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Lanterns Light the Way for OR May Day Protest

April 30, 2012

SALEM, Ore. - People who march in Oregon's largest May Day event on Tuesday evening in Salem will carry lanterns to symbolize lights of hope. Organizers of Oregon's May Day commemoration are describing it as a celebration of working families, no matter what their immigration status. They want the state to become a more welcoming place for immigrants, with equal access to health care, education, and drivers licenses, as well as a way to gain citizenship. Labor groups also say it's time to renew the focus on bringing decent jobs with benefits to the state.

It's a tall order, and Steven Araujo, president of the Oregon School Employees Association, says they're looking to Gov. John Kitzhaber to fill it. The governor will address the crowd as part of the event.

"His message is going to be critical. He openly talks about his support for labor, his support for the working family - when he gets out in front of our members and says that, our members then look to him as our leader and say, 'Okay. One, we're going to hold you accountable. And two, we appreciate that you're willing to do that - how can we help you?'"

Other state officials and some legislators will also attend the rally.

May Day is known as International Workers' Day, but University of Oregon associate professor Marcus Widenor says its roots are all-American. In the 1880s, when workers held general strikes demanding an eight-hour work day, some in Chicago lost their lives in the protest. More than 100 years later, Widenor sees the parallels, particularly in the struggles of immigrants.

"The folks who were the demonstrators in Chicago, the ones they arrested, were foreign-born workers. They were from the first and second wave of immigrants - they were Germans and Hungarians and Italians and such. Today, we have new immigrants, but some of the issues are kind of the same."

The rally starts at 6:00 p.m. Tuesday at the Oregon State Capitol, 900 Court St. NE, followed by a march through downtown Salem.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR