Illustration by Joe Lai.
Illustration by Joe Lai.

When a mob of so-called “anarchists” took to the streets in Saturday’s downtown riot, they did more than make some noise. They vandalized 18 businesses, tagged graffiti on concrete walls, started a fire, and shattered multiple windows — not to mention a few million dreams for a better life.

The original May Day dance event, which kicked off at the Clock Tower, was held to highlight immigration and labor issues, partly on behalf of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Of these immigrants, 3 million live in California.

Today, in mid-county Santa Cruz, thousands of undocumented workers slave away, many of them picking fruits in the blazing sun, for pay well below the minimum wage. Here in town, families crowd into tiny studio apartments, too poor to be called “modest,” many of which (according to current plans) will crumble under bull dozers in order to pave a path for the latest hotel developments.

Last month, our neighboring state of Arizona legalized racial profiling in an effort to vamp up deportations (see last week’s opinion section for more details). Also, undocumented immigrants have found themselves left out of the recent health care overhaul. In short, the original protest and event provided an opportunity to take pressing and important civil rights issues down to a local level.

Unfortunately, bandana-wearing, torch-wielding rioters in Downtown Santa Cruz showed up to an otherwise peaceful local protest, hijacked it, and blew it up on the national level for the world to see. And American news outlets took the bait.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that the protest had stemmed from an immigrant rights rally. Fox News’ infamous Bill O’Reilly, in his opening segment, called the riot an example of “the far left using the new alien law in Arizona to vent its anger.”

It is too early to say what the real intentions of these rioting protesters were: whether they wanted to destroy capitalism or simply destroy $100,000 in property downtown. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Santa Cruz Police Department are still investigating if the vandals had any relationship to the original May Day dance and rally.

One thing is clear, however. These anarchistic activists hijacked a day for civil rights and trivialized it. They gave fodder to Bill O’Reilly and his conservative, conspiratorial allies who would like to portray the fight for immigration rights as some radical fringe movement.

The situation was different from the occupations that happened on campus, aimed at raising awareness for skyrocketing student fees and plummeting services. As far as any interview, video, picture, or personal report from Saturday has shown us, the riot accomplished nothing but approximately one hour of mayhem. And rioters missed the mark on worker’s rights.

May Day is held every year on the anniversary of the Haymarket Riots in Chicago that killed 11 mostly nonviolent protesters fighting the eight-hour work day in 1886. That is a far cry from the the wall-tagging, window-breaking protest on Pacific Avenue, where thankfully no one was hurt. The self-righteous rioters, who put immigration rights several steps back, did a very poor job of celebrating the most well-known workers’ rights day in the world.

Meanwhile, the undocumented community across the county, state, and nation will continue to fight, speak out, and stand up. They will continue to wait for the right to vote. The right to health care. The right to a decent living wage … or at least the state mandated minimum one.

What immigrants in California and Santa Cruz County need is the helping hand of support, not one that is wielding a large rock or a flaming torch.