Chicago Freedom Rides - Day 3

by Teo Reyes, September 29
Cleveland -> Buffalo -> Rockport -> Rochester

Today was an interesting day. The Sin Fronteras bus spent the night in the gym of Sagrado Corazon, We got an early start with the kids playing basketball at 6:00 am and headed off to Buffalo, NY at 7:00. Buffalo is the city where a few months ago the Building Trades organized press conferences to brag about how they had called immigration to round up undocumented workers. We were to be hosted by a coalition that included these same folks – they had somehow been convinced to change their tune, but we were also asked to tone down our presence a little bit – not chant so much in Spanish, for example, since this coalition was a work in progress. In essence, we were asked to help bring these folks along and not put them off from the get-go.

The Buffalo event was driven by the Coalition for Economic Justice, the local JWJ folks, and they were able to convince these one-time enemies to get involved. We were welcomed by Dan Boody (President of the Area Labor Federation), who pledged to support the struggle of immigrant workers. I was told that he had run TV ads calling for more migra raids, so if his change of heart was genuine - wow.

When we crossed into New York we were joined by State Troopers that escorted us to Buffalo, and it lead to some funny jokes. The previous morning we had opened our bus ride with an open mic for jokes and one of them was of an atheist who brought meals to an elderly woman. The atheist was upset because the woman always thanked God for providing for her, even though he was doing all the work. The punch line is that the atheist tells the woman – “God had nothing to do with this, I’m getting you these groceries,” The woman then prays to God: “Thank you God, for forcing the Devil to provide for me.” Anyway, a few statements were made that recalled the joke: Gracias a Dios, que mando al Diablo para protegernos. Even though we had been told the state troopers were there to provide an escort, we prepared to maintain silence if it was anything else, State troopers were the ones who demanded Julieta and her fellow day laborers show green cards on her fateful trip in August, but luckily we didn’t have to worry about that this time.

Our bus pepped up our riders who were charged with winning over any not-entirely-convinced hearts that might be receiving us in Buffalo. Julieta Bolivar and Elvira Arellano both spoke, as did Emma Lozano. They all did a brilliant job. Julieta’s and Elvira’s statements are included as posts, but Emma spoke about how her family was made up of solid union organizers from Texas, and how they had seen their co-workers deported and separated from their families. She emphasized that her family didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them. Before they spoke, we had the honor of hearing Karima Amim, an African storyteller, who told the story of a slave who became a free man as soon as he was convinced in his heart that he was free.

After the community forum we marched to Adam’s Mark Hotel, a union busting, immigrant hating business according to the word on union street. We rallied and picketed, before getting on the bus to Rockport.

Our first stop in Rockport was a ten minute photo-op with Laborers Local 435, before we all headed to a rally and press conference with the local labor council and with the Centro Independiente de Trabajadores Agricolas, CITA. The rally was energetic but was followed by a very moving exchange between the Freedom Riders and the farmworkers, members of CITA, who attended the rally. Many of the farmworkers had just come from the fields picking squash and cabbage, and were in their work clothes. Several of the Freedom Riders were brought to tears when they heard that they sometimes only made $80 a week in the fields. One union brother from IBEW spoke passionately about the need for them to stick together and draw on the support of the community. Elvira told them that they needed to speak out – that only by speaking out would they find justice. After the rally was over and Riders were being herded onto their busses, Sin Fronteras brought the farmworkers together with the Virgen de Guadalupe and asked Father Mike from Waukegan to do a special prayer for them. Everyone prayed together then did a collection for the farmworkers so they could eat well that night. Over $300 was collected from the Sin Fronteras bus and the other two busses did their own collections as well.

Another group of farmworkers had arrived earlier and had skipped work that day to greet us. They offered their blessings to the Freedom Riders and everyone hugged goodbye. The Freedom Riders said these rides were for them – the farmworkers, and the farmworkers said they were heartened by the Freedom Rides. They were shy about chanting when they first got there, but were chanting loudly by the end of the meeting. It was an enriching meeting for everyone. El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.

After the rally we headed for a dinner and public forum at the Colgate Divinity School in Rochester, where Martin Luther King, Jr. had once studied. The mayor of Rochester greeted us and spoke forcefully on the need for immigrant rights and the righteous goals of the Freedom Riders.

One of these days I’m going to write of the work of Sin Fronteras and the Comunidades de Base, and the different struggles represented on all the busses, but I’m doing the best I can to post as much info as possible in a limited time.

Oh yeah! I talked to some of the folks involved in the Cincinnati Freedom Ride event plans, and they said that the Director of the Central Labor Council told everyone they had no alternative – either stay downtown and break the boycott, or cancel the Freedom Ride event. The local folks were sorry about the missed opportunity, but were glad that the Freedom Riders had honored the boycott. One person told me: “ they made the right decision. This creates a good opening for better relationships between immigrants and the African American community – it shows we are on the same side of the struggle.” That unity is definitely the case with the Chicago Freedom Riders – or as Sin Fronteras would put it: Latino y Africano, luchando mano a mano.

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