John Cádiz Klemack
Thousands of demonstrators took part in a May Day march through Downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday in a united effort to call for immigration reform. Known as International Workers' Day around the world, in LA, the day has become a day of multiple meanings. "Immigrant rights and workers rights are very closely related, so we're here to support each other," said Jenny Seon of the Korean Resource Center. John Cádiz Klemack reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 1, 2013.
Thousands of protesters turned out on Wednesday for May Day, an annual demonstration that urges people to fight for immigration reform and immigrants' rights.
Labor organizations, immigrant rights coalitions and residents gathered at Olympic Boulevard and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, chanting and waving flags from different countries through the air.
Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were scattered throughout the crowd.
About 30,000 people were expected to march through downtown on a 1 1/2-mile trek to Olvera Street. The first march started at 12:30, and others were scheduled throughout the day.
The area was closed to vehicle traffic but there was plenty of foot traffic and many local businesses were open.
About 100 Occupy demonstrators set up in front of a Wells Fargo bank near Olympic and Figueroa.
“People have a right to their opinions," said Wells Fargo Communications Vice President Gary Kishner, who added that he understands not everyone is receptive to the corporate message.
One shopkeeper noted the impact on his business.
“No buses, no business," Francisco Cervantes said.
Despite any loss of business most merchants said they recognized the value and importance of the march.
The nationwide ritual came with a special sense of urgency as Congress is considering sweeping legislation that would bring many of the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. illegally out of the shadows.
"We're fighting for citizenship," said Angel Silva, who wants his undocumented parents to enjoy the freedoms he enjoys. "Citizenship for all 11 million immigrants here."
The importance of the fight for reform brought out people of all walks of life, united in a common cause.
"I think immigrant rights and workers rights are very closely related so we're here to support each other," said Jenny Seon of the Korean Resource Center.
"It's not just an immigration issue, it's an issue about the economy, it's an issue about jobs," community organizer Wendy Carillo said.
The crowds were not expected to approach the massive demonstrations of 2006 and 2007, during the last serious attempt to introduce major changes to the U.S. immigration system.
"It's sad because my brother is serving in the military for the United States, but yet they can't give my parents their residency," said Sandra Perez, a protester and immigration reform supporter.
"This is our dream and this is everybody's dream, because this land belongs to everybody, " protester Laura Malfabon said.
A Los Angeles immigrants rights group voiced a call to action for the annual May Day protest in an attempt to stir up excitement for the demonstration that has been losing traction over the past few years.
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles held a news conference Tuesday with the help of Grammy winners and Latino figures in urging the public to participate.
"We are expecting around 10,000," said Jorge Mario Cabrera, spokesman for CHIRLA, regarding the Wednesday march.
The group, along with labor organizations and media personalities, "urged community members to not lose hope and to fight for a good immigration bill."
Cabrera said community members were present during the conference.
"These families expressed a need to fight for immigration reform because they no longer want to hide," Cabrera said.
May Day, originally a day for transnational labor-rights recognition, has become the widely recognized day of protest in Los Angeles for immigrants' rights.
In 2006, the May Day protests garnered national attention when thousands in Los Angeles protested legislation that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally.
In the following years, fewer and fewer demonstrators have taken the day off from work to march in the streets. Several hundred participated in the protests on May 1, 2012, according to an LA Times article.
The protest comes at a time when the bi-partisan Gang of Eight proposed their immigration bill set to strengthen the border first, then provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
The Los Angeles Police Department will be fully deployed in reaction to the event, and some undercover officers will be in the crowd.
“In few past years, the numbers of protestors and attendance have definitely scaled down,” said Norma Eisenman, a spokeswoman for the LAPD. “If anything were to happen, we have more than enough officers posted.”
In 2012, a female officer was intentionally struck in the head by a skateboard but the injury was not serious, according to Eisenman.
“We know it’s a time when officers have to be more alert, and pay attention to the crowd,” Eisenman said. “We don’t expect any problems, but there is the immigration bill, so we don’t know.”
Street closures start on Cesar Chavez Avenue and end on the south side of Main Street (map below).
At the end of the route at 3 p.m., Grammy-winning artists such as the band Quetzal, a LA-based band that blends funk and Mexican folk music, will play at Plaza Park.
NBC4's Annette Arreola contributed to this report.
View May Day Protest Route with CHIRLA in a larger map