Small communities see protests too..

Chicago and L.A. were not the only cities to see big immigrant protests. Thousands turned out in Davenport, Iowa yesterday to voice their concerns over immigration policy. The question is will the protests help or hurt their cause?

Last night, my home town was featured on a Nightline segment called May Day Immigration protests. The Quad Cities, as the area is often called, has a fairly large Hispanic population at 16%. As I was walking in small, mostly empty, downtown Davenport, Iowa I couldn’t help but hear the cheers of a crowd a few blocks away. I decided to check it out and was really impressed by the turnout.

Clearly, there was more than a thousand people in the park and you could still see many, many more crossing the bridge from Rock Island over to Davenport. Here’s the local newspaper’s take on the days events.

I watched the peaceful and orderly protest for nearly an hour and I was struck by a few notable items. First, It was an impressive show of organizational ability. I’ve never seen that many people protesting or celebrating any event in this area. Second, I think it demonstrated the seriousness of the Immigrant (Primarily Mexican) community. As a community, there’s little doubt that their intentions are positive. They want to be heard and they feel that “rightness” is on their side.

As an aside, I don’t want to get into the debate about what I think public policy should be in relation to immigration, border control, etc. Like all problems, I believe there is a solution but it would take some bold political action and I don’t think the politicians in Washington are in the business of “bold action”.

Over the course of the afternoon and evening I talked to others about the protests. I wanted to get the take on them from average, middle class, citizens. The impression those conversations left me with make me think that the protests may have done a disservice to the cause. Mid-westerns are nice people. They’re generally even tempered, hard working, and slow to judge others. But, there are some things that just “rub” many the wrong way. All but one of the individuals I spoke with yesterday had some degree of ‘bad feeling’ about the protests.

The root of the bad feeling is the fact that good, hardworking, ‘mind their own business’ Americans don’t like having things “thrown in their face” as one person told me yesterday. “It’s fine if they want to do that, but they don’t need to be telling me what I need to do, what I need to accept.” I imagine her response would have been identical if she’d just witnessed a gay pride parade rather than an immigration protest.

Most people around here are “live and let live” kind of people. They’re intentions are good and they’re actually way too passive on most issues facing the community and country. But, every once in a while something gets their hackles up. A nerve gets struck and people are willing to take massive action to do…to do whatever it takes to keep that nerve from being struck again. The clear response after 9/11 is a good example. A lesser example was the push-back on gay marriage.

In my opinion a lot of Americans need to be sold on the type of immigration reform sought by the organizers of yesterday’s protests if it is to succeed. Protesters and organizers need to keep tread lightly so as not to trigger the nerve. Extra effort (beyond carrying American flags instead of Mexican flags) needs to be taken to show that the similarities between immigrants and the American public.

Protests have a way of turning things into an “us and them”. If this is the result of yesterday’s events, everyone would have been better off going to work.

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