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Fewer March, But Pride Is Evident On May Day

By Kalyn Belsha in News on May 2, 2009 5:00PM

Since the Chicago Haymarket riot of 1886, May 1 has long been an internationally recognized day to celebrate and demand workers rights, with May Day demonstrators marching from Paris to Iraq to the U.S.

In 2006, the first year organizers wove immigration reform into their demands for workers rights, the Chicago crowd of demonstrators reached an estimated 300,000 on March 10 and into the hundreds of thousands again on May 1. But at the last two Chicago marches, crowds have dwindled to about 2,000. Cities across the U.S. have experienced similar drops in attendance, with Los Angeles, New York and Miami also reporting far fewer attendees than expected.

Some have speculated that this year's turn out suffered from the bad weather in Chicago, mounting concerns about the spread of the H1N1 Influenza A virus (aka swine flu) and a decreased concern about immigration reform as President Obama has pledged to work toward developing a legalization path for undocumented immigrants before the end of the year. A tough economy made it difficult for some to take off work for the event and marchers also reported that a Chicago Spanish-language radio station had wrongly announced the march was canceled the morning of May 1.

Demonstrators met in Union Park, just west of the Loop at 10 a.m. and stepped off to march down Washington Blvd. toward Des Plaines about an hour and a half later. Protesters banged drums, called out into microphones and chanted "Obama, escucha, estamos en la lucha" (Listen Obama, we're in the fight) as helicopters circled overhead. Marchers reached their final destination -- Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams in the Loop -- at about 1:30 p.m. after a two-hour, two-mile walk. Organizers estimate about 70 different groups and organizations -- ranging from student-led clubs to churches to activist groups -- attended the event.