As we reported earlier, the rally for immigration reform that began at 11:00 a.m. today in the rain, and was supposed to end shortly thereafter in public, politicized arrests, instead ended a little more than two hours later in quiet dispersion.
The rally, organized by One America, was part of a nationwide effort to pressure the Obama administration into providing a clear path to citizenship for an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. The government must also process the existing backlog of immigrants who are simply waiting for their paperwork to go through, explains Lorena Gonzalez, spokeswoman for One America. And Gonzalez adds that "we need due process for people taken into custody. Right now, they have no rights to seek legal council."
These are all critical issues, which is why, as One America spokesman Charlie McAteer put it "we're putting bodies on the line today. We're ready to get arrested. We're escalating the situation."
They escalated the situation by blocking escalator doors. When that didn't work, they blocked intersections at 2nd Avenue and Madison Avenue, 3rd and Madison, and 4th and Madison. Lines of cars and buses were rerouted a block away by police officers. Within two hours, the group pronounced the rally a victory anyway and called buses to pick them up.
"I think they were scared of arresting us," said Pramila Jayapal, executive director of One America, which organized the civil disobedience protest.
"Seattle's making a statement by not arresting us," said failed arrestee Dan Ford. "The city isn't willing to use unnecessary force with the Latino community."
"It's a clear victory," agreed Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza, another failed arrestee. "We celebrated our first amendment rights to free speech and hopefully our non-arrests mean that [the city] supports immigration reform."
But at least a few protesters felt the group gave up. "Why are we leaving?" one protester asked a friend. "I thought our job was to get someone arrested. Our work isn't done. My feet aren't even sore."
"Getting arrested isn't hard," replied the friend. "These people don't know what hard work really is." He was clearly joking, but he had a point: it appears that organizers weren't prepared for a long-haul effort. They expected civil disobedience to include being arrested in a civilized time frame—two hours or less.
By contrast, when five college-aged immigrants (three of them undocumented) staged a sit-in protest at Senator John McCain's office in Tucson on Monday to pressure him to sponsor legislation for young illegal immigrants to gain legal status, they spent at least six hours on the floor before being detained.
Hilary Stern, executive director of Casa Latina, said she volunteered to be arrested because she "looked forward to making a sacrifice and feeling, just for one night, what many people go through just for being in this country."
Civil disobedience is newsworthy; civil inconvenience is less so. If the stakes are as high as protesters indicated, they have to be prepared to get uncomfortable. At this rally, it didn't appear that they were.