Flower power

The Baltimore Sun

An embarrassment of blossoms was heaped upon the offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last week - a hundred, perhaps even a thousand, bouquets of protest. They came from people (most of them Indians) who are working here legally but have been waiting years for green cards, and have been jerked around in the past few weeks by an announcement that a certain number of green cards for highly skilled immigrants would be made available as of July 2, if the final paperwork was submitted, followed by an announcement that no green cards would be available as of July 2.

The protest organizers hit upon the idea of flowers.

Vikas Chowdhry, a software developer in Madison, Wis., who has been in the U.S. since 2000, says they wanted to act in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi - that is, by carrying out a thoroughly nonviolent protest. Gandhi, who inspired India's march to independence from the British, wasn't, in truth, someone who felt comfortable when others tried to thrust garlands upon him.

But a Bollywood film called Lage Raho Munnabhai, released last year, features a character who tries to act in Gandhi's spirit, and who gives flowers to those who treat him badly. It has inspired two flower protests in India, one involving opponents of a liquor store that opened next to a Hindu temple.

"Any peaceful means of protest that is not disruptive, that doesn't interfere with work, that is non-hurtful - that's a good way to protest," says Mr. Chowdhry. The only requirement is to get attention, and what cheerier way to get attention could there be than a $35 bouquet, ordered over the Internet? Let's just say, it's better than calling for someone's decapitation.

The immigration people proved themselves not to be spoilsports, and shipped the mountains of flowers off to Walter Reed Army and Bethesda Naval hospitals.

The U.S. issues 1.2 million green cards a year, but only 140,000 of those go to skilled immigrants, and no more than 7.7 percent of those can go to people from any one country. As a result, hundreds of thousands of highly skilled legal immigrants have been stuck in a backlog for six years or more. These are people, says Mr. Chowdhry, who start new companies, who create jobs.

Let's hope their protest gets results - because Americans are fortunate to have living among them people who are this ingenious, and this thoughtful of others, and this capable of channeling anger into beauty.

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