The Square was busy with pedestrians over the noon hour this Tuesday, as downtown workers made their way to and from lunch and touring school groups picnicked on the Capitol lawn. But the biggest crowd was gathering on the steps on the State Street side of the Square, as people arrived for a May Day rally organized by Sensenbrenner Bill, named after the Republican representative from the Milwaukee suburbs.
Though that bill failed passage in the U.S. Senate, and the overall national political environment shifted following last year's elections, migration remains a central issue for immigrant communities, as well as those who depend upon immigrant workers.
Today's rally at the Capitol Square focused on two major points of policy. The first is a bill in the U.S. House introduced by Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake. If passed, the bill would make undocumented workers entering the United States before April 1, 2006 eligible for a legalized status, initiate a guest worker program, and institute stricter border control policies and penalties, among other elements.
Rally organizer Alex Gillis criticizes this bill, and the event's promotional literature and signs scattered among the crowd target its various aspects, calling for no guest worker program and no sanctions for employers of undocumented workers, for example.
The other and much more visible focus of the rally was its opposition to the federal Real ID Act and its Wisconsin implementation in the form of Act 126, which requires "acceptable proof of legal residence" in the state upon applying for a driver's license, permit, or identification card. Signs and banners around the rally declared opposition to this measure.
Turnout was low in comparison to other recent immigration rights demonstrations in Madison, including a march from Brittingham Park to the Capitol on March 23 of this year that focused exclusively on the Real ID act. As the crowd swelled over the noon hour, Capitol Police offered estimates of 500-700 protesters; activists in attendance offered estimates between 1,000 and 2,000 people. Gillis attributed these comparatively low numbers to infighting within the nascent immigrant rights movement, both locally and at the national level.
As was the case last year, for those keeping tabs on such things, the most visible symbol on display at the rally on Tuesday was the American flag, seen in the form of a bandana, umbrella, and the ubiquitous shoulder cape. There were also more than a few Mexican flags, as well as a large Uruguayan banner, a simple reminder that Americans have always honored the nation of their birth and ancestors as well as their adopted home.
Following a long (and fairly delayed) rally at the Capitol, those gathered marched to Brittingham Park, where food, music, and an afternoon of sunshine awaited them.
Photos from the rally at the Capitol are available in the gallery at right.