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Feb-18-2009 11:47printcomments

11th Hour Support for Latino-Led Procession in Columbia County Allows Event to Take Place

The Procession for Respect and Dignity will go on: as groups overcome obstacles and anti-immigration threats.

Oregon State Capitol Immigration Rally in 2005
Scene from an Oregon State Capitol Immigration Rally in 2005 photo by Tim King

(ST. HELENS, Ore.) - When Latinos Unidos para un Futuro Mejor (LUFM, or Latinos United for a Better Future) decided to host a Procession for Respect and Dignity, they had no idea that things would become so complicated.

Members of the new Latino-led organization decided in late January to hold a peaceful walk down public sidewalks to the Columbia County Courthouse, thinking of the event as a win for everybody.

Yesenia Sanchez, President of LUFM, said, "After ballot measure 190 passed in Columbia County, we Latinos felt the immediate impacts the most. We decided that it was time for us to come out and show that we are honest, responsible community members that work hard, have strong family values, and contribute to the local economy. Regardless of our color, place of origin or status, every human being deserves to be treated with respect. We need a strong community that is able to deal with the economic instability we face. Only united will we endure these hard times, and that is why this community walk is so important. Unity is what we need."

LUFM contacted local law enforcement and faith leaders to inform them about plans for the procession and to ask for their support.

They say this is where things got tricky.

Soon after the local newspaper, the Scappoose Spotlight, ran an article announcing the procession, local churches and the Saint Helens police department began to receive calls from people who threatened not only to host a counter-protest on the same day in the same place but also threatened anyone who supported the event.

As tensions heightened, fears that the peaceful procession would turn dangerous abounded, and LUFM members began to feel that key community members did not support what they were doing.

The initial meeting place at a local Catholic church fell through, and it looked as though a permit from the city might not be granted. Without a permit, LUFM was told, holding the procession could qualify as a misdemeanor.

"This procession is to show Columbia County that we're peaceful people who respect the community, but I don't see how we can move forward with our plans if nobody will let us use their parking lot to meet, and the city says we need to submit a permit request 45 days in advance in order to walk peacefully down the sidewalk," said Gretchen Ramos, a member of Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity (CCCHD).

Members of the Latino community sensed the tension as well, and many voiced concerns about personal safety.

But just days before the procession, the tide began to turn. Late on Saturday night, Pastor Don Courtain from First Christian Church offered LUFM the church's parking lot as a meeting place. Shortly thereafter, long-awaited words of support were offered from faith leaders, and the City of Saint Helens granted an expedited permit. All are invited to attend the Procession for Respect and Dignity.

The event takes place Wednesday, February 18, 2009. from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in St. Helens, Oregon. Starting at First Christian Church at 185 S 12th, and ending at the County Courthouse, speakers at 5:30 at the Courthouse.

It is being organized by Latinos Unidos para un Futuro Mejor (LUFM), with Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity (CCCHD), and support from Rural Organizing Project, and CAUSA.

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Rick February 19, 2009 11:37 am (Pacific time)

It was a great event, Vic. Roughly 300 people turned out. Didn't see a single "hater". They must have all been hiding under their rock. Needless to say, it takes good hearted people like you to set them straight. Good luck in your new home!

Vic February 18, 2009 1:41 pm (Pacific time)

We spent the last half of last year in Mexico, in a small coastal town. The experience was incredible, everyone was so very nice and helpful. We knew very little Spanish, but we didn't get any "learn the language if you are gonna come down here" crap..on the contrary, everyone was glad to help us learn. It wasnt because we were "rich Gringos" either, because we weren't. We were there on a shoestring budget, and I did get some work painting lettering/names on fishing boat, thanks to pescadero (fisherman) friends of ours. I was essentially, an illegal worker. Most everyone in that town were poor by American standards, but they all seemed genuinely happy and willing to share what little they had. Theft was apparently lower than here, because no one seemed to bother locking anything up..I wish our country was more like this, and I hope that if anything comes from this economic turmoil, it is that we learn to live simpler, less expensive lives and enjoy our familiies and the things that really count. We are currently selling our house and ASAP are moving back to that little town...not in a "white" development, but right in town with the locals and our friends. We can't wait! There are always going to be the haters..I saw them in Alabama ,where I am originally from, and I see them here. The common thread seems to be a need to blame someone other than themselves for their perceived failures. Id love to go to this event, but I know Id end up in a fight and probably in jail.

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