes what a day would essentially look like without the workforce that is provided by immigrants,” Rondin-Valle said. “Immigrants come from all over, but oftentimes the targeted immigrant is the Latino immigrant, so we’re using it as a way to symbolize the similarities between the different struggles the immigrant community faces.”

As a workers’ rights and immigration center, VDLF has become monumental in organizing movements against dangerous legislation affecting marginalized populations and giving those communities a platform to have their voices heard.

“As an organization, the community recognizes us,” Rondin-Valle said. “They go to us for information to see what’s actually going on. As part of May Day and the march, the community respects us and we have their trust. That allows us to really turn out for the event, portray demands and encourage people to share their stories and take a stand.”

That trust and respect from the community has powered the organization to achieve real-life changes.

“A tangible outcome that resulted from our march was last spring in February where we marched in Madison and actually defeated one of those bills,” Rondin-Valle said.

Rondin-Valle feels it her duty to stand for issues such as the 287 (g) legislation.

“Working at a nonprofit where I see families come in for immigration-related concerns such as their spouse or family member being detained for something as simple as driving without a license one too many times … pushes me to want to do something more,” Rondin-Valle said.

Although not everyone is personally affected by legislation such as 287(g), they chose to stand in solidarity with fellow marchers this past May Day.

“It’s a moral issue. People who come here, no matter why they come here, are here,” Ohly said. “They are people. They deserve to be treated like people. They are not something to be taken advantage of. Immigrants are really important to the United States, and it is important to treat them equally and fairly.”

Ohly felt a sense of unity as she marched alongside the community and organization.

“There was a lot of people from a lot of different places,” Ohly said. “People came in from Madison, all over the state and even from Illinois just to show that they were all together and a force to be reckoned with, and it wasn’t something you could just overlook.”

That sense of solidarity is at the heart of what VDLF stands for.

“Our role is really encouraging the community to know that they have a voice and to give that voice a platform,” Rondin-Valle said.

For more photos of the march, visit https://www.facebook.com/176326565711849/videos/1509868815690944/

For more information on the history of May Day, read Time’s article here.

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