As the Cathedral bells released their harmonic drone, people dressed in white converged from all angles. As it was Palm Sunday, there were people dressed in period outfits out on the front steps of the Cathedral de Guadalupe. They wore fake beards and face make-up. In their striped long robes, they stood with one hand raised as a righteous conch and in the other hand, they held palm fronds. The bells and the “ancient ones” were signaling that it was time to march.
The crowd of half a million people purred enthusiastically along. Even when the Paletas Pinguinos carts halted in mid-stream, people with their flags, signs, and baby strollers, smoothly parted and made room for the exchange. People chanted, “Si, se puede” and “La Pueblo…” and “Bush, escucha, esta es una lucha.”
When we reached the final destination, City Hall, a street was blocked off on either end by a phalanx of police dressed in full riot gear. They had their face shields down and their batons poised. There were at least twenty policemen on horses.
On this street, five Anglos with anti-immigration signs were privy to full police protection. The crowd stopped to view the scene. But as we drew closer, to see the militaristic outpost more than anything, we were pushed further away while we watched the hand-full of counter-protesters leaving their designated protest area and moving amongst the police officers dressed in riot gear.
I always think of Howard Zinn’s quote in these situations about the myth of neutrality concerning “peace-keeping forces” and activism. I stepped up to the row of riot gear policemen and ask for the officer in charge. They said he wasn’t there. I urged several of the officers to enforce the anti-protest area as a few them were rushing to the railing and inciting the crowd. This is when one policeman forcefully pushed my left arm with the baton and the officer beside him told me that I was going to be the first one arrested because I was “talking too much.”
About this time, a few plastic water bottles came sailing through the air, landing mostly around the counter-protesters. A van pulled up and another phalanx of police in riot gear filed out. They had weapons that looked like paint ball guns. Someone said it was pepper spray. They were ready to infiltrate the crowd when the officer in command showed up and had the counter-protesters move back to their designated area. The police with paint ball/pepper spray guns retreated and the officers on horses lined up in between the riot gear police. They were facing the crowd and ready to go to work.
We chanted again, this time with more verve: “Si, se puede.” Then we all gently scattered, walking back to the trolley or the trains that had brought us from all parts of the Metroplex to City Hall. There was a tired hush in the city except for the tinkling of bells on the handle bars of the vanishing Paletas Pinguinos carts.
LARAY POLK is an artist, activist and founder of the Dallas chapter of Women in Black. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org