Thousands of young people gathered in downtown LA for immigration reform–American Apparel T-shirts were worn by all the young activists

Story and Photos by Kathleen Gasperini

May Day in downtown Los Angeles has become not only the key protest day for immigration reform, but also workers rights and the unofficial activism event for promoting “Made in America” when it comes to manufacturing. As tens of thousands of people marched down the streets and gathered at City Hall, this year’s march and activism campaign included many young people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, particularly from Mexico and Latin America, wearing American Apparel “Legalize LA” T-shirts, and carrying Shepard Fairey posters in solidarity for workers rights.

Street artist Shepard Fairey is known to support workers rights, and many people at the protest march carried his work.

Immigration reform continues to be a heated debate in the United States, but with more optimism this year than in 2006 when hunderds of protesters were injured by anxious police. This is because of many promises from President Barack Obama -even though immigration has been pushed to the side in the wake of the recession, on-going wars, and now Swine Flu. Ironically, this did not stop an estimated 30,000 activists from gathering -most of whom are in support of legalizing illegal immigrants, stopping work-site raids, and moving forward from discriminating families through deportations.

American Apparel, a vertically integrated company that manufacturers and distributes in downtown LA, has been at the forefront of this movement for years when it comes to fashion brands, and has captured the attention of many diverse groups in various youth culture markets. They’ve even advertised their commitment to Legalizing LA and supporting other immigration policies in fashion ads, which resemble in some ways, how Benetton became known for their political and controversial campaigns rather than actually advertising their clothing. (The next closest fashion brand that captures glimmers of this type of campaigning is Diesel and their global warming ads.)

In a back page local ad in the LA Weekly last month, American Apparel didn’t advertise their new collection of merchandise, but instead, showed a picture of a worker at the American Apparel factory with the words “We provide jobs.” This non-clothing ad approach for a clothing manufacturer seems to be working as indicated in our Profile Report on American Apparel.

Other interesting aspects of the LA march were the number of fixed gear cyclists in the mix, as this sport continues to rise in popularity in urban centers across the nation, as well as the large number of young people supporting the cause by carrying Shepard Fairey posters -a signal representing Shepard’s on-going support of workers’ rights.

This all comes down to the question of who is America if not a nation of illegal immigrants. Other than Native American Indians, no one can claim a stake. It was this point, along with the growing tide of young people saying it’s time to manufacturer in the USA again, that is important to note, especially among the growing ethnically diverse youth demographic looking for change.

Typical scene from the Immigration Reform march in downtown LA May 1, 2009

Fixed gear cyclists are quickly increasing in many urban centers across the country. Scores of them rode out during the parade.

JFK for flexible immigration policies

In typical punker style, impromptu bands set up slashing through 3-chord melodies as skinny denim-clad young people carrying posters, wearing face masks, and bandanas supported the cause.