LOS ANGELES — Tom Morello was among approximately 400 protesters arrested early Thursday evening during a march to raise awareness for immigrant hotel workers’ rights.
The Audioslave guitarist, who performed under his Nightwatchman alias at a rally before the march, was charged with unlawful assembly for refusing to move from Century Boulevard, the main entry road to Los Angeles International Airport.
“In these political dark ages, it’s important for us to stand up for one another,” Morello told MTV News before the march. “These hotel workers by the airport make 20 percent less wages than hotel workers around the rest of Los Angeles. We’re here to express our solidarity with them, to help them unionize and to help them close the gap between their sub-poverty wages and the millions and millions of dollars the people who own these hotels make.”
Morello spent the evening in lockup and was released Friday morning (September 29). “Bail was high,” he told MTV News — each arrestee had to pay $5,000. But, he added, “spirits were higher. We had a rousing civil rights-era-like hootenanny on ’the inside.’ ”
Thursday’s march, which Morello and organizers called “the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of the Los Angeles,” was a well-orchestrated affair from both sides. In fact, Morello and the other arrestees actually planned to be arrested and even gave the Los Angeles Police Department their driver’s license numbers days before the event to expedite processing.
About 2,000 protesters actually participated in the march, with an average age of 17, according to one of the organizers. Those willing to be arrested, which included several community and religious leaders and at least 100 students bused in from surrounding colleges, wore yellow signs to distinguish themselves from the others.
While they sat in the street, protesters mainly chanted, “Sí, se puede” (Spanish for “Yes, we can”). The wide majority of immigrant hotel workers are Latino, and the march — while not nearly as large in scale — invoked memories of other immigrants-rights protests earlier this year (see “Marchers Take To Streets — Again — In Immigration Protests Across The Country” and “The Immigration Debate: Behind The Protests” ). While the protesters chanted, dozens of policemen on motorcycles and horses eventually began making arrests.
“This is how things have changed, is by people on the lower rungs of society standing up,” Morello said. “People have been arrested in this country for a woman’s right to vote. People have been arrested in this country for desegregated lunch counters. Those things didn’t come about because of the wisdom of presidents — they came about because of average ordinary working people standing up for their rights. I think all the working people on the streets, even the police, have much more in common with each other than the people who own these hotels and are ripping off their workers.”
At the rally, Morello performed a song about protests that included the chorus, “For the union men and women, stand up and stand strong.”
Morello’s friend and fellow activist Ben Harper also performed, beginning his three-song set with “Better Way” (sample lyric: “What good is a man/ Who won’t take a stand”). Harper participated in part of the march but was not arrested.
“Having [Morello and Harper] here helps young people understand how important this is,” Ana Mendez, a banquet server at the Hilton Hotel LAX, said during the rally. “We want to elevate these jobs to be first-class citizen jobs, not low-poverty wage jobs.”
Gredma Casa Sola, a young arrested protester, said she was there to make a difference the way social activists did in the 1970s. “This time it’s not about racism or segregation — it’s about class issues, but progress can be made,” she said. “Workers rights are human rights.”
Added Elizbeth Videluck, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles: “Immigrants are the backbone of this country and they’re not getting the respect they deserve for the work they do.”
Those arrested were bused to three police precincts and were expected to spend up to 24 hours in custody.
[This story was originally published at 12:31 am E.T. on 09.29.2006]