Si Se Puede Insurrection: A Class Analysis

George Caffentzis
Sunday, October 1, 2006

And my coyote, Virgil, said to him when he refused to take me, a living man, over the Acheron to Hell, “Charon, do not be angry, but this undocumented passage has been decided upon in the place where what is wanted always happens. So don’t ask any more questions.”
-Dante, Inferno, Canto III, lines 94-96.

Introduction: Invisible to Visible

There were more demonstrations in more places with greater participation between March 24 and May Day 2006 than any other six-week period in US history. For a number of days marches of more than half a million people overwhelmed the centers of major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Dallas halting business while there were literally hundreds of smaller gatherings in cities like Charlotte, North Carolina, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Salem, Oregon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Along with the public outpouring of bodies, there were dozens of student walk outs in high schools around the country as well as a nation-wide immigrants’ “general strike” called for May Day that was heeded by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of workers, including truck drivers who shut down the Port of Los Angeles (one of the main supply links in the commodity trade with China, South Korea, and Japan). The demonstrators’ demands were amnesty for all undocumented immigrants and the defeat of pending draconian anti-immigrant legislation. In the process, they intermittently stopped or stalled the cycle of production, circulation and reproduction in the US for this six-week period. The slogan of these remarkable demos, whose size consistently surprised both their organizers and the authorities, became “Si Se Puede” [“Yes It Is Possible” in Spanish], implying their awareness of a new political power in the Americas.

Even though the demonstrations, walkouts and strikes were remarkably orderly and non-violent, their harshest opponents, the anti-immigrant vigilante group called the Minuteman Project, described them as an “insurrection.” And indeed it was an insurrection, at least in a legal sense of being an “organized opposition or resistance to a government or established authorities,” because the demos were largely composed of undocumented workers, their families, friends and immediate supporters who, strictly speaking, were “illegal” and “criminals” but yet were demanding that they ought to be “decriminalized”! By their millions they spoke the words, “We are workers not criminals!,” implying that the government intent on further criminalizing them is the true criminal. Indeed, in these demonstrations the very symbol of the US, the “stars and stripes” flag, and the one that the right-wing in the US has used insufferably–especially since 9/11–as a weapon of attack on immigrants, was overturned and subtracted from the state. If anything burned the Minutemen on May Day 2006, it must have been seeing tens of thousands of American flags in the hands of an ocean of people they called “criminal thugs” and “an invading army” who now made it a symbol of their struggle.