[Marxism] How DJs Put 500,000 Marchers in Motion
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Tue Mar 28 10:11:37 MST 2006
THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE
How DJs Put 500,000 Marchers in Motion
By Teresa Watanabe and Hector Becerra, Times Staff Writers
March 28, 2006
He's one of the hottest Spanish-language radio personalities in the
nation. So when Los Angeles deejay Eddie Sotelo joined hands with his
radio rivals to urge listeners to turn out for a pro-immigrant rally in
downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, organizers hoped for a big turnout.
But many said Monday that they were stunned by how many responded to the
call to march against federal legislation that would crack down on
undocumented immigrants and penalize those who assist them.
As a result, what was initially expected to draw fewer than 20,000
ballooned into a massive march that police estimated at 500,000 and said
was one of the largest demonstrations in Los Angeles' history. The march
topped a wave of protests drawing hundreds of thousands of participants
in cities around the nation, which organizers said influenced the U.S.
Senate Judiciary Committee's approval Monday of legislation that
includes legalization for undocumented immigrants.
Rally supporters, including immigrant-rights activists, churches, and
labor and community groups, agreed that the active advocacy of the
region's top Spanish-language radio personalities was critical in
drawing the enormous crowds, who marched more than 20 blocks along
Spring and Main streets and Broadway to City Hall, wearing white "peace"
shirts and waving American and Mexican flags.
The promoters included such on-air celebrities as KHJ's Humberto Luna,
KBUE's Ricardo "El Mandril" (The Baboon) Sanchez, Renan "El Cucuy" (The
Boogeyman) Almendarez Coello . whose often risque show has cast him as a
sort of Latino version of Howard Stern . and Sotelo, better known to
listeners as "El Piolin," or Tweety Bird. Coello's and Sotelo's morning
talk shows are among the highest-rated programs in any language in Los
"They were the key to getting so many people out," said Mike Garcia,
president of Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union.
"If you listened to Spanish-language media, they were just pumping,
pumping, pumping this up."
For his part, Sotelo said he decided to promote the cause . by calling a
summit of his rival deejays to encourage them to do the same . after
rally organizers told him about the ramifications of the legislation
passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last December. The bill, by
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), would make undocumented
immigrants and those who assist them felons and erect a 700-mile fence
along the U.S.-Mexican border.
"I told God that if he gave me an opportunity as a radio announcer, I
was going to help my people," said Sotelo, who himself illegally crossed
the border in the trunk of a car in 1986 and gained legal status a
decade later. "I think we have to make sure the message went through to
Washington, to let them know we're not criminals."
The idea for the march first sprouted in February in the oldest church
in Los Angeles: Our Lady Queen of Angels, which has historically served
as a sanctuary for undocumented migrants.
The church near Olvera Street has become one of the city's organizing
hubs against the House bill, playing a leading role in promoting the
Roman Catholic Church's national "Justice for Immigrants" campaign.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony last December appointed a committee to promote
the national campaign throughout the 5-million-member Los Angeles
The coalition of religious, community and civil rights activists meeting
at the church had begun planning several small-scale events: news
conferences, a petition drive and protest marches to Republican and
Democratic party offices.
But when two visitors joined the group in January, the vision suddenly
Jesse Diaz, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Riverside, had
worked with day laborers in Pomona and organized marches against
Proposition 187, the 1994 state initiative that cut public benefits to
undocumented immigrants but was struck down in federal court. Javier
Rodriguez, a journalist, had also worked with immigrants and organized
black-Latino political alliances.
The two men called for something dramatic: a massive protest march.
"It was time," Diaz said. "The Sensenbrenner bill had passed. We have 10
[million] to 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country, but
their voice can't be heard at the ballot box. We felt a march would be a
way for them to speak out."
The coalition was initially wary, he said. The group had little money or
organization. At the time, none of the big labor or civil rights
organizations had yet signed on, such as the service employees union or
the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. At the table,
aside from the Catholic priests and some Spanish-language journalists,
were such groups as the Central American Resource Center, Hermandad
Mexicana Latinoamericana, the Pomona Day Labor Center and the Southern
California Human Rights Network.
But Diaz and Rodriguez kept pushing. On March 2, the group held a news
conference at the church to announce the march and call for political
and Spanish-language media to get involved.
On March 13, the group got extensive coverage from KMEX-TV Channel 34,
including promos, leading up to a "media breakfast" the next day. Later
that day, Rodriguez and other leaders spoke to a producer on Sotelo's
program. The day after that, they were on "Piolin Por La Mañana" for
four hours, Rodriguez said.
"That was it, man!" Rodriguez said. "They gave us four hours and we went
at it. We talked about the need for people to come out."
The next day, Rodriguez and other leaders went on the air with Sanchez
of KBUE-FM (105.5) "Que Buena." During that show, Rodriguez said, he
proposed that the deejays join together for the cause.
Sanchez called Sotelo and they had an on-air conversation during their
programs, Rodriguez said. Later that day, Sotelo would make the calls
that would bring the other deejays together on the air.
By March 20, all of the major Spanish-language disc jockeys got together
on City Hall's south steps to promote the big march.
"From there, it just blew up," Diaz said.
The deejays did more than publicize the march. Working with the
organizers, they also helped develop some ground rules: Marchers had to
be peaceful and clean up after themselves.
They were also encouraged to wave American flags.
"We wanted them to show that we love this country," Sotelo said.
"Bringing the U.S. flag, that was important. There are so many people
who say, 'I'm glad my parents came here and sacrificed like they did for
By this time, other organizations had begun to join the effort.
Local 1877, which represents janitors, took care of security. The union
trained nearly 500 people in how to deal with conflicts and herd
marchers along the route, posting nearly two dozen on each block in
orange T-shirts donated by an L.A. apparel firm, according to union
organizer Ernesto Guerrero.
The union also coordinated the more than 100 buses that dropped off
marchers from throughout California, Las Vegas and a few Southwestern
cities, he said.
All of the planning paid off. The "Great March of March 25," as some
dubbed it, was peaceful.
"I was saying, 'Man, we did it, we did it!' " Sotelo said.
The strong advocacy of the disc jockeys and other Spanish-language media
contrasted sharply with other outlets, said Felix Gutierrez, a
journalism professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication.
"The Latino media played it more as how will this affect you, how will
it affect your job, how will it affect your kids," Gutierrez said. "They
were much closer to their audience, in terms of the direct effect."
Gutierrez lauded the organization behind the event and contrasted it
with the angrier assemblies of the Chicano movement of the 1960s, in
which he was a media liaison.
By comparison, Saturday's rally was festive, featuring kazoos, mariachi
music, cotton candy and families with children. "The messages I heard
last week was show up, bring your family, bring your children, don't get
pulled into violence, there may be people trying to provoke you,"
Meanwhile, Diaz and Rodriguez planned to announce today their next major
action: a call to boycott work, school and all consumer activities May
1. They are calling it "The Great American Boycott of 2006."
Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this story.
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