May Day march for immigrants takes over downtown GR

Protesters fill Division Avenue as part of a May Day march organized by Cosecha Grand Rapids.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A large group demonstrating for immigrants’ rights spent hours marching through Grand Rapids on Monday, chanting and prompting traffic diversions.

The protest was organized by Cosecha Grand Rapids. Hundreds of people filled Garfield Park at noon to take part in the roughly three-mile march to Calder Plaza downtown. It took them nearly four hours to reach their destination.

The massive march clogged traffic at times, with the Grand Rapids Police Department blocking off streets due to safety concerns. GRPD said the demonstration also affected public transit, including The Rapid’s Silver Line.

Immigration supporters also held a rally at Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park at noon before marching through downtown on Rose Street.

For years, marches have been held on May Day to draw attention to union and immigrant workers’ rights. This year, the events took aim at President Donald Trump’s administration because of his hard-line stance on immigration and proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We want to say to Trump that thank you, thank you for kind of kicking us in the butt. He kind of came and pushed us to stand up and rise up and fight for our dignity,” Karla Barberi of Cosecha said.

Monday’s event used the “Day Without Immigrants” message that contributed to marches across the nation in February.

“Hispanics cannot be replaced. Anybody can tell you that. We have companies calling us, asking us not to do this because it’s going to affect the economy and that’s exactly what we want. We want to affect the economy. We want people to understand and appreciate,” Barberi said.

Allison Colberg, the director of The Micah Center in Grand Rapids, said protection for undocumented immigrants is at the heart of the movement.

“They face a situation of desperation versus legality,” Colberg said. “If many of us were to face the same situation, what would we not do for our kids? What would we not for our spouses or our parents? We would do what it takes to make sure that they’re safe and that they’re taken care of.”

Lili Eduardo and her family own the small National Supermarket chain and a local restaurant. She closed up shop and kept her kids out of school to walk in the Grand Rapids march.

“Without us, they do lose out,” Eduardo said. “We do make a lot of money for Grand Rapids. We pay sales taxes. We pay all the other taxes that are due.”

She was born in the U.S. and is a legal citizen. For her, the march was about standing with the Latino community.

“Finally we are waking up and saying, ‘Hey, we have a voice, and that voice is not something to mess with,'” she said.

There are plans for a seven-day strike in the coming months, though dates for that have not yet been set.

Cosecha Grand Rapids held a similar protest April 20. Three people were arrested by police for blocking the eastbound I-196 off-ramp to Ottawa Avenue.