Chicago Freedom Rides - Day 2

by Teo Reyes, September 28
Detroit -> Toledo -> Cleveland
First the breaking news! Another important step in building an African American - Latino/Immigrant alliance occured today. The Immigrant Freedom Rides cancelled their appearence in Cincinnati, scheduled for tomorrow(?) because a lead union organizer there refused to honor a boycott of downtown Cincinnati called by the African American community after police brutality set off violent resistance a year or so ago. The Cincinnati organizer refused to move people to a union hotel outside of the boycott zone - the ultimatum, downtown stay or no event - and so the folks on the Freedom Ride busses opted for solidarity and cancelled. I'll write more details as soon as I have them.

We celebrated mass this morning at St. Anne's Church in the Mexican neighborhood of Southwest Detroit. The Freedom Riders were welcomed by the local parishioners, for whom today's mass was a truly conscience raising experience. The folks on the Pueblo Sin Fronteras bus were very glad to go to mass, and that it was in the Mexican barrio.

We headed off for Toledo right after the march and watched an hour-long documentary: "La Causa - 500 years of Chicano History." It was heavy stuff, but inspiring. The documentary highlighted individual well know and less known heroes as well as the major movements and events in Xicano history - from la conquista to the Treaty of Guadalupe to the struggles of the United Farm Workers and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. The documentary ended with a call for greater unity among different peoples, and was the perfect mood-setter for our arrival in Toledo. As we got off the bus we practiced chanting: "campesino, seguro, a Mt. Olive dale duro!" in solidarity with FLOC's struggle to organize Mt. Olive pickle workers in North Carolina.

We turned a corner and saw a field of FLOC's red eagle flags gathered to greet us. They marched towards the buses as the Freedom Riders assembled and marched towards them. The two crowds met in the middle of the street with tremendous energy and LOUD chanting. Baldemar Velasquez, President of FLOC, and Jack Ford, mayor of Toledo, then led the march to a park for a public rally, lunch, and dance.

The rally was also energetic, and the mayor and city council presented resolutions supporting the Freedom Rides. One of the Freedom Riders, a day laborer and member of the Union Latina spoke about the day laborers struggle to set up a democratic workers center (hiring hall) in Albany Park in Chicago. The day laborers had set up such a worker center to help ensure contractors did not cheat them out of their wages, but they were tricked into a meeting by the city to discuss a permanent home for such a center. While they were in the meeting, the city bulldozed the center the Union Latina members had built.

FLOC members spoke about the need to support the FREEDOM act sponsored by FLOC and the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty. The FREEDOM act would set up a process to legalize undocumented immigrants currently in the country, and provide a mechanism for future flows of immigrants to enter the country in a way that would ensure their rights and dignity. Baldemar closed the rally with a tremendous speech, first in Spanish describing how immigrants are brought here to work the jobs no one else wants, then in English preaching about the need to defend the strangers among us and how Jesus taught us basic Solidarity. He also offered a job picking tomatoes to anyone who thought immigrants were taking their jobs away. Around 70 tomato packers were at the rally and had to leave quickly to make sure they made it to work on time. AFT and UFCW also had visible contingents.

After lunch and a great Rock en español band, we headed to Cleveland for a rally at la Sagrada Familia Catholic Church. On the way we watched Braveheart at the request of some of the younger folks on the bus.

The meeting at Sagrada Familia was also very high energy, and included the participation of two busloads from Dover, Ohio (about two hours away) where the UFCW has filed for an election at Gerber Poultry, an Amish poultry processing plant. The NLRB is sorting out who has the right to vote in the election, and the election will likely take place in two years. Dover boasts a large group of immigrants from Northern Guatemala, and the rally at Sagrada Familia was a sea of yellow UFCW shirts, with UNITE t-shirts also visible. For the Freedom Riders, Elvira Arellano represented as did a political exile from Ethiopia who lived undocumented in Europe for a few years. Cleveland immigrants, with their own horror stories of abuse, and inspiring stories of resistance, also spoke.

I had a chance to learn more about how the Christian base communities are structured, but I'll have to post that tomorrow. It's been a great day.

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