Getting involved

Washington, D.C., pulsed April 10. As many as 500,000 people flooded the capital, gathering in the National Mall to listen to organizers speak. They spoke of immigrant rights while the protestors looked on, drawn together by discontent.

This incident wasn’t unusual. Over the last few weeks, there has been a slew of protest. Across the nation, seas of people clogged the streets, shutting down business. Some chanted, some held signs, some walked in silent dignity. All were active. All were wonderfully political.

The Northern Star has written a lot about apathy. Some readers complain it’s the only thing we want to discuss. That may have been somewhat true. This nation sees a lot of apathy. Then an issue comes along to excite the people and brings the political process screaming back to life. Immigration reform did just that.

Over the last few months, immigration reform has taken hold of Capitol Hill. The proposed immigration bill, which would have granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, was the subject of huge debate. The bill died last week after a bi-partisan group of senators rejected its amended version.

Despite all the bile exchanged over the issue, it brought up an important question: What does it mean to be an American? If nothing else, America was created so every voice could be heard. The marchers took on that spirit in full.

Some marches were absolutely overwhelming. Five-hundred thousand rallied in Los Angeles. Chicago police estimated 100,000 people in their city. New York saw as many as 125,000. There were up to 200,000 in Phoenix. It’s almost impossible to imagine so many marches this size.

Maybe Americans needed something personal to rile them up. Too often, we feel alienated by politics. It doesn’t seem to affect our lives. We see our elected officials as something removed from us, not our voice. They seem to not listen or care. Faced with this bleak political landscape, we usually wash our hands of it and grow ambivalent. But then something like this smacks us across the face and brings us back to life.

In the southwestern states and industrial cities, immigrants and supporters have been overwhelmingly vocal. In Los Angeles, thousands waved American and Mexican flags, declaring love for both cultures. In West Palm Beach, Fla., a protestor’s sign read, “Let Me Love Your Country.”

Pro-immigration activists have been alarmingly positive-minded. One was much more likely to find optimism at these rallies than rage. Unlike typical demonstrations, most of these marches had an air of intelligence and understanding. The activists seemed to have realized that peaceful assembly commands more power than partisan screaming.

There has also been much activity on the other side of the issue. In mostly Southern and Midwestern states — but also in other areas — citizens have marched in support of the immigration reforms. These Americans didn’t want to be overshadowed by the other point of view and did the right thing. They got involved.

It doesn’t matter which side is right. What matters is that both sides are heard. It’s not unusual for the government to lose sight of the humanity in politics. Senators know the facts, but sometimes forget the people affected by their decisions. When citizens turn out in such great numbers, there is no ignoring it. The demonstrators didn’t have to write letters to Congress. They made a far greater statement than they could have with written words.

The first immigration bill may be lost, but more are coming. Now that the people have made themselves heard, the politicians have to start responding. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Washington as we near election day.

Whatever happens politically, the American people should be proud of themselves. The international community has considered us ignorant and uncaring for a long time. We’ve just proved that assumption wrong.

To the same effect, a gauntlet has been thrown down. Americans have shown their concern and willingness to fight for it. It’s time to keep the trend going. Find something you care deeply about and make sure the government hears your thoughts. Get involved. This is no time to be quiet.