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Max Blumenthal Headshot

Walkout!

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On Monday, thousands of Latino high school students walked out of their classrooms and took to the streets of cities from Detroit to Dallas to Los Angeles to protest the draconian, anti-immigrant "Sensenbrenner bill" (aka. HR 4437). Walkouts in Los Angeles spread east into the Inland Empire and south to Santa Ana, where police provoked a brief scuffle by wading into the protest with full riot gear and batons drawn. 25,000 students from the Los Angeles Unified School District are estimated to have participated in the otherwise peaceful demonstrations.

As was the case during Sunday's mass mobilization, the walkouts' most dramatic moment arrived at the city's main artery: the 101 freeway. There, according to an eyewitness I spoke to last night, 200 jubilant, flag-waving students paraded down the center lane while a cavalcade of LAPD motorcycle cops followed closely behind, ensuring that the backed-up traffic didn't plow them over (sorry, no pictures for now). While the walkouts were planned well in advance, the idea of taking to the freeway seemed to have been devised organically and disseminated through word-of-mouth, text messages and Myspace.

Many people I talked with around the city yesterday questioned whether Edward James Olmos' newly released documentary about mass Chicano student protests against discriminatory educational policies in 1968 East L.A. high schools, "Walkout," influenced yesterday's events. In an interview yesterday with Hoy, an L.A.-based Spanish language paper, Olmos refuted this idea by claiming the conditions that precipitated the protests against HR 4437 were drastically different than those that animated Chicano life in 1968. However, a student demonstrator from Manual Arts told Hoy, "Before I saw the movie, I didn't think we could do something like that. I didn't understand how you could affect change. But after I saw it, I felt in my heart that I could do something."

The tactics employed by student demonstrators also bore striking resonances of those conceived by the Situationist International, which stressed the liberation of ordinary life (school) by creating improvised, participatory situations (parading down the middle of the freeway during rush hour). Though I doubt Guy Debord's manifestos were in the front of any of the demonstrators' minds yesterday, the walkouts neatly established an open-ended, dramatic "situation" that captivated the media and sustained the momentum of the weekend demos.

As Monday drew to a close, the tone of many leaders of L.A.'s Latino community shifted from mobilization to discretion. A popular Spanish-language morning radio host instrumental in promoting the weekend mobilizations, El Piolin por la Manana, appeared during commercial breaks on Univision to thank viewers for their participation in the demos. The message was subtle but clear: the mobilizations were a smashing success, but any further activity would be gratuitious and counter-productive. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined in by expressing gratitude to the demonstrators while admonishing students to return to school on Tuesday.

Though the mobilizations are over, their effect will be felt for generations. Under mounting pressure, the Senate Judiciary Committe overwhelmingly approved a bill providing a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants -- not the best piece of legislation but a humiliating blow to Majority Leader Bill Frist and the reactionary forces pulling his strings. A new movement has been galvanized which will not only transform the face of American politics, it will challenge the country to, as one dreamer once put it, rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.